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At the Edge

The Writings of Ronnie Govender

Rajendra Chetty

Ronnie Govender’s works are significant in the construction of a South African national identity. The purpose of this book is to engage critically with race, class and resistance through a collection of essays on Govender’s oeuvre. His writings are re-invigorated by close reading within the context of postcolonial and critical theory. Govender recalls the resilience of the multiracial community of Cato Manor whose democratic coexistence and mutual respect comprise a model for the new nation. As a memory work, his texts recollect private and community identity in the wounded spaces of colonial and apartheid oppression. Events of the past should be interpreted in a creative and imaginative way and literature enlightens it best.

Govender’s unique performative prose reconstructs and resurrects the lives of the residents of Cato Manor, their vitality and humour, pain and humiliation: a vibrant, racially integrated community destroyed by the South African apartheid regime’s notorious Group Areas Act. The book seeks to redress that marginalisation and awaken readers to the bravery and creativity of a small, defiant community in the face of forced removals and social injustice. This book reveals Govender’s central concern for human dignity—his innate sensitivity to the unspoken pain of oppressed people.

The book invites the reader to connect and contrast Govender with a range of contexts and intertextualities—from post-colonial to African continental, from the diasporic to the politically analogous. Govender’s radical shift from colonial obeisance theatre to a revelation of raw existence and authentic living is reflected by questioning, dis-comforting and aggrieving.

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Ronnie Govender does not regard the past as a separable entity but rather as a stream of oneness: his mother’s memory, for example, is as alive in his psyche as the voices of the site of Cato Manor are. They are to be heard and learnt from as an ancestral continuity. His intention in writing is not to memorialize the past, in a sentimental way, but to convey and re-ignite the quality of life that those around him enjoyed: he and his narration are tied to present life and our conduct of life. In this sense, his particular kind of labour of memory may correctly be termed transactional memory. He wishes to rekindle the flame of social community and justice within the reader so that God can be seen in all of us: the life-force/prana he reveres can burn in all hearts. This universality and inclusivity are crucial and stated clearly in his own words: his mother wanted him to learn to see God in Everyman. He includes all races in his desire to teach us to hear the voices of Cato Manor: spoken for all South Africans. He invokes the memory of life past as a present memory-guide to keep hold of freedom and humane values. Such continuity of life is so much more than the desire to impress others: it is a secret essence which he wishes to share. Govender appeals in the name of his ‘society of life’, for us to follow this path. His...

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