Die Swerfjare van Poppie Nongena

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Die Swerfjare van Poppie Nongena (Lit: "The Wandering Years of Poppie Nongena") can refer to the 1978 novel by Elsa Joubert (1922-2020), as well as to the 1983 stage play, the 1983 musical, and the 2020 film, all based on the novel.

Also known in English as Poppie Nongena, Poppie or The Long Journey of Poppie Nongena

The novel

Die Swerfjare van Poppie Nongena is a novel by by Elsa Joubert (1922-2020), originally written in Afrikaans and telling the story of "Poppie" and her peripatetic life, trials and tribulations as a black woman in Apartheid South Africa. First published in 1978, the novel won the W.A. Hofmeyr Prize.

Translations and adaptations

Translations of the novel

Translated into English by Joubert herself as The Long Journey of Poppie Nongena in 1980, as well as being translated into 12 other languages by various authors.

Adaptations for the stage

It was adapted for the stage by Joubert and Sandra Kotzé and first performed in 1979.

The Afrikaans text was published as Poppie: Die Drama ("Poppie: The Drama") by Tafelberg Uitgewers in 1984, though the play was performed as Poppie, Poppie - Die Drama, or Die Swerfjare van Poppie Nongena.

An English translation (entitled The Long Journey of Poppie Nongena or simply Poppie) was done by Sandra Kotzé and staged at the Market Theatre and at the Cubiculo Theater, New York, under the sponsorship of the Music-Theater Group-Lenox Arts Center in 1983, directed by Lucille Gillwald. It toured the United States for two years.

The English play was also adapted as a musical play called Poppie Nongena by Sandra Kotzé and Hilary Blecher (who directed), opening at Off-Broadway in Cape Town, and going to the Edinburgh Festival, 1983.

Stage performance history in South Africa

1979: First performed in the Free State town of Boshof on 12 February by PACOFS and then in Bloemfontein under the direction of Kotzé and featuring Nomsa Nene. The play made Nene famous as "Poppie", a role she played in most of the early productions.

1979: Staged by CAPAB, directed by Sandra Kotzé, with an all-white cast, featuring Lida Meiring (Poppie), Marko van der Colff (Narrator), Brümilda van Rensburg (Ma Lena), Ian Roberts (Mosie), Marthinus Basson (Stone) and Willem de la Querra (Hoedjie). Lida Meiring won a Fleur du Cap Award for Best Actress in the role of "Poppie Nongena". The company did about 400 performances of the play on tour.

1980: The Afrikaans version, billed as Poppie Nongena, adapted from Sandra Kotze's version and directed by Hilary Blecher for The Company at the Market Theatre, with Nomsa Nene, Lida Botha, Ian Edelstein, Timmy Kwebulana, George Luthuli, Sipho Mabizela, Sophie Mcgina, Dinky Motsemme, James Mthoba and Manti Zwane. Design by Wilhelm Haan, lighting Alan Joseph, musical adaptation Sophie Mcgina, production assistant Barrie Hough and stage managers Elaine Born and Michael Nott. Photographs by Ruphin Coudyzer.

1981: Presented by KRUIK Toneel under the direction of Pieter Fourie opening 4 July at the Nico Malan Theatre starring Nomhle Nkonyeni as Poppie, Neels Coetzee, Brümilda van Rensburg, Marko van der Colff, David van der Merwe and Paul Lückhoff. Decor and costumes by Penny Simpson, lighting by John T. Baker.

1983: A revival by Marius Weyers at the Alexander Theatre starring Nomsa Nene, Peter Se-Puma as Stone, Lulu Strachan (Mama), Whinney-Isaiah Setimo (Hoedjie), Arthur Masekwameng, Darlington Michaels (Mosie), Charles Ramaotsoa (Jakkie), Roelien Spruyt and Eric Nobbs.

1984: The PACT Drama production of Poppie, in English, as adapted by Sandra Kotzé and Elsa Joubert, directed by Marius Weyers, with Nomsa Nene, Peter Se-Puma, Whinney-Isaiah Setimo, Arthur Masekwameng, Aubrey Radebe, Tembsie Times, Themba Nyathi, Carolyn Barkhuizen and Lochner de Kock.

1984: Weyers's PACT production of Poppie also had a Cape Town season at the Nico Malan Theatre in association with Basil Rubin.

2004-5: Produced by Henry Mylne at the Suidoosterfees and KKNK as Poppie - Die Drama, starring Terence Bridgett, Bertha le Roux, Vinette Ebrahim, Fiks Mahola, Denver Vraagom, Theodore Jantjies and Willem Klopper. Set designed by Johan Engelbrecht.

Adaptations for film

The novel was adapted as an Afrikaans film in 2019.

Produced by Helena Spring for Helena Spring Films, it was directed by Christiaan Olwagen, with a script co-written by Christiaan Olwagen and Saartjie Botha.

The cast includes Clementine Mosimane (as "Poppie Nongena"), Anna-Mart van der Merwe (as "Antoinette Swanepoel"), Chris Gxalaba (as "Stone"), Nomsa Nene (as "Lena"), Rolanda Marais as "Magriet", Deon Nebulane, Aphiwe Sithole, Nicole Holm, Zimkhitha Letlotlo, Thembalethu Ntuli, Kathryn Beulah, Dawid Minnaar, Beer Adriaanse, Chris April, Jacques Bessenger, Ludwig Binge, Lida Botha, Sonia Burqwana, Genesis Canda, Susan Danford, Sandile Kamle, Vanessa Lee, Sindiwe Magona, Sipho Mahlatshana, Albert Maritz, Siya Mayola, Given Mkhondo, Geon Nel, De Klerk Oelofse, Albert Pretorius, Cintaine Schutte and Neels van Jaarsveld.

Cinematography was by Vicci Turpin, the film edited by Eva du Preez, production design by Birrie le Roux and Surisa Surisa, costume design by Sylvia van Heerden, production management Mayra Garcia.

The film was released in 2019 to positive reviews and winning several awards and nominations at various film festivals. Among them awards in the 2019 Silwerskerm Film Festival, where it premiered.[1]



Die Swerfjare van Poppie Nongena theatre programme (CAPAB), 1981.

Review by Raeford Daniel, The Rand Daily Mail, 14 September 1983.

NELM Collection: Theatre programmes]: 2013. 2. 1.


Review by Mel Gussow, New York Times (28 March, 1982)[2]

Ruphin Coudyzer. 2023. Annotated list of his photographs of Market Theatre productions. (Provided by Coudyzer)

"Sophie Thoko Mgcina" in Women Marching Into the 21st Century: Wathint' Abafazi, Wathint' Imbokodo, HSRC Press, 2000: pp158-9, Google E-book[3]

Coplan, David B. 1983. Poppie Nongena in New York. Reviewed in: Critical Arts, 3(1):79-81.

Die Burger, 28 March 2012



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