Exiled writer claims unfair treatment in Aarhus

Tendai Tagarira is trying to get a culture project off the ground, but the council says that if he can’t make money, he’ll lose his welfare benefits

When author and activist Tendai Tagarira showed up for a meeting with Aarhus Council’s integration department last week, he planned to discuss his website Aarhus Culture, which offers cultural information for residents and visitors to the city. The department, however, had other plans.

“They told me they were going to take away my kontanthjælp next month if I kept working on the project,” Tagarira told The Copenhagen Post. “I was completely blindsided – I thought I was coming in to give a presentation.”

The department told Tagarira that the cash benefits were solely intended to help a person become self-sufficient as quickly as possible. And because he couldn’t yet support himself with earnings from the website, which has been running for six months, it didn’t qualify as a source of income.

But Tagarira, who writes a monthly opinion column for The Copenhagen Post, argues that the department’s timing showed that it had other motivations for its decision.

“I had published an article criticising the integration department’s actions against minorities in Aarhus,” he explained. “And the next day, they told me they were taking away the benefits.” 

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Tagarira fled his home country of Zimbabwe in 2010 after receiving death threats for his criticism of the Robert Mugabe regime. He initially settled in Aarhus via the International City of Refuge (ICORN) programme and was granted political asylum in 2012. 

As part of his integration contract, the department granted Tagarira six months of kontanthjælp to prove that he could become fully or partially self-sufficient by running the website. He earns a secondary income giving speeches and lectures, making him financially independent some months. But during less fruitful months, he gets by with the cash benefits.

Tagarira estimated that Aarhus Culture would need at least a year to become a self-sustaining venture. He contended that the timeframe stipulated by the integration department wouldn’t be long enough to monetise most start-up companies.

“It often takes a year or two for any start-up to start making money,” he explained. “It’s a process to work up a database of sponsors, and it takes three to six months to even hear back about many grant applications – and then you’re out of time.”

Until then, however, the integration department mandated that Tagarira either find another job or continue working on the website and lose the cash benefits. But without that money, he said, he won’t be able to provide for himself.

“I have no problem getting a job elsewhere,” he said. “But I want to use my skills to do something that contributes to society and creates work for others – not just keep me in the cycle of cash benefits. The Integration Act even calls for that.”

Janis Frankø, a blogger who writes for Aarhus Culture, agreed.

“Denmark’s integration policies are so rigid that they actually punish those who contribute and give back to society,” she said. “In the end, someone like Tendai with innate abilities will end up leaving and taking his talents elsewhere.”

Tagarira is currently seeking arbitration from the mayor of Aarhus and the council alderman.

The Aarhus Council’s integration department declined to comment on the case.