Back to top

Ronald Govender (1934 – )

The Order of Ikhamanga in

Ronald Govender (1934 – ) Awarded for:
His excellent contribution to democracy and justice in South Africa through the genre of theatre.
Profile of Ronald Govender

Acclaimed writer Ronald Govender was born in 1934 in the historic Cato Manor location of Durban.

Writer and director of more than16 plays, including Beyond Calvary, At the Edge and Off–Side, Govender has won numerous awards and accolades for his work, which is rooted in the formative social life of his community.

The Lahnee’s Pleasure, a hilarious profile of a working-class Indian South African family, was South Africa’s longest running and arguably most popular play in the apartheid-charged atmosphere of the 1970s. It played to thousands at community venues across the country.

His critically acclaimed At the Edge was invited to play all over the world and won Vita nominations for Best South African Playwright and Best Actor. Govender also received the Vita Award for Life-Long Contribution to Theatre.

In 1997, his collection of short stories, At the Edge and Other Cato Manor Stories, won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book in Africa. It is a prescribed work for matriculants.

Govender, descendant of Indian indentured labourers, grew up in the poor multicultural location of Cato Manor.

Govender has suffered the travails of writers in South Africa, including the banning of New Age, an iconic anti-apartheid newspaper for which he penned a part-time sports column. Govender was actively involved with the South African Council on Sport in the non-racial sports movement, including as an administrator.

During his 11-year teaching career, from which he was eventually forced out of just as he was from law studies at the University of Cape Town because of his political activism, he wrote his acclaimed first play Beyond Calvary.

During this period, he formed the Shah Theatre Academy, an alternative undertaking that sought to make theatre accessible and indigenous.

In the period of isolation of apartheid South Africa, the theatre was a pioneer of the cultural boycott, bearing the self-sacrifice of refusing invitations for The Lahnee’s Pleasure to play at establishment venues and in London.

In 1991, Govender was appointed Marketing Manager of the Baxter Theatre and, in 1993, Director of the Playhouse Theatre Complex and Artistic Director of Drama.

In 2000, Govender was awarded a medal by the English Academy of South Africa for his contribution to English literature. His first novel, Song of the Atman, which he also adapted as a film script, was shortlisted for the European Union Literary Award in 2005 and the Commonwealth Prize in 2006. The first South African novel to be published in India, it tells the story of five generations of Indian indentured labourers. In the same year, Govender was awarded the Literary Lifetime Achievement Award by the Department of Arts and Culture.

In 2007, he received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Arts and Culture Trust. It cited him as having moral vision, and being a vital contributor to South Africa’s cultural life and heritage. Ronnie Govender, as he is better known, is a treasure of South Africa who embodies the social and cultural experience he has so creatively documented.

His latest work, In the Manure, is a timely and poignant reflection on his life and ancestry, defining Govender once more as a bridge between generations past and those to come.

Ronald Govender’s contribution to the South African theatre has been remarkable. He has led from the front, and, despite apartheid, managed to pursue his illustrious career, in the process lifting the standard of theatre in South Africa.

Govender now lives in Cape Town from where he continues to work.