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Tsitsi Dangarembga awarded the 2021 Peace Prize of the German Book Trade

The Zimbabwean author and filmmaker Tsitsi Dangarembga was awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade today at a ceremony attended by 400 guests at the Church of St. Paul in Frankfurt.
Erstellt am 24.10.2021

The speech honouring this year’s recipient was given by the Kenyan sociologist and German Studies scholar Auma Obama.

In her acceptance speech, Tsitsi Dangarembga analysed how the physical, psychological, political, economic, metaphysical and genocidal violence perpetrated within imperial structures has successively led to what she called the “no-win situation” of the current system in which we live: “This is to say that the west, with all its technology and belief systems and practices, is built on these multiple ongoing forms of violence, which it exported to the rest of the world and which are now practiced as eagerly in postcolonial states as they were by imperial and colonial states. […]. It is a well-known fact that violence begets violence and we see this all over the world today, even in the various homes of empire.”

Dangarembga noted that current societal thinking does not seem to offer any kind of solution. Indeed, on the contrary, in courses for such fields as marketing, business studies, politics and propaganda studies all over the world, students are taught how to define target groups by segmenting a population according to a range of demographics, in order to then manipulate them in order to maximize financial, political, social or any other kind of human profit: “A system based on profit […] is a system of exploitation. Systems of exploitation result in concentration and deficit. A system that manufactures concentration on the one hand and deficit on the other is a system of imbalance. Such a system is inherently unstable and therefore not sustainable. How then have we come to invest in an unstable, unsustainable system that is bound to lead to our downfall?”

Dangarembga continued: “The solution is to undo the racialised and other hierarchical modes of thinking based on demographics such as gender, sex, religion, nationality and class, and any other that were and continue to be the building blocks of empire throughout history, throughout 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.”

With the hope that such a paradigm shift might actually be possible, Dangarembga concluded her speech with the following: “Our choices of thought content and process are ultimately a choice between violence producing and peace producing contents and narratives. […] Indeed, that someone such as myself, who in not-so-distant ages past was, on the basis of several demographics, categorised as not thinking at worst; at best, not thinking in any way that is valuable, and therefore not existing in any way that is valuable, is awarded this prize today is testimony to the capacity we have as human beings for transfor-mation.”

In her honorary speech, Auma Obama praised Dangarembga’s unvarying drive to take on responsibility and change the world for the better. In spite of all obstacles, Obama argued, Dangarembga fights courageously on a daily basis for individuals without a voice, as well as for the freedom of expression: “I’m sure you would have preferred to give up on occasion, Tsitsi, to simply give in to the temptation to just lead a normal, ordinary life. Why struggle to make yourself be heard when you could get by just by making due? Why create a forum to foster more justice? Life would have been much easier, for you, for us, if we could have done that. But you are far from ordinary.”

In his welcome greeting, Frankfurt Mayor Peter Feldmann saluted Dangarembga’s commitment to the right to self-determination and against the dominance of white people: “You refuse to tolerate it when people are oppressed because of their gender or race – or because colonialism continues to determine our present like an echo from the past. […] You insist on equal rights. You stand up for freedom of the press, for the fight against corruption – even when those in power try their best to intimidate you, as they did last year, and threaten you with incarceration. Your strength and defiance, which runs through all of your novels, dramas and films, makes you a role model for us all.”

In her own welcome address, Börsenverein Chairperson Karin Schmidt-Friderichs focused on the impact of Dangarembga’s texts, acknowledging and praising the insights they offer readers: “Thank you for introducing me to Tambu, for giving me the opportunity to become one with her, for inviting me to understand [her] sense of hopelessness, but also to witness her every attempt to get back up on her feet again. You have succeeded in bringing us into close contact with a society in such a way that – even though we might not fully understand it – we never-theless are able to relate it to ourselves, that is, to ourselves and our own shortcomings.”

The Peace Prize of the German Book Trade has been awarded annually since 1950 by the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels (German Publishers and Booksellers Association) on the final day of the Frank-furt Book Fair. Previous recipients include Sebastião Salgado, Albert Schweitzer, Astrid Lindgren, Václav Havel, Jürgen Habermas, Susan Sontag, Liao Yiwu, Navid Kermani, Margaret Atwood, Aleida and Jan Assmann and last year’s winner, Amartya Sen. The Prize is endowed with a sum of €25,000. 

A press photo will be available online starting at approximately 2:30 pm today. 

The text of the speeches given by Tsitsi Dangarembga and Auma Obama will be available online at

The book containing all of the speeches given at the award ceremony will be available on 22 November 2021 in bookstores and at MVB Cus-tomer Service kundenserviceNO SPAM SPAN! (ISBN: 978-3-7657-3434-2, 14.90 Euro). 


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