Faces of Covid-19

Renowned author Elsa Joubert 'was still positive and hopeful she’d make it,' says son

02 July 2020 - 05:59 By Leonie Wagner
Afrikaans author Elsa Joubert.
Afrikaans author Elsa Joubert.
Image: Supplied

Nico Steytler’s last conversation with his mother was sad. To him, his mother wore many hats: she was a friend, an intellectual sparring partner and also a renowned Afrikaans writer.

Steytler’s mother, award-winning author Elsa Joubert, died of Covid-19 in Cape Town on June 14.

“In my early childhood she was just a mother, not the great writer everyone knew. She never had a study where she wrote,” said Steytler.

“She wrote in the sitting room and when we got back from school it was tidy, there were no books or writing pads. She was able to talk and engage me on any topic, as a friend and an intellectual sparring partner.”

Joubert was always interested in the world around her. Out of this curiosity her novel Die Swerfjare van Poppie Nongena (The Long Journey of Poppie Nongena) came to life.

It was voted one of the top 100 best books of the 20th century and translated into 13 languages. It was later turned into an award-winning film, directed by Christian Olwagen and starring Clementine Mosimane.

Steytler said his mother believed that the point of writing was to make sense of the world. Her love for humanity led her to question relationships between black and white people.

“She said, 'This can’t be. I need to understand that world and how it functions with mine.' That’s how she was able to write the book Poppy Nongena. This is the world that we as white 'madams' don’t understand - and the horrors of apartheid - this is the humanity she loved,” said Steytler.

Born in Paarl on October 19 1922, Joubert completed a BA at the University of Stellenbosch in 1942 and a secondary education diploma the following year.

She obtained her master's degree in Dutch-Afrikaans literature from the University of Cape Town in 1945.

The former high school teacher went on to become the editor of Die Huisgenoot between 1946 and 1948. During this time she met her husband Klaas Steytler, a journalist and later publisher and author, who died in 1998.

Although she never wrote humour, Steytler said his mother always had a witty comment and remained hopeful until the end.

“Our last conversation was sad - that was where she heard she contracted Covid-19. She was still positive and hopeful that she’d make it. She was a very strong person.”