Elsa Joubert

Jump to navigation Jump to search

Elsa Joubert (1922-2020 ) [1] is a highly regarded Afrikaans novelist, travel-writer, journalist and playwright.


Born Elsabé Antoinette Joubert on 19 October 1922 in Paarl, where she grew up and matriculated from La Rochelle Girls' High in 1939. She studied at the University of Stellenbosch (B.A. in 1942 and S.E.D.) and University of Cape Town ( M.A. in Afrikaans-Nederlands (Afrikaans-Dutch), 1945). She was a teacher at the Hoër Meisieskool in Cradock and then worked as editor for Huisgenoot for two years (1946-1948). She then started writing full-time and travelled extensively in Africa, from the springs of the Nile in Uganda, through the Sudan, to Cairo, as well as to Mozambique, Mauritius, Réunion, Madagascar, and Angola. She also visited Indonesia. She married the journalist and writer Klaas Steytler in 1950 and they had two daughters and a son. She died at the age of 97 on Sunday 14 June 2020 in Cape Town due to Covid-19 related causes.

Her writing career

Novels, travelogues and short stories

Besides writing on her travels, she produced a number of award-winning stories and novels, including Ons wag op die kaptein (1964), Bonga (1971), Die Laaste Sondag (1983) and Die reise van Isobelle (1995). But it was her documentary novel, Die Swerfjare van Poppie Nongena ("The Wandering Years of Poppie Nongena", 1979 - best known in English simply as Poppie Nongena), which made her a prominent cultural-political figure, the book being translated into 13 languages and being selected as one of the 100 best novels to have come out of Africa.


Her autobiography was written and published in three parts, alternatively entitled 'n Wonderlike Geweld, Reisiger and Spertyd, the latter published in 2017, the year that she turned 95.

She died in Cape Town on 14 June 2020.


Her novel Die Swerfjare van Poppie Nongena was reworked for the stage in collaboration with Sandra Kotzé, and was first produced in Afrikaans by PACOFS in 1979*?* to resounding success. A bilingual (Afrikaans/English) version was done by PACT in the Transvaal in 197*, and an English version was also performed at the Market Theatre under the title Poppie, directed by Lucille Gillwald for The Company in 1980. This was also taken to various other places in the world between 1982 and 1984. It was one of the most influential plays of the time.

Filmed twice, as The Long Journey of Poppie Nongena by Koos Roets in 1989, and as Poppie Nongena, in 2020 by Christiaan Olwagen.

Later Joubert herself tried her hand at adapting a story of hers as a play, but with less success. Die Laaste Sondag ("The Last Sunday") was first produced by PACT in 1986.


Ons Wag op die Kaptein (1963) won, amongst others, the Eugène Marais prize. Die Swerfjare van Poppie Nongena (1978), was awarded the WA Hofmeyer, CNA and Louis Luyt prizes and was listed in 2002 as one of the 100 best books in Africa. In 1981, the British Royal Society of Literature awarded her the Winifred Holtby prize, and she also became a Fellow of the Society. In 1995 Die Reise van Isobelle (1995), was awarded the coveted Hertzog Prize. In 2001 she received an honorary Doctorate from the University of Stellenbosch and in 2007 one from the University of Pretoria. In 2004 she received the award of the Order of Ikhamanga, and in 2013 she received an ACT Lifetime Achievement Award.



Winner Profiles - 2013 ACT Lifetime Achievement Awards. Issued by The Famous Idea Trading Company [info@thefamousidea.co.za] on 2013/11/09.

Herman Eloff, Arts24, News24 16 June, 2020[]

Tucker, 1997.

Go to South African Theatre/Bibliography

Return to

Return to ESAT Personalities J

Return to South African Theatre Personalities

Return to The ESAT Entries

Return to Main Page