The Sepedi idiom, “Mosadi o swara thipa ka bogaleng” which easily translate into a mother holds a knife on its sharpest side, best describes Poppie Nongena. Upon finishing reading this riveting memoir of Poppie Nongena, I think that the idiom is a fitting one to describe the horrors and pains that this brave woman had to go through in protecting her one against the odds. This translated edition of Elsa Joubert’s celebrated memoir simply titled The Long Journey Poppie Nongena, takes a reader on an emotional ride on how one black woman had to individually suffer, humiliated, and isolated from her own children, husband, siblings, and her community by the racist apartheid regime.
However, through her spiritual conviction, love for her children, religion and family, this unsung heroine not only emerged victorious in a brutal fight against the white rulers, but she defeated the apartheid legislation too. The story of Poppie is one of triumph, resilience, love, and faith in the face of the enemy whose sole intention is to crush one’s soul. Perusing through the pages of this book, I was left inspired, encouraged, and most importantly saw myself in the painful story of this strong figure of a black woman.
So many South Africans and most especially black women will also easily relate to the challenges that Poppie had to go through during apartheid as many are currently facing the same conditions in the new dispensation. For example, the difference in the living conditions for black women living in rural and urban areas still has not changed. Many women who live in the villages continue to be at the bottom ladder of economic activities due to government’s failure to create economic opportunities next to them and as a result of that are forced to leave their homes without their children, just like Poppie had to move from her ‘designated home’ in Mdantsane to Cape Town in order to work for children.
While Poppie was not a renowned political figure in the fight against the apartheid, however, this story is one that many generations to come should draw their South Africa’s historical knowledge from. I personally believe that this is not a book to open or be reminded of old wounds suffered by Black, Indian or Coloured people during apartheid, however, it is one from which many South Africans can draw strength and inspiration from in the bid to build an inclusive socio-economic society.
It might have made commercial sense for the publisher to use the face of Clementine Mosimane (who is a leading character in the movie which this book is based on) as a cover of the book, however, I think it would have been even better to use Poppie’s picture in order to show the young and coming generations the face of a brave woman who should be celebrated like any freedom fighters in the new dispensation.
The other bummer I picked was a normal problem that arises with most books which have been translated from Afrikaans to English, as it is the case with this one. The problem that results with many translated versions is that some of the words turn to lose their original meaning and there are plenty in this book. Despite all of that, this is one book that every South African should read to remember this giant figure.