Kessie Govender

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Kessie Govender (1942 – 2002). Actor, playwright and director.


He was a pioneering voice in South African protest theatre. Born in Durban, KwaZulu-Natal, his grandfather came to South Africa as an indentured labourer. His father was a bricklayer and, upon leaving school, Kessie also took up this trade.

He became a keen member of the Shah Theatre Academy in the 1950s, becoming one of its most successful protegés.

He was also an exponent of the traditional Indian art of finger painting.

He died in Durban on 20 January 2002 at the age of 59.



He made an entrance into theatre in 1967 as part of playwright Ronnie Govender’s troupe of actors.

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

A keen artist, he is remembered for his improvisation and performance of the character “Mothie” in Ronnie Govender’s The Lahnee’s Pleasure and his lauded performance as the lead in the same playwright's play Swami.

He launched his Stable Theatre Company with his first play Stable Expense which was produced in the mid-70's, a time when Indians were being relocated to low cost housing in Chatsworth from areas around Durban which had been rezoned for whites only. He also created and ran the Stable Theatre in Durban.

Between 1974 and 2001, Kessie wrote about 25 stage plays, including Stablexpense, Pariah, On the Fence, God Made Mosquitoes Too, Kagoos. His works were classic protest theatre. Most of these plays were produced and directed by him.

His playwriting also includes his acclaimed Working Class Hero, which he wrote and produced in 1979. It was revived in the Little Theatre, Durban in conjunction with The Playhouse Company in 2001.

At the time of his death, he was working with Jerry Pooe and Edmund Mhlongo on a touring project for taking theatre to the people - presenting a variety show made up of selected scenes from Pooe's Ekaya Poppie, Govender's own Working Class Hero, Mhlongo's Bayede Shaka and a number of other groups.

Some of his Community Activism activities include: arts and crafts workshop in Durban Girl's High, taught basic script writing and acting at lxopo High School (1995), workshopped voter education plays (1994), tutored a writing session for the Film and AllIed Workers Union (1993), conducted creative writing workshops - Culture and Working Life Project -University of Natal (1992), writing workshops-Westville Prison and North West Prison (1997/8).

Awards, etc


Various entries in the NELM catalogue.

Obituary published in The Star, 23 January 2002.

Obituary written by Viroshen Chetty, published in Leader, 25 January 2002.

Go to ESAT Bibliography

For more information

Bassa 1995.

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