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Born Sathiseelan Gurilingam Govender in Cato Manor on 16 May 1934, one of ten children, their a bakery van driver and their mother a housewife. Popularly known as Ronnie Govender, a name he also publishing under.
Govender attended the Cato Manor Government Aided Indian School and then went to Sastri College. After finishing his primary and secondary education, he got a job working for an agricultural implements company and at the same time he did part-time sports writing for the magazine Graphic.
In the 1950s he began to involve himself in cultural politics. For example, Govender, Slim Moodley, Muthal Naidoo and Prem Singh formed the Durban Theatre Association, inter alia producing a South African version of the Greek classical play Antigone.
The Association folded when Govender moved to Cape Town to attend the University of Cape Town (UCT) for one year, while once more working as a sportswriter (now for the radical journal New Age) to pay his fees. As a journalist he attacked racism in sport and that stance soon attracted the attention of the Special Branch. When the newspaper was closed by the authorities after a year, he returned to Durban to train as a teacher at Springfield Training College in Asherville, Durban, and took up a teaching position.
Among the awards he received over the years are the 1997 Commonwealth Writers' Prize the African section for best first book (for his short story collection At the Edge and Other Cato Manor Stories); In 2000 Govender was awarded a medal by the English Academy of SA for his contribution to English literature; in 2007 Black Chin White Chin was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Prize; in 2008 he received the South African Order of Ikhamanga for his contribution to democracy and justice in South Africa through the genre of theatre; and in 2014 he received an honorary doctorate "for his contribution to literature and the arts in general as well as his contribution to democracy, peace and justice in South Africa through theatre" from the Durban University of Technology.
Govender passed away on 29 April 2021. He was married to Kamalam Govender, had four children, 10 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance
Govender began his career as a writer with the play Beyond Calvary (1962) and went on to write more than 12 plays, a book of short stories, a novel and an autobiography.
His play The Lahnee’s Pleasure was the longest-running theatre comedy in South Africa. His most celebrated play is The Lahnee’s Pleasure (first performed 1972 by TECON, published 1977), while other works include Beyond Calvary (19**), Blossoms on the Bough (19**), The Dilemma of the Swami (1986) and one-man dramatizations of his short stories, performed by Charles Pillai under the title At the Edge (1991) and 1949 (1996). The book was also shortlisted for the 2007 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.
At the Edge and Other Cato Manor Stories, for which he received the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for the Africa region, played at the Edinburgh Festival. He was then invited to stage the play at a festival in Toronto and in Glasgow and was invited to tour all the major cities in India, where it received standing ovations for every performance. The play won Vita nominations for Best SA Playwright and Best Actor.
In 2006, Song of the Atman, which is partially set in “old” Cato Manor, was published.
Published works: 1978. The Lahnee's Pleasure. Johannesburg: Ravan Press. (Play)
1986. Swami. Cape Town: David Philips Publishers.
1996. At the Edge and Other Cato Manor Stories. Pretoria: MANX.
2006. Song of the Atman. Johannesburg: Jacana Media.
2008. In the Manure: Memoirs and Reflections. Cape Town: David Philips Publishers.
2009. The Lahnee's Pleasure. Johannesburg: Jacana Media.
In 1964 he became a co-founder of the Shah Theatre Academy in Durban, along with he, Muthal Naidoo and Bennie Bersee and and a founding member of the Theatre Council of Natal (TECON) in 1969. He was later vice-president of the Natal Congress of South African Writers.
In the 1970s he ran the Aquarius Restaurant in Reservoir Hills, which he also fitted up as a venue to stage his plays and that of fellow playwrights, making it one of the most popular entertainment venues of the time
He was awarded the Commonwealth Writer's Prize in 1997.
The Ronnie Govender Literary Award is named after him.
Various entries in the NELM catalogue.
Sunday Tribune, 18 March 2007.
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