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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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Acknowledgments

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This is the first full-length work to appear on Ronnie Govender. One of the greatest joys of writing about Ronnie Govender’s works is that I came to know him as a gifted man of the theatre and letters. He was always gracious and generous with his time and knowledge. In this book I acknowledge my respect for him as a playwright and author. I note with deep appreciation Kamalam Govender’s caring nature and wonderful sense of hospitality.

In the course of researching and writing this study, I have been helped immeasurably by the input, friendship, and generosity of others, and I owe thanks to many. This book would not have been possible without generous funding from the National Research Foundation and the United States Fulbright Scholar Program.

My debt to my research assistant, Matthew Curr, can never be repaid. There are no words to thank Matthew adequately for his extraordinary talents and skills, for many hours of interviews and transcriptions and for more than once finding material that I did not know existed.

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