Popular Zimbabwean writer acquitted over anti-government protest

In 2022, Tsitsi Dangarembga was found guilty of intent to incite public violence after organising anti-government protests.

Zimbabwean novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga holds a placard reading 'We want better. Reform our Institutions' during an anti-corruption protest march in Harare in July 2020
Zimbabwean novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga holds a placard during an anti-corruption protest march along Borrowdale road on July 31, 2020, in Harare [File: Zinyange Auntony/AFP]

Acclaimed Zimbabwean filmmaker and novelist Tsitsi Dangarembga has been acquitted by the country’s High Court of staging an anti-government protest in 2020, for which she had initially received a six-month suspended jail sentence and a fine.

“I can confirm that she has been acquitted,” her lawyer Harrison Nkomo said after her acquittal on Monday. “As her lawyers, we are grateful because she had not committed any offence in the first place.”

In 2022, Dangarembga was found guilty by a lower court of participating in a public gathering with intent to incite public violence while breaking COVID-19 protocols. She was tried alongside her friend and fellow protester Julie Barnes, who was also found guilty.

This was after a July 2020 protest criticising the government’s efforts to deal with corruption and a struggling economy. Dozens of political activists were arrested at the time.

Nkomo said the High Court judges did not immediately give reasons for the acquittal.

Dangarembga, 64, is a fierce critic of President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government. She has been fighting for years against corruption and demanding reforms and maintained during the trial that Zimbabweans have the right to demonstrate.

Not all protesters have been treated with leniency. Zimbabwean courts have handed down a wave of harsh sentences against political activists before general elections this year. Activists and opposition figures also say the police have embarked on a clampdown on dissidents.

Opposition leader Jacob Ngarivhume, who was arrested at the same time as Dangarembga for organising protests, was sentenced last week to four years in prison on charges of inciting violence.

Dangarembga’s first novel, Nervous Conditions, won the African section of the Commonwealth Writers Prize in 1989. She was the first Black Zimbabwean woman to publish a novel in English. Her book This Mournable Body was nominated for a Booker Prize in 2020.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies