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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 3. Transactional memory in At the Edge and other Cato Manor Stories

Extract

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TRANSACTIONAL MEMORY IN AT THE EDGE AND OTHER CATO MANOR STORIES

The government was harsh to people of colour. He recalled a leading MP, Abe Bailey, had said in parliament that he was prepared to shoot ‘every damn coolie on sight.’ Yet even they would not destroy an entire district, surely. (At the Edge, 128)

Ronnie Govender’s text, At the Edge and other Cato Manor Stories (1996) regarded here as a text-site of memory, is significant in the construction of South Africa’s national identity. The collection of short stories recalls the resilience of the multiracial and multicultural community of Cato Manor, whose democratic coexistence and mutual respect comprise a model for the national democratic character of today. As a record of the ills of the past, Govender’s text enables South Africans to confront and come to terms with issues such as indenture, colonialism and apartheid. Govender’s unique performative prose revivifies the lives of the residents of Cato Manor, an area the history of which is neglected compared with District Six or Sophiatown. This resuscitation of Cato Manor characters in dramatic form facilitates the memory work of Govender’s writing and performance. The new post-apartheid democratic national identity recognizes the roles played by all communities past and present. Govender’s work constitutes a major part of the construction of that identity, in speaking for his particular community, their contribution to the country and its struggle for freedom. In the course of recognizing...

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