Adam Small 1996


Adam Small was born in Wellington on 21 December 1936. He spent his childhood in the settlement of Goree, originally an old mission station, near Robertson, where his father taught in the one­man school. The family later moved to Cape Town and Small matriculated at St Columba in Athlone, the Catholic High School of the Christian Brothers. He then attended the University of Cape Town where he obtained an Honours degree in Philosophy in 1956. In 1957 and 1958 he studied under the world-renowned Karel Popper at the University of London and, upon his return to South Africa in 1959, became a lecturer in Political Philosophy at the University of Fort Hare. In that year he married Julia Engelbrecht, and from that marriage two sons were born. When the University of the Western Cape opened its doors in 1960 Small moved to Cape Town as lecturer in Philosophy and was Head of Department until his resignation for political reasons in December 1973. He completed his MA dissertation (cum laude) in 1962 at the University of Cape Town on "An Enquiry into Nicolai Hartmann's Appreciation of Nietzsche's Axiology". In 1963 he left on a British Scholarship to Oxford University where he registered as a senior student of Moral Philosophy. In 1965 he returned and in 1969 married Rosalie Daniels. The couple have two children, Zaidee and Peter-John.

After a period with the Maskew Miller publishing firm in Cape Town, he worked between 1977 and 1983 as Director of the Western Cape Foundation for Community Work. In the interim he obtained qualifi­cations in Social Work through UNISA and in 1984 he returned to the University of the Western Cape, but this time as Head of Social Work. Adam Small is an exceptionally versatile person - not only a philos­opher and social worker, but also a poet dramatist, prose writer, essayist, translator and popular writer of newspaper columns (inter alia in Rapport and Die Burger).

Small published Verse van die lie/de, his first book of poetry in 1957, after which appeared Kitaar my kruis (1961) and Se Sjibbolet (1963), as well as an English volume of poetry Black, Bronze, Beautiful (1975). In the last-mentioned volume he renounced the protest which characterised his Afrikaans volumes of poetry and aligned himself with the black consciousness movement in poems celebrating the "black" identity with pride.

During the years of apartheid he, through the satirical element in his literary work, commented critically on racism and injustice in the South African social system. The volume Kitaar my kruis, in particular, is a high point in his oeuvre which made the Afrikaans reader aware of the lot of the brown people under apartheid. In Kitaar my kruis Small for the first time in Afrikaans uses the "Cape" dialect spoken by a simple working-class person to play in an apparently light

hearted way on the strings of the language - but the light-heartedness is deceptive since his guitar is at the same time his "cross". There is a strong Christian sub­structure to the volume, as there is in most of his work. Small's literary work may be seen as the beginning of protest literature in Afrikaans - with many subsequent emulators, particularly also as regards the use of the Cape dialect.

In the field of prose Klein simbool appeared in 1958 (prose sketches and maxims), followed by a less well-known early work Die eerste steen? (1961) with essays containing protest against the apartheid system. The book was dedicated to "my people, the Afrikaners" and in it the conscience of his fellow-Afrikaner was addressed directly as he confronted "my white brother" with the injustice of apartheid legislation. Afrikaans stories that have become classics include "Klein Kylie" (in Windroos, 1964) and "Kanna hy kô hystoe" (in Sestiger 1:4, August 1964), which both served as preliminary studies for his social problem drama Kanna hy kô hystoe (1965), undoubtedly one of the most gripping plays in Afrikaans.

In 1972 the Cape Flats Players made their debut on the Western Cape campus with a performance of Kanna. This drama was translated by Small in 1988 as Kanna - He is Coming Home, and was produced again recently in Cape Town which demonstrates the continuing viability of the work. Heidesee, a novel set on the Cape West Coast, appeared in 1979.

Other plays from his pen are Joanie Galant-hulle (1978), Krismis van Map Jacobs (1983) and The Orange Earth (1983), a strongly autobiographical work.

An important historical document on which Small col­laborated was the volume of photographs and poems Oos wes tuis bes Distrik Ses (1973) (photographs by Chris Jansen and poems by Adam Small). In it a historical reconstruction is given of the now destroyed District Six. Small was also consultant for the acclaimed television series set in District Six, Onder engele (televised in 1995), in which the social problems of brown people under apartheid were addressed in particular.

As a translator Small has also made an important con­tribution to Afrikaans literature by translating poetry and the essay "Wat is 'n volk?" (translated as 'What is a people?") of Van Wyk Louw in Oh wide and sad land (1975). A new facet of his oeuvre is the setting of his work to music by his son Peter-John Small and the musical performances given by father and son at the Klein Karoo Arts Festival in 1995 and 1996.

In 1981 the University of Natal recognised Small's "Cape" contribution to Afrikaans literature by con­ferring an honorary doctorate upon him. In 1993 Adam Small received the Order of Meritorious Service (gold class) from President FW de Klerk. In the same year he was promoted to Senior Professor at UWC., In 1994 he and Jan Rabie both received "Dankie-se" awards at the Klein Karoo Arts Festival, and in 1995 he accepted membership of the Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns. In April 1996 Adam Small was elected Chairperson of the CAPAB Board.

To summarise, Professor Adam Small has as writer, thinker and social worker played an important role over many years in a process of transforming the socio-political dispensation in South Africa. He has furthermore also made a unique contribution to Afrikaans literature as a dramatist, satirist and protest poet. With his innovative use of the Cape dialect in Kitaar my kruis (1961) he inspired a whole school of poets and also succeeded as poet-intellectual in giving literary expression to the collective voice of the brown working class on the Cape Flats.

The University of Port Elizabeth accordingly considers it appropriate to give recognition to Adam Small for his exceptional role as keeper of the conscience of the nation, as well as for his enrichment of Afrikaans literature. It is an honour for the Senate and Council of the University of Port Elizabeth to confer the degree of Doctor Philosophiae, honoris causa, upon Adam Small.