Peter Feldman
2 minute read
31 Jan 2020
11:15 am

‘Poppie Nongena’ review: Struggle for freedom in the face of hardship

Peter Feldman

The production, directed by award-winning Christiaan Olwagen, provides commanding performances from its diverse cast.

Clementine Mosimane in 'Poppie Nongena'. Picture: Melanie Cleary

Elsa Joubert’s emotive story of Poppie Nongena is an integral part of the South African literary landscape.

This classic, regarded as one of the best novels to have emerged on the African continent in the 20th century, has been translated into no fewer than 13 languages and has been performed on stage in a number of countries.

Christiaan Olwagen’s screen adaptation once again brings into sharp focus the worst elements of apartheid.

The mean-spirited officials, including the police, who were tasked with carrying out the government’s policy, are depicted in the poorest light possible and there is no light and shade in their characterisations.

Picture: Melanie Cleary

Poppie (a solemn-faced Clementine Mosimane) is a South African Xhosa mother who has been working in Cape Town for the Swanepoel family for many years.

The head of the family, Ian (Dawid Minnaar), has a position in government and cares for his lucrative job. His wife, Antoinette (Anna-Mart van der Merwe), is a kinder, more understanding individual and their young daughter has grown to love Poppie.

The devoted servant has found stability within this Afrikaans family circle, but all that changes when her husband, Stone (Chris Gxalaba), becomes too ill to maintain his contract work. Poppie is deemed by the law to be an “illegal” resident in her own country.

The production focuses on Poppie’s desperate and tireless struggle with the authorities for permission to stay.

Picture: Melanie Cleary

Her application to extend her permit is refused by uncaring officials and even her employer, Antionette, cannot change the dire situation. Antionette’s husband Ian is adamant that, because of his high-level job, he cannot help.

Poppie’s focus is firmly on the well-being and education of her children and the film gives resonance to them; Bonsile (Aphiwe Sithole), Thandi (Letlotlo Zimkitha Mohlabeng) and little Weekend (Thembalethu Ntuli).

Bonsile joins the revolution as he sees this as the only way out.

Caught in the crossfire of her children’s needs, her husband’s illness, community anger and repressive laws, Poppie realises that it’s time for the next generation to carry the fiery baton and discover some meaning to their struggle for freedom and justice.

Picture: Melanie Cleary

Poppie’s personal story certainly encapsulates this dark period in South African history – and gives it a human face.

The production, directed by award-winning Christiaan Olwagen, provides commanding performances from its diverse cast, especially from Mosimane whose character study anchors the film and comes to represent the face of those who suffered the indignities of the apartheid regime.


Rating: ★★★☆☆
Cast: Clementine Mosimane, Anna-Mart van der Merwe, Rolanda Marias
Director: Christiaan Olwagen (English sub-titles)
Classification: 13 DLPV

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