Veteran cultural activist Ronnie Govender dies at 85

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Veteran activist and writer Ronnie Govender died on Thursday. File photo.(Jackie Clausen)
Veteran activist and writer Ronnie Govender died on Thursday. File photo.(Jackie Clausen)
  • Ronnie Govender was a writer and theatre-maker. 
  • Through the arts, he stood firm against the apartheid regime. 
  • For this, he has received various commendations, the Order of Ikhamanga and Commonwealth Writers’s Prize.

Writer and theatre activist Ronnie Govender died on Thursday 29 April 2021 aged 85. 

While studying at the University of Cape Town, Govender paid his fees by working as a sportswriter for the New Age. In line with New Age’s politics against apartheid, Govender used his writings to encourage the Indian community to boycott segregated sporting events. A year after Govender joined the newsroom, government authorities shut down the publication. Now without an income, he went back home where he studied teaching at Durbans’s Springfield Training College. 

While teaching in 1962, he wrote his first play: Beyond Calvary. By 1964 his acclimation to theatre led him to found the Shah Theatre Company. Then although he received multiple invitations to tour his play The Lahnee’s Pleasure overseas and in mainstream theatres at home, Govender declined as a part of a cultural boycott against apartheid. 

In 2008 the South African government gave him the Order of Ikhamanga for his contributions to democracy, human rights, and justice through theatre. 

Beyond theatre engagement, his work, including Black Chin White Chin and At the Edge and Other Cato Manor, reached classrooms as set-books. In 1997 the latter won Govender the 1997 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for the best first book, Africa. 

His funeral will be held at his home in Cape Town. 

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