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DEATH OF KESSIE GOVENDER (article first published : 2002-01-21)

Well-known Durban actor, playwright and director Kessie Govender died suddenly of a heart attack in the early hours of January 20. While he had suffered from diabetes and blood pressure, Kessie had no previous history of heart problems so his death came as a shock to the Durban theatre world. He leaves a wife Jayshree and a son Prenavan as well as his daughter Kubeshnie who was following in his theatrical footsteps and works in video production.

The drama scene in Durban won’t be the same without Kessie Govender. A colourful and outspoken character, he tackled most aspects of his life with a fierce intensity and energy. Few people are aware of his fine arts side but he was an exponent of the traditional Indian art of finger painting. Some of his sculptures (which were on view during his exhibition titled Eesan) can still be seen at the Durban Documentation Centre.

Well-known award-winning playwright and director Ronnie Govender pays this tribute: “When we launched the Shah Theatre Academy in the late 50’s to foster non-racial theatre, Kessie was one of a group of enthusiastic youngsters who gave us their wholehearted support.

“He was committed to the ideals of an egalitarian society as he was committed to the arts and proved to be one of our most successful protegés. Thus his work as a playwright, director and actor was not only relevant but also of great artistic merit. His contribution to South African society and theatre in particular was outstanding.

“He was utterly fearless in expressing his views which at the time might not have been popular – and even in recent times he continued his personal crusade.”

Kessie was a fine actor and the late Sjoerd Meijer, then arts editor of The Daily News, described him thus in his review of Ronnie Govender’s play Swami. “:..The play Swami makes its points clearly but terrifyingly,” wrote Sjoerd Meijer. “This was largely due to Kessie’s outstanding performance. The heavily bearded Kessie Govender gives the Swami an engaging dignity of self-knowledge, which at the same time does not release the agony of doubt in the people around him. And when his own anguish becomes too strong, his grovelling wail is one of the most moving moments in the play.”

Kessie was last seen in a revival of his production A Working Class Hero which was presented in association with The Playhouse Company in the newly-renovated Little Theatre in Acutt Street.

At the time of his death, he was working with Jerry Pooe and Edmund Mhlongo on a project about taking theatre to the people. This was funding by the Department of Education & Culture spearheaded by the department’s deputy director Sizakele Moloko.

Incorporating the casts of Jerry’s Ekaya Poppie, Kessie’s Working Class Hero, Edmund’s Bayede Shaka and various other groups, performances took place in Stanger and Ladysmith. This was a variety show which featured scenes from the relevant productions and also allowed local artistes to display their talents.

“Kessie was a real friend to me,” says Jerry Pooe. When my career started at the Stable Theatre he introduced me to theatre. I felt very sad when I heard about his death. We were working on a video project for this year to prove the need for a film industry in KZN.“

Kessie Govender’s funeral is expected to take place on Wednesday. Watch artSMart or the daily press for details.




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