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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 5. Over My Dead Body: Dispossession and Relocation


← 70 | 71 →

· 5 ·


This tale in At the edge and other Cato Manor Stories tells of the main character Thunga’s fight against the threat of forced removal from Cato Manor during the apartheid era. As discussed in the introduction, the forced removal of Indians from Cato Manor during the 1960s is less well-known than those of District Six and Sophiatown. Many Indians, who had lived there in a multiracial and multicultural milieu, resisted, and Thunga’s story is one of the rare representations of the dispossession of the Cato Manor community. Although he has a heart attack under the stress of his fight and dies, Thunga does not leave his home: his spirit and those of many others remain in the community he loved so dearly. The complexity of Thunga’s resistance, his tragedy and ethical victory, is contained in the short story. In his autobiography, In the Manure, Govender describes the despair caused by forced removals, capturing the particular desperation of Thunga and his people generally:

Some old residents, unable to come to terms with enforced separation from their beloved hearth and home, committed suicide, if not physically, then certainly in spirit. This was a close-knit community, united in the face of adversity, somehow surviving in harsh conditions now facing extinction. (Govender, 2008: 89) ← 71 | 72 →

The specific tale of Thunga is iconographic of the South African Indian community generally: it represents the injustice...

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