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UWC statement on the passing of Professor Adam Small

Author: Institutional Advancement: (021) 959 2625

UWC is deeply saddened by the passing of one of its stalwarts, Professor Adam Small, who died at the age of 79.

UWC statement on the passing of Professor Adam Small 

The University of the Western Cape (UWC) is deeply saddened by the passing of one of its stalwarts, Professor Adam Small, who died at the age of 79. Prof Small was one of the intellectual founders of UWC, and will be remembered as a thoughtfully measured philosopher, a caring social worker with a profound sense of the emotional and material injustices inflicted upon his fellow citizens, and as a playwright who had the rare ability to articulate the cross currents of our time in the local patois.

Professor Small served as UWC’s first Head of the Department of Philosophy since 1960. He resigned from the University in 1973 and returned as the Head of the Department of Social Work in 1984, where he played an influential leadership role till his retirement in 1997. In recognition of his outstanding contributions to society, the University conferred an honorary doctorate on him in 2001.

Professor Charlyn Dyers, who played the lead role of Makiet in “Kanna hy ko Hystoe”, self-directed by Small, remembers “his intense emotional connection with the suffering of others and his ability to voice it authentically through the characters”.

An activist, he was very much involved in the Black Consciousness Movement - but he's perhaps better-known as a playwright who has written works dealing with racial discrimination and political injustice.

UWC has been acknowledging his special contribution since 11 April 2013 when the first annual Adam Small Dialogue was held in his honour. At the very first Dialogue, attendees were also treated to a performance of extracts from Prof Small’s works (including “Kanna hy ko Hystoe”, perhaps his most famous and lauded play) by veteran and respected South African actors Sandra Kotze and Cobus Rossouw. They showed how powerful and moving Prof Small's work could be, and how it dealt with serious issues faced by South African citizens. At the event, Prof Antjie Krog, Extraordinary Professor in UWC's Faculty of Arts and a celebrated poet and writer in her own right, expressed her appreciation for the performance. “When one listens to the poetic words of Adam Small, you realise what poetry and creative writing is capable of,” she said.

Prof Small was born in Wellington in the Western Cape on December 21, 1936. He was raised on a farm in Goree outside Robertson, where his father served as the school principal, community leader, and lay preacher to farm labourers.

After attending several Catholic schools and matriculating in 1953, Prof Small obtained a degree in languages and philosophy, and an MA (cum laude) at the University of Cape Town on the philosophy of Nicolai Hartmann and Friedrich Nietzsche. He was appointed as a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Fort Hare in 1959 and at UWC 1960.

Adam’s first published collection of poetry was “Verse van liefde” (1957). This was followed by “Klein Simbool” (1958). In his poetry collections “Kitaar my Kruis” (1961) and “Se Sjibbolet” (1963) he criticised apartheid policies and racial discrimination. This theme is echoed in his long essay, “Die Eerste Steen”, which looks at the influence of apartheid on race relations.

UWC Rector and Vice-Chancellor Professor Tyrone Pretorius said he is grateful for the role Prof Small played at the University. “Professor Small was one of the great pillars of this institution and we will remember him for his many contributions to this country and UWC. The University extends its sincere condolences to the Small family. We have a long-standing relationship with the family. Both Adam and Rosalie worked at UWC. He will be dearly missed,” he said.​

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