LOCAL author and filmmaker Tsitsi Dangarembga has broken another glass ceiling in her arts career by becoming the first black woman to win the prestigious Peace Prize of the German Book Trade since its inception in 1950.
She received the award, which carries 25 000 Euros as prize money at a ceremony held at St Paul’s Church in Frankfurt, Germany, on Sunday.
The international peace prize is awarded annually by the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels, an association of German book publishers and booksellers, which runs the Frankfurt Book Fair. Through her works, Dangarembga has been devoted to protecting civil liberties.
Accepting the prize, Dangarembga called for a “new enlightenment,” saying a fundamental shift is needed to overcome the structures of racial hierarchy that have led to violence in her home country and across the world.
“What we can look to is to change our thought patterns word by word, consciously and consistently over time and to persevere until results are seen in the way we do things and in the outcomes of our actions,” she said.
In her remarks, Dangarembga spoke about Zimbabwe’s colonial past and the various forms of violence white colonialists inflicted on its black inhabitants in the 19th and 20th centuries, adding that violence continued when Zimbabwe became independent in 1980.
“These kinds of violence are structured into the global order that we live in and have their root in the structures of Western empire that began to be formed over half a millennium ago,” she said.
Dangarembga said the world was in need of new ways of thinking, adding that bringing about real change would require not “miracle cures,” but hard, conscious work on behalf of those who have benefited from Western power structures.
She described how literature can influence people’s thinking and thus peace.
“Our choice of what and how to think is ultimately a choice between violence and peace-promoting narratives,” she said.
“It is well known that violence generates further violence, and we see that today all over the world, including in the home states of the empire.”
The jury of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association in a statement said: “Dangarembga combines inimitable storytelling with a universally compelling perspective in a body of work that has made her not only one of the most important artists in her native land, but also a popular and widely-recognised voice of Africa in contemporary literature.”
Dangarembga is known for her works including the bestselling novel, Nervous Conditions and its sequel, titled This Mournable Body.
Auma Obama, a sociologist, activist and half-sister of former United States to America President Barack Obama, who introduced Dangarembga at the ceremony, said she had fought “against all odds” and “with all possible means” for “the voiceless and for freedom of expression” in Zimbabwe.
“You presented a differentiated picture of the African continent worldwide,” Obama added.
In addition to the peace prize, Dangarembga has also been awarded the PEN Pinter Prize and the PEN International Award for Freedom of Expression this year.