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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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Chapter 2. Resistance and Reconciliation: Post-1994 South African Indian Writings


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The reconceptualization of South Africa as a democracy has influenced the production and reception of texts in this country. The literature that has emerged after 1994 by writers such as Zakes Mda, JM Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer, Mark Behr, Joe Slovo, Ahmed Essop, Ronnie Govender and Farida Karodia have provided a vision to reconcile the ravages of apartheid and consequently shift social relations from a traumatized past to a reconstructed future. Does the past still manifest itself in current writings? Recent South African literature seems to be obsessed with the ambiguities of transition: with the tension between memory and amnesia, and between speech and silence; with the remaking of identities caught between stasis and change; and with the role of culture in limiting or enabling changes of understanding. Under apartheid, black writers (African, Colored and Indian) were expected to address the great historical issues of the time, whereas now they are free to write in a more personal key.

Several of the post-1994 stories of South African Indian writers like Ronnie Govender, Farida Karodia, Fatima Meer, Aziz Hassim, Agnes Sam, Phyllis Naidoo and Jayapraga Reddy are autobiographical or semi-autobiographical, where the childhood self is treated as other, and challenged by changes taking place in the present. Memory affects the passage into the ← 27 | 28 → future and enables moral re-alignment. Much of the new South African writings continues to be underpinned by the...

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