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11 November 2020

Tsitsi Dangarembga Q&A: “We are destined to evolve“

The novelist discusses her favourite hymn, Angela Merkel and tyranny in Zimbabwe.

By New Statesman

Tsitsi Dangarembga was born in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) in 1959. Her debut novel was the first to be written in English by a black Zimbabwean woman. Her latest book, “This Mournable Body”, is
shortlisted for this year’s Booker Prize.

What’s your earliest memory?

I am two and a half and in a room full of the most amazing toys, including Lego blocks. I have come to this place with my parents. It’s in Dover. I have a dim memory of being led into the room. I can scarcely contain the joy at being brought here. When I leave the room, my parents are gone.

Who are your heroes?

My first childhood hero was Anna Pavlova, and then Marie Curie. After I was fostered in Dover, I would spend hours watching the telly on my own. The women in white dresses who floated through the air made me think flying was possible. That’s what I wanted to do – fly away to somewhere beautiful. Marie Curie was also about female possibility. As an adult, I admire many people but I don’t have a hero.

[see also: The longform patriarchs, and their accomplices]

Which political figure do you look up to?

The German chancellor Angela Merkel. In 2017 during her West African tour she made the observation that it was now clear most Africans would like to remain at home and not emigrate. In addition to her history of steering Germany through the economic and immigration crises of the past decade, and her role in stabilising the EU, I was astounded at the intelligence in that pronouncement.

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What would be your Mastermind specialist subject?

African film theory.

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What book last changed your thinking?

Undoing the Revolution: Comparing Elite Subversion of Peasant Rebellions by Vasabjit Banerjee. I gained an understanding of why Zimbabwe has descended into tyranny.

In which time and place, other than your own, would you like to live?

I would like to live in the future, three or four centuries hence, to see how we made it. I would want to be in Senegal because I am impressed by contemporary Senegalese culture and I would like to see how it evolves.

What TV show could you not live without?

Glow on Netflix.

Who would paint your portrait?

Mercy Moyo, one of Zimbabwe’s upcoming young female artists.

What’s your theme tune?

The hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”, written by Isaac Watts.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?

You have to settle down yourself first if you want to find the right person to marry. Yes, I did.

What’s currently bugging you?

The tyranny in Zimbabwe, especially its effect on young people, who are deprived of a dignified present and any hope in the future.

What single thing would make your life better?

Having one of my feature films funded.

When were you happiest?


In another life, what job might you have chosen?

I would write operas – both libretto and music.

Are we all doomed?

No. We are destined to evolve. 

“This Mournable Body” by Tsitsi Dangarembga is published by Faber & Faber