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Die Swerfjare Van Poppie Nongena by Elsa…
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Die Swerfjare Van Poppie Nongena (1978)

by Elsa Joubert

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1032236,572 (3.67)7
Poppie's contented childhood ends when she marries a migrant worker and moves to the alarming world of Cape Town. No sooner has she established her roots there than the authorities want her and her children to go to the Ciskei, her husband's homeland. He, as a laborer, may stay.For ten years Poppie resists the pass laws--which lie at the heart of South Africa's legally enforced policy of racial separation, or apartheid--winning limited extensions to her permit to remain in the Cape. The day comes, however, when she is forced to "resettle" in a raw, remote township.Though this book spans the historic Sharpeville and Soweto uprisings, it is never strident. It makes its points dispassionately, becoming the unsentimentalized celebration of a tenacious spirit.The woman here called Poppie--who in real life lives in the eastern Cape area of South Africa, center of the country's black resistance movement against apartheid--went to Elsa Joubert for advice after the 1960s Cape Town riots. Several years of taped conversation yielded Poppie's story, which remains in Elsa Joubert's retelling remarkably true in tone and detail to the firsthand account. It is Poppie's voice we hear, the inflections, repetitions, and colloquialisms of her speech faithfully represented.… (more)
Member:MaresaK
Title:Die Swerfjare Van Poppie Nongena
Authors:Elsa Joubert
Info:Publisher Unknown, 276 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:
Tags:Book Crawler December 2022

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The Long Journey of Poppie Nongena by Elsa Joubert (1978)

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Poppie is the life-story of an ordinary black South African woman, who gets caught up in the injustices of the Pass Law system that was one of the cornerstones of apartheid. Her life becomes a constant struggle to stay on the right side of the bureaucracy whilst still finding time to care for her children and earn a living.

Although it's set out as a novel, Joubert makes it clear that she is telling us the story of a real person, as told to her by the woman and members of her family, with nothing changed except the names. (She shared the royalties from the book and the later stage-play with the original of "Poppie", who was able to buy a house for herself as a result.)

It's written in the simplest of language (I sampled the Afrikaans text as well as the English version: in Afrikaans it feels positively brutal in its directness), but it turns into a sophisticated exploration of what it feels like to make your life in a world you have absolutely no control over, and on the intersection between different cultures. Poppie and her family are constantly in tension between Xhosa and Afrikaans language, Christian and Xhosa culture, urban and rural ways of life, and so on, as well as having to cope with the illogical requirements of a law that deems you to be a resident of a place you have no tangible connection with, and an undesirable intruder in the region where you and your family have always lived. And takes it for granted that people living on low wages are somehow able to give up big chunks of their working time to queue up every time they need to have any contact with officialdom.

In the background of the story is South African history from World War II to the township violence of the seventies: Poppie doesn't see herself as political, she's too busy surviving and trying to make opportunities for the next generation, but when her younger siblings and her children get involved in protest, she understands perfectly well why they are angry. But she also has a pretty good idea that it's not going to end well for them.

Obviously, this is an educated, middle-class, white writer, transcribing the words of someone from a completely different background, so there's got to be an element of fraud in this, even if only at the subconscious level, but it's very convincingly done, and Joubert manages to give us the illusion that we are really seeing the world from Poppie's point of view. This seems to have been a book that opened a lot of people's eyes to the realities of apartheid, inside and outside South Africa.
  thorold | Jul 6, 2020 |
This book is translated from the Afrikaans, the original title being "Die Swerfjare van Poppie Nongena". It is the story of a humble black woman who never gives up, never gives in. Poppie Nongena is not just a sad story however, it is the story of an African Mother Courage. It is a remarkable book and well deserves its place as one of the great classics of South African literature of the apartheid era. ( )
  herschelian | Jan 27, 2006 |
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Poppie's contented childhood ends when she marries a migrant worker and moves to the alarming world of Cape Town. No sooner has she established her roots there than the authorities want her and her children to go to the Ciskei, her husband's homeland. He, as a laborer, may stay.For ten years Poppie resists the pass laws--which lie at the heart of South Africa's legally enforced policy of racial separation, or apartheid--winning limited extensions to her permit to remain in the Cape. The day comes, however, when she is forced to "resettle" in a raw, remote township.Though this book spans the historic Sharpeville and Soweto uprisings, it is never strident. It makes its points dispassionately, becoming the unsentimentalized celebration of a tenacious spirit.The woman here called Poppie--who in real life lives in the eastern Cape area of South Africa, center of the country's black resistance movement against apartheid--went to Elsa Joubert for advice after the 1960s Cape Town riots. Several years of taped conversation yielded Poppie's story, which remains in Elsa Joubert's retelling remarkably true in tone and detail to the firsthand account. It is Poppie's voice we hear, the inflections, repetitions, and colloquialisms of her speech faithfully represented.

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