Arrest warrant issued for Tsitsi Dangarembga

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A grueling trial is going on against the author in her home country of Zimbabwe. A possible acquittal was due to be decided today, but she never appeared in court.

Tsitsi Dangarembga was part of the jury of the German film festival Berlinale this year

For two years, Tsitsi Dangarembga had to appear repeatedly in court in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare. For two years she attended a nerve-wracking trial. For two years she endured confused testimonies with forged evidence. A decision should have been made today about her possible acquittal, but the author and filmmaker was unable to appear in court for health reasons. The trial was adjourned and an arrest warrant issued for Dangarembga. Her lawyer Christopher Mhike had already informed the court about the illness last week. The judge ruled the arrest warrant could be lifted once Dangarembga produced a valid medical certificate upon her return home. As a new date for the possible relief of Dangarembga, she set the 4th. August feast.

For the internationally renowned  recipient of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade and wife of a German, it would be easy to avoid the process entirely and not to keep traveling to Zimbabwe for hearings. But Tsitsi Dangarembga is not one to shy away from problems. Rather, she puts her finger right into the wound. And that's why she and her friend, journalist Julie Barnes, were arrested. On July 31, 2020, the two women joined anti-corruption demonstrations against President Emmerson Mnangagwa's government. The population had been instructed to stay at home in advance, and hundreds of police officers and soldiers were deployed to enforce the measures. Dangarembga and Barnes carried placards calling for reforms, the liberation of imprisoned journalists and “a better Zimbabwe for All”. 

Dangarembga has been fighting corruption and promoting reforms in her home country for years

A grueling trial before the anti-corruption court

The women were immediately arrested for their peaceful protest. Although they were released on bail the next day, they were charged in court with, among other things, incitement to violence, breach of the peace, bigotry and violation of the Corona requirements. The ongoing trial has turned more and more into a farce: Dangarembga and Barnes have to answer before the so-called Anti-Corruption Court, which is the only one that reports directly to the President's Office rather than the Ministry of Justice. The women had to appear in court more than 25 times in the last two years, and several times they were sent away without having achieved anything. The judge changed three times, a police inspector admitted under cross-examination by Dangarembga's lawyers to have manipulated pieces of evidence, such as the Having falsified posters afterwards: he later admitted that the inscriptions on the original posters were neither obscene nor could one read a call for violence from them.

Dangarembga herself is not allowed to comment on the process during the process, but in an interview with DW last year she gave an insight into the authoritarian political regime in her home country: “There is a joke in Zimbabwe: There is freedom BEFORE the expression of opinion, but there is no freedom AFTER expression of opinion,” says the author, who was born in 1959. “So people are aware that the state can take action if you say certain things. Or if they just find out about it – which is quite the case as there seem to be people who are only too willing to inform what others are doing and saying.”

Emmerson Mnangagawa did not bring the hoped-for upswing to the country: the people still lack vital basics – such as clean water

Mnangagwa continues the authoritarian regime

After the fall of longtime President Robert Mugabe and the seizure of power by his former companion and deputy Emmerson Mnangagwa in 2017, the southern African country remains mired in a deep crisis. The population suffers from the socio-economic situation and massive human rights violations. In her films, Dangarembga addresses social taboos such as AIDS and violence against women. Her three novels trace the path of the young Tambudzai, who is confronted with a system in which racism, corruption, misogyny and poverty continue to dominate people's everyday lives. 

That alone is a thorn in the side of the ruling ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African National Union/Patriotic Front). Before the 2023 elections, the situation for members of the opposition and activists like Tsitsi Dangarembga will come to a head. Her trial gained wide publicity as the author was shortlisted for the Booker Prize, Britain's top literary prize, for her novel 'A mournable body' shortly before her arrest in 2020. In 2021 she was also awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade.

Brave fight for freedom of expression 

Watch video 04:01

Brave activist: Tsitsi Dangarembga

“Zimbabwe has always been a violent and repressive state,” said Tsitsi Dangarembga on October 24, 2021 in Frankfurt's Paulskirche, when she accepted the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade atrocities committed by both sides was just as violent. The militaristic rhetoric focused on conflict, hostility and hostility, and that is the philosophy that has dominated the Zimbabwean authorities to this day.” 

2021 showed In an interview with DW, Dangarembga is still confident that the allegations against her will be dropped: “My situation in Zimbabwe is not particularly serious,” said the author. The situation is now different: If the application for acquittal is rejected on August 4th, the defense will then have to summon their witnesses. If convicted, Dangarembga faces several years in prison.