The short digest of the Nervous Conditions of the UK and Africa


Unless you have been co-leasing with Patrick Star for the last 2 years, you will be familiar with the polarising issue of Brexit that has taken the UK by storm. In the face of a contested referendum and an uncertain future for our country, it is only natural for people to turn to some literary outlet as a means of navigating our precarious situation. Twitter, simultaneously a gold mine of witty mockery and a breeding ground for misinformed ‘fake news’, has been a significant vehicle for a running commentary on the matter. This is, I do believe, provides an abundantly eloquent insight into the matter:


However, this is not a tirade against Brexit. However, recently the whole Brexit debacle has lead me to speculate the power of the UK, not only in the 21st century but through time. The sentiment behind the common Brexiteer’s argument, is that of an independent state, which could only serve to make us stronger. And without going into the nitty gritty economics of it, there is of course validity to this viewpoint. But, to me this idea very much echoes Trump’s ‘Let’s make America Great Again!’ and the hypocrisy that comes along with this. In simplified terms, how does Trump wish to make America great again? By denying access to a large majority of immigrants to protect the Great American Workforce, whilst demanding access to the commodities of natural resources such as oil, from other countries, to fuel their industries? There does seem to be some discrepancies in Trump’s ideologies.

‘Take back control of our boarders’ was a potent message backing those that voted to leave. Anxieties surrounding immigration and boarder control have been at the forefront of the Brexit argument. However, in the late 16th century, Britain saw no issue with invading almost 90% of countries around the globe.

Zimbabwe was one of these British colonies. Both of my parents were born and raised in Harare, the capital of the country, a fact which is often met with a moderate dose of surprise (because I’m white). To this day, a large proportion of my family still live in Harare, in communities bereft of the poverty rife African LIDCS. Indeed, such vast social inequalities, often operating on an ethnic basis, are a relic of the past colonialization of the country. On the 11th of November 1965, Zimbabwe gained independence from white minority rule, but ever since then have experienced a turbulent political climate, fraught with racial tensions.

‘Nervous conditions’ a novel by Zimbabwean-born Tsitsi Dangarembga, is a sensitive exploration the societal ills of colonialised Africa, imbued by white patriarchal domination. It follows the story of a Rhodesian schoolgirl, Tambu, desperate to leave her homestead and pursue an education in Britain. However, she is constantly thwarted by her identity as an African female, an identity which lends to her two dimensions of oppression, double the capacity for marginalisation. A decidedly female novel, Dangarembga female characters are multifaceted and take on a dual identity, which is reminiscent of their being a product of two different cultures. As a Bildungsroman her novel provides a deft navigation of race, class and gender issues as Tambu’s adult narrator reflects on the plight of her youth and the difficulty of reconciling her ambitions as a hard-working school girl with her reality, beset by the post-colonial limitations. The narrative delineates the tumultuous path towards self-development and independence, while in the Shona and Zimbabwean cultural context, undoubtedly representative of the African experience in the 1970s.

Although delving into a dark past, 30 years back, understanding the colonial implications for the character’s in Dangarembga’s novel is key to understanding the social segregation and ethnic stratification that still exists in Zimbabwe, and indeed many other ex-colonies. It is true that Britain itself has evolved into a more tolerant and sympathetic society (not to say, of course, that racism and misogyny are extinct; this is far from the case), but inserting yourself into the world of someone operating in a different culture, a different society and a different era does make you realise the bubble of progressiveness we live in in London.