Isaac Pfaff

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Isaac Pfaff (1920-2005) was a teacher, poet, short story writer, playwright and director.

In South Africa he usually wrote plays under the pseudonym Paul Roubaix or Paul de Roubaix.

Not to be confused with Paul de Roubaix (1914-2004)[1], the French producer and director of educational shorts,


Born Isaac Moses Pfaff in Ladismith on June 13, 1920, he went on to study Afrikaans-Nederlands (Afrikaans-Dutch) and English at the University of Cape Town, in order to become a teacher.

He began writing anti-apartheid-themed literary works at the age of 18, his publications ultimately including poetry, more than a dozen stage plays, some radio plays, three novels and several short stories.

By May of 1964, his politically charged writing forced him to flee South Africa with his wife Juanita and their children Desiree and Howard, leaving their home with all their furniture inside. They emigrated to Canada, where he obtained an MA in English from York University and a degree in Education from the University of Toronto, and taught languages, world politics, history and theatre arts.

In Toronto he continued directing his plays with young people, for example in 1966 he did a production of Hour of Glory with the Oakwood Masquers and of Bitter Road with the Theatre Arts Students of Bickford Park Summer School.

Pfaff died on 4 February, 2005 of complications due to severe asthma.

Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance

He had begun acting as schoolboy and later started writing poems, short stories and plays in Afrikaans while at University during the war years.

He was a member of the Peninsula Dramatic Society and had a role in You Can't Take it With You in 1943.

In 1946 Storm, an Afrikaans one-act play, won the FATSSA playwriting competition and was published in Storm en Ander Eenbedrywe (“Storm and Other One-act Plays”) by Gerhard J. Beukes. Beukes was to publish two more of his plays in his popular anthologies: Die Bitter Pad (“Bitter Road”) in Nuwe Eenbedrywe (“New One-act Plays”, 1952) and O, Uur van Glorie (“Hour of Glory”) in Vyf Eenbedrywe, (“** One Act Plays”, 1957). These were prescribed books in schools across the country for many years.

In 1950 he became a founder member of the Trafalgar Players, with which he went on to produce his own plays, both in Afrikaans and English. These include Here Endeth the First Lesson and Though I Speak (double-bill, Woodstock Town Hall, 1950), Die Bitter Pad/Bitter Road (Maitland Town Hall, 1954), O, Uur van Glorie?*] Hour of Glory (best play at the Scopus Club Drama Festival, 1956) and The Yearning of My Heart (performed as a play reading in the Little Theatre, Cape Town, in 1958).

He also wrote the play Sonder Bloeisels ("[trees] without buds") .

At one time he was the president of the Union of South African Artists and worked to end apartheid with a group that included Nelson Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

A collection of his plays in English translation were published by Roubaix in a collection called A Time for Compassion. Biko’s World in Six Plays in 1978 (Toronto, Culturama Incorporated), with an introduction by Frank Birbalsingh. It contains: Though I Speak, Here Endeth the First Lesson, The Yearning of My Heart, Storm, Hour of Glory and Bitter Road. (The latter three are his own translations of Afrikaans plays from earlier years.)

Awards, etc

O, Uur van Glorie (Hour of Glory) (best play at the Scopus Club Drama Festival, 1956.


Twee vergete Afrikaanse skrywers by Barend J. Toerien published in Vrye Weekblad, 30 March 1990.

"DISPATCH: Isaac Pfaff", The Globe and Mail (Canada) 5 March, 2005[2].

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