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Writing Career

Theo Engela’s Writing Career – Suspense & Mystery

Theo Engela wrote poetry, short stories and novels, mostly set in the South African bushveld or in the general society between 1950-1985.

He .was moderately well-known in South Africa during the 1960’s and 70’s, and particularly in the Port Elizabeth area, for his short stories which were broadcast on local radio at the time. Despite this modest success, he never really rose to the sort of prominence he desired as a writer.


Despite having written several full-length novels in his lifetime, the only items of his that were ever published up to the time of his death, were his short stories. His longer works remain unpublished and completely unknown, despite being very, very good, very well-structured, intelligent and in fact, captivating works.

There were various compelling reasons for this, and not being ‘good enough’ was not one of them. The main reason his novels were not published was timing. The political atmosphere at play at the time was chiefly to blame. White South African authors were simply not welcomed by overseas publishers during the embargo years – and also, in the ‘old days’ before computers, writing, editing and typing a novel was a tedious and time-consuming chore that took months if not years.

For example, in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s when “Only Yesterday” was submitted to several publishers in England and the USA, it was turned down because another very similar story had already just been published on the subject of living with alcoholism, a topic Theo knew very intimately.

Short Stories:

A lot of Theo Engela’s stories were set in the South African bushveld and in popular society of the 1950’s and 60’s. Some of them have a hint or feel of Hitchcock. To read them now provides the reader a fresh look at a world now long vanished. Using imagery and place names unfamiliar to folk living in the 21st century, Theo shows us a simpler, less complicated world filled with wonder and mystery, where crime could still be ‘perfect’ and pass undetected, while the world lived fearfully under the ever-present threat of the Cold War.

Fifteen of his thirty-two short stories were published in the SAP magazine during the 1950s. In the 1960s-70s many of these were dramatized for broadcasting on Springbok Radio.

Mesmerizing African folklore and almost-vanished cultures stand side by side. Rounded off in his own unique style, Theo Engela displayed a biting sense of humor and acidic irony in his works, which would probably not seem out of place in a Hitchcock serial. Published in local magazines of the 1950’s, most or all of these shorts were dramatized for local radio in the 60’s and 70’s, appearing on the now legendary Springbok Radio which operated from 1950-1985.

Only 12 of these remarkable short stories still exist – those that feature in the anthology “African Assignment” – lovingly compiled, revised and edited by his daughter Christina.

Despite the radio dramatization of many of his short stories, only one copy is known to still exist (“Assignment”). Until 2016, no other copies were known to exist – not even in the archives of the SABC itself, or on website archives dedicated to the much-missed Springbok Radio. A new web resource dedicated to the preservation of the memory of the much-loved radio station, featuring audio clips, is due to resurface before the end of 2016.

The following is a visually enhanced 1975 radio dramatization of “Assignment”, a short story by Theo Engela, contained within the anthology “African Assignment”.


(Short stories appearing in “African Assignment“)

(Short stories lost)


(Articles & Other)

About Christina’s Parents

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