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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 11. Interview with Ronnie Govender


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Durban playwright, director and author, Ronnie Govender, received the 1999 Commonwealth Writer’s Prize for his collection At the Edge and Other Cato Manor Stories (1996). The stories, his first shift towards the prose genre after sixteen plays, explore the lives, tragedies and pathos of the South African Indian community and are set in the 1960s, the time of forced removals and open repression by the white Afrikaner government. His oeuvre includes successful plays like The Lahnee’s Pleasure (1974), Swami, Off-Side, In-Side (1949), At the Edge (based on his collection of short stories) and The 31 Million Rand Robbery. Govender’s awards include the AA Vita Award for Life-long contribution to the theatre, Playwright of the Year Award for At the Edge, and more recently the English Academy Medal for his contribution to South African English Literature. Govender has been invited to stage his play At the Edge at theatre festivals in Grahamstown (a festival noted for its marginalisation of black artists during apartheid), Edinburgh, Glasgow, Toronto, Delhi and Chennai.

Govender was born in Durban in 1934 and spent his entire youth in Cato Manor, with his mother and grandmother ‘spinning’ stories for him and his siblings. His interest in storytelling and theatre was certainly fuelled by the ← 157 | 158 → impression these childhood stories made on him. He is a descendant of the 1860s Indian settlers who came to work in the sugar plantations...

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