Recently I believed that I was a victim of state arbitrariness. I drove to Lake Cospuden, stood waiting in front of a red traffic light at a narrow construction site, nothing was going on, and I picked up my mobile phone to start a favorite podcast. Two policemen on bicycles appeared to my left, I was standing, they were driving, one was filming me. The other knocked on the window, complained that I was distracted by the phone, what negligent behavior.
No, I said, I’m stuck in traffic and not on the phone, just want to hear the Ezra Klein Show, is that forbidden? I’ll get mail, said the policeman, he didn’t reveal his name, he wasn’t obliged to do so. Such an understanding of duty is not new in Germany, I said, which I later felt ashamed of.
I was also ashamed of the thought of being a victim of state tyranny. The letter came, I answered and took a stand; maybe I’ll have to pay a fine, maybe not, it doesn’t matter because nothing will happen to me. I live in a democratic constitutional state and I just sometimes forget how precious that is.
Tsitsi Dangarembga is subject to state arbitrariness. A lot has already happened to her, a lot can still happen. When we, the Board of Trustees of the German Book Trade Association, awarded Tsitsi Dangarembga the Peace Prize in 2021, I felt how right it was: She writes wonderfully (strongly illustrated, with large arcs and ideas), she makes films just like that, and she fights for peace and law in Zimbabwe.
Tsitsi is often in Berlin, but she always returns to this country, which I find corrupt, authoritarian, dysfunctional and lost, but she doesn’t. She hopes and writes and talks.
“Zimbabwe has always been a violent and repressive state,” said Tsitsi Dangarembga on October 24, 2021 in St. Paul’s Church, “the new nation-state, created through a brutal freedom struggle in which atrocities were committed by both sides, was just as violent. The militaristic rhetoric focused on conflict, enmity and hostility, and that is the philosophy that has dominated Zimbabwean authorities to this day.”
Now she is on trial there and can be sentenced to several years in prison. She is accused of publicly inciting violence, bigotry, strife and violating Covid rules, despite wearing a mask, unlike the police officers who locked her away. For two years, Tsitsi hoped the case would be dropped on the grounds of nullity (and absurdity), but then the anti-corruption court under President Emmerson Mnangagwa took over, and that’s dangerous.
Why is? For nothing, actually.
In July 2020, Tsitsi Dangarembga demonstrated in Harare for reforms; Video footage shows her and co-defendant Julie Barnes standing there, that’s all, with one of their placards calling for “a better Zimbabwe for all” and the release of jailed journalists. Three witnesses were heard, talked confused, proved nothing. The posters in the trial are not the posters from back then, they can actually only be fake.
Today, Monday, 11:15 a.m. (local time and German time), a decision is to be made as to whether the proceedings will be discontinued or whether the verdict will continue. The peace prize winner could have decided months ago not to travel to Zimbabwe any more, a peace prize winner is welcome in many places.
But Tsitsi Dangarembga will be there, in her homeland, as the accused. She deserves our attention.