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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 9. The Lahnee’s Pleasure: Revisiting the Crime Scene


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The Lahnee’s Pleasure was published as a play-script in 1976 and a novel in 2008. The play, produced in the political fervour of the 1970’s, alerted many South Africans to the widespread social ills caused by apartheid policy. The prose text, The Lahnee’s Pleasure (2008), is by definition less dramatic than the play-script yet the writing technique and overall structure of the novel are performative. In prose, Govender remains essentially the dramatist. Elements of stagecraft function within the prose structure to create scenes of social injustice which engage and challenge the reader/audience in a process of truth-telling, reconciliation and memory. Both theatrical and prose versions of Govender’s thinking share a common concern for social justice. In both texts the play is the thing with which to catch the conscience of the lahnees.

The Lahnee’s Pleasure as playscript

Much as the 2008 prose form of The Lahnee’s Pleasure is inverted at the very last line, changing the entire text from a light comedy to dark political invective, so the last line of the play (Govender, 1976) galvanises South Africans and challenges them to shake off the culture of obedience which lahnees have ← 115 | 116 → woven tightly around their necks. Mothie cannot see that he is the victim of lahnee subordination. He cannot understand why the stranger will not join in the party of general celebration at the end of the play....

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