Celebrating Susan Dangarembga, Zimbabwe’s first black woman to earn a degree in 1953

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Susan Dangarembga

Due to the issue of being marginlaized, sidelined and denied access to equal opportunities as men, it is highly important to note and celebrate the success of women in Africa who managed to be and do more expected in a society that offered and expected little from them.

Women in Southern Africa can be said to have suffered more than women in other parts of Africa due to the racism, segregation and apartheid that occurred for several years preventing them from gaining an education so much so that a woman was awarded a University degree as late as 1953. Susan Dangarembga defied all odds to become that woman.

The Zimbabwean woman Susan Dangarembga, is the mother of Tsitsi Dangarembga, the celebrated writer whose first book, Nervous Conditions, was the first to be written in English by a black woman from Zimbabwe. But before her daughter could achieve such a height, Susan Dangaremgba would work hard to pave the way for not only her daughter but several women to fight for a complete education.

Born Susan Ngonyama in 1926 at the time when Zimbabwe was part of Southern Rhodesia, Susan was one of the very few women to gain access to education despite several difficulties. Her father was a Christian minister and teacher who felt all his children should gain access to education although he was made to believe it was not necessary.

Tsitsi Dangarembga
Tsitsi Dangarembga , Susan’s daughter.

After completing school, Susan wanted to further her studies and become a teacher just like her father but systems were not in her favour to do so. Keen on furthering and completing the University, Susan moved to South Africa to attend Fort Hare University in 1951 where she studied English and Latin and completed her degree in 1953 at the age of 29.

The successful completion of her degree at Fort Hare University made her the first black woman in Zimbabwe to sucessfully start and complete the university and earn a degree.
Susan moved back to Zimbabwe where she started teaching and later went off to the UK to further her education by gaining a Master’s degree in English as well as a post-graduate Teaching and Education Administration diploma and returned to Zimbabwe to teach.

Throughout her career, she taught several of the nations present politicians and leading faces in several industries and became Zimbabwe’s first female Public Service Commissioner.

Aside from teaching, Susan became an advocate for girl child education encouraging the government as well as several educational institutions to not only give the female child the opportunity to access education but also make it possible for women to be able to complete school sucessfully. This campaign was very important because several women in the day were only able to finish school after meeting social demands such as marriage and childbirth.

Susan Dangarembga died at the age of 91 in her home in Zimbabwe and was given a befitting burial at Harare’s Warren Hills cemetery. At her funeral, the former deputy prime minister Professor Arthur Mutambara gave the eulogy stating that without firing a single shot, going to detention or organising political resistance as a high school student in the 1950s, Susan Ngonyama scored a major victory for the freedom and liberation of women in Zimbabwe and is a pioneer educationist who must be remembered and spoken about at all times.

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