Farewell Adam Small, beloved academic

Professor Adam Small and wife Rosalie at their home.

Tributes poured in from across the country after the death of one of South Africa’s most loved academics, thought leaders and activists, Professor Adam Small.

Professor Small, who was born in Wellington and lived in Heathfield, Cape Town, died at the Kingsbury Hospital in Claremont in the early hours of Saturday June 25, after a complication during vein bypass surgery.

Professor Small’s widow, Rosalie recollected her late husband’s phenomenal life and their 46 years of marriage.

“We have so many wonderful memories together. Today I am remembering all the good things, and celebrating his life,” said Rosalie.

The news of her husband’s death came as a shock to their family. “He went in for an operation on Friday and when he came out of the theatre, he looked as good as anyone could.

“I left at about 7pm, and didn’t think for one moment that anything would go wrong.

“At around 11.50pm, the hospital called and said Adam wanted his family there.

“My son and I went through, and my daughter came as well.

“At around 3pm, his sugar level plummeted, and we were asked to leave the room.

“I paced up and down, up and down. The doctors then opened the door and said he passed away.

“I said, ‘I cant believe it’.”

After a pause, she said: “He went peacefully. There was no struggle. It looked like he fell asleep.”

Professor Small had been married previously and got divorced in 1968.

He had two sons from that marriage, John and Leopaldt.

In 1969, he married Rosalie, and the couple had two children, Peter and Zaidee.

“Adam’s contribution to literature, not only Afrikaans literature, will be remembered.

“He took a language that people speak (Kaaps), and made people realise that it is a fullfledged language that it is not inferior,” Ms Small said.

Professor Small had devoted his life to his work, which highlighted the lives and oppression of the working class under the apartheid regime and pioneered writing in Kaaps – a language spoken mostly by coloured people in Cape Town.

His first published collection of poetry was Verse van liefde (1957), followed by Klein Simbool (1958).

In his poetry collections Kitaar my Kruis (1961) and Se Sjibbolet (1963), he criticised apartheid policies and racial discrimination – a theme echoed in his essay, Die Eerste Steen, which looks at the influence of apartheid on race relations.

President Jacob Zuma extended his condolences to Professor Small’s family on Sunday.

“We wish to convey our deepest condolences to the Small family, friends and relatives.

“We have lost a legendary writer and valuable thought leader. May his soul rest in eternal peace,” said President Zuma.

Professor Small was born in Wellington in December 1936 and raised on a farm in Goree, outside Robertson, where his father was the school principal.

He studied languages, philosophy and moral philosophy at UCT, the London School of Economics and the University of Oxford, and went on to be one of the academic founders of UWC, and its first head of the department of philosophy.

UWC rector and vice-chancellor Professor Tyrone Pretorius said he was grateful for the role Professor 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 sends 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,” Professor Pretorius said.

Professor Small also contributed a fortnightly column for the Cape Times, Counterpoint.

Reverend Steven-John Bam, on behalf of the Moderature of the Calvyn Protestant Church of South Africa, said the church still recognised Small’s work and his contribution to a free democratic South Africa.

While a date for his funeral has not yet been decided, Rosaliesaid a private cremation and a public memorial service would be planned.