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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 4. Beyond Calvary: I Did It for My God


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Govender’s (2007) account of the religious debate, his very choice of this theme and his definition of the title, ‘Beyond Calvary’, as ‘the spiritual search beyond the symbols’ remains useful as introduction to this intense piece of theatre. It is Govender’s first play written during a workshop facilitated by India’s theatre doyenne, Krishna Shah, and first staged in 1964 in Durban. Govender is a conscious artist, fully aware of the game of cat and mouse that often exists between playwright and audience. He creates and sustains tension by keeping the plot carefully concealed; he reveals tempting glimpses of what may yet happen and thus draws the audience forward with increased curiosity. The technique of entrapping and teasing the audience is essential in building the pace and intensity of the play towards a climax. Govender’s awareness of art as a conscious undertaking, a ludic relation between artist and observer, marks him out early in life as a consummate dramatist. In ‘Beyond Calvary’ this ability to allure the audience is immediately obvious in the title of the play itself. He prompts the listener to ask certain questions before the play has even begun. What is beyond Calvary? Resurrection? And why is he writing about a Christian theme as bleak and terrifying as Calvary, the crucifixion? Answers to these questions lie in the play but raising curiosity is the first vital step which must be quick...

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