Moeder Hanna

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Moeder Hanna ("Mother Hanna") is a play in two acts by Bartho Smit (1924 - 1986).

The original text

Originally written as a one act play, as an adaptation of the 1884 short story La Mère Sauvage by Guy de Maupassant (1850-1893)[1], and specifically created along with various other short plays, for production by a dramatic society Smit had founded at the University of Pretoria in 1944. Between then and 1955 the text went through a number of versions to finally evolve into a more clearly defined South African play, a concise and critically acclaimed short tragedy in two acts about the dilemma of a Boer mother and her menfolk in the dying moments of the Anglo-Boer War.

According to the author's Preface to the published play, the two key themes Smit wished to explore in the play concern the evolution and nature of the notion of the "Boerenasie" ("boer nation") and what he calls a "filosofiese eksperiment" ("philosophic experiment") with the modern "doodsproblematiek" ("problem of death"), and more pertinently citing André Malraux's on man's fear of a death without meaning ("la terreur d'une mort sans signification"). The play thus asks whether the survivors of a failed rebellion or battle have the moral right to abandon a fight for which others have given their lives. These themes and the structure of the play was developed over the course of about ten years while the author was studying and travelling in Europe after World War II, with the final text being written in London and Paris over the course of 1954 and 1955.

The play was first performed in 1956 by the amateur society JAATS, and had its first professional performance by NTO in 1959.

Published in the academic journal Standpunte, 10(3):3-30. January, 1956, and in book form by the Afrikaanse Persboekhandel in 1959. The play was reprinted numerous times thereafter.

Translations and adaptations

Translated into English and adapted as a radio drama by M. du Toit, it was broadcast in 1963 by the SABC English Service in the programme Playhouse, directed by Cecil Jubber with Anna Neethling-Pohl as "Moeder Hanna".

Filmed in Afrikaans for TV by the SABC in 1976, directed by Fred Nel, with Siegfried Mynhardt, Kita Redelinghuys, Marie Koeleman, Pieter Bredenkamp, Adriaan van Niekerk, Nico Germishuyse, Chris van Niekerk. Music by Walter C. Jouval, cinematography by André van den Heever, editing by Axel Kompat, production design by Heinrich van der Walt, makeup by Alvino Willemse, sound by Roy Smithers, lighting by Angus Clarke, camera operators Terry Delahunt and Nick Herholdt, production assistant Frans Fourie and production secretary Karen Pepler. Broadcast on 4 October 1976.

Performance history in South Africa

1956 First performed in its final form in Johannesburg by the amateur society JAATS, directed by Aletta Gericke with Milla Louw ('Moeder Hanna"), Marie Tredoux ("Marie"), Billy Pretorius ("Bart Harmse"), Dawid van der Walt ("Ouboeta") and Floris Mosterd ("Oupa Harmse").

1959: First produced professionally on 11 May, as a double bill with Meisies van Vervloë Jare, by National Theatre Organisation in its NTO Kamertoneel. Directed by Bartho Smit himself, with Milla Louw as "Moeder Hanna", Johan Malherbe as "Ouboeta", Jan Bruyns as "Bart Harmse", Siegfried Mynhardt "Oupa" and Lynette Kotzé as the daughter "Maria". Two soldiers were played by Piet Bezuidenhout and Douglas Winn.

1959: Produced by National Theatre Organisation in the Bellville Kamertoneel with a Cape-based company consisting of Babs Laker ("Hanna"), Leonora Nel ("Maria"), Jan van Zyl ("Bart Harmse"), Cobus Rossouw ("Oupa Harmse") and Matthys du Toit ("Ouboeta"), this time with Die Les (Ionesco) as a double bill. Bartho Smit directed. Decor was by Frank Graves and costumes by Doreen Graves. Athol Fugard was the stage manager, lighting by Pip Marshall.

1963(?): Staged in the Y- Club Theatre, Durban, by NAPAC, as one of its first Afrikaans productions. Directed by Elma Krynauw, with Jeanette Hanekom ("Moeder Hanna"), Carel Trichardt ("Oupa Harmse"), Bertie Heiberg ("Bart Harmse"), Petru Wessels (credited as Petro Wessels, "Maria"), Siegfried Schumann ("Ouboeta") and Peter Millin ("Soldaat").

1967: Performed by the students of the drama department of the Potchefstroom Universiteit vir Christelike Hoër Onderwys, in a double bill with Kom Ry Saam, an Afrikaans version of Thornton Wilder's The Happy Journey.

1970: Performed by CAPAB at the Hofmeyr Theatre, Cape Town, on the cancellation of Putsonderwater (banned by the ), as a double bill with Ouers-Vra (an Afrikaans version of Chekov's The Proposal). Directed by Bartho Smit, with a cast consisting of Siegfried Mynhardt, Percy Sieff, Kita Redelinghuijs, Sandra Kotzé, Cobus Rossouw, Pieter de Swardt and Martin Crous. Stage manager Mavis Lilenstein, decor and lighting by Pieter de Swardt, costumes designed by Elaine Aucamp.

1975: Performed by PACT's youth company along with Bart Nel (J. Van Melle) and Die Son Struikel (Dolf van Niekerk), as part of a schools programme of prescribed works they took to Transvaal schools that year. After they had visited 63 schools, the Transvaal Education Department to cancel the productions - no reasons being given.


Bartho Smit. 1959. Moeder Hanna. Afrikaanse Pers-boekkhandel.

Erika Terblanche. 2018. "Bartho Smit (1924–1987)" LitNet-Skrywersalbum[2]

CAPAB 25 years. Unpublished research. p 445.

CAPAB theatre programme, 1970.

Malcolm Woolfson. 1986. The Long Road that led towards the Natal Playhouse. Durban: The Natal Performing Arts Council.

NAPAC theatre programme (undated).

Petru & Carel Trichardt theatre programme collection.

Lantern, 9(2):192-197. Dec 1959.

Die Wapad Amptelike Studentekoerant van die P.U. vir C.H.O., Jaargang XXII: Woensdag 1 Maart 1967: p.4.[3]

Interview-discussion about Bartho Smit, conducted by Marisa Keuris and Temple Hauptfleisch Cobus Rossouw, Sandra Kotze and Pieter Fourie in Vermont, Western Cape, on 19 February, 2020.

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