Remembering the legendary ‘literary giant’

Respected and acclaimed Cape Town late poet Adam Small, 79.

Social workers, writers and early childhood development (ECD) practitioners were among those who paid tribute to the late Professor Adam Small at an event organised by the Foundation for Community Work (FCW) last week.

Professor Small died on Saturday June 25, at the age of 79.

On Thursday July 21, the FCW, of which Professor Small was a founding member, hosted an event in honour of his life at the New Apostolic Church in Silvertown. Professor Small’s wife, Dr Rosalie Small, could not attend the event, as she needed medical attention after having attended another event in honour of her husband at the Artscape Theatre, the day before.

Tributes for Professor Small, described as a literary giant, an activist and a disruptor of the apartheid government, poured in from far and wide.

He was born in Wellington and raised on a farm in Goree, outside Robertson, where his father served as school principal. After attending several Catholic schools, he matriculated in 1953 and obtained a degree in languages and philosophy, and a MA (cum laude) at the University of Cape Town. He was appointed lecturer of philosophy at the University of Fort Hare in 1959 and at UWC in 1960. He served as the head of UWC’s philosophy department until 1973, and returned in 1984 as the head of its social work department. He retired in 1997 and in 2001 the university conferred on him an honourary doctorate. Among those who paid tribute to his life, was Professor Eric Atmore, the director at the Centre for Early Childhood Development and a founding member of the National Early Childhood Development Alliance.

“I met Professor Small over a period of 30 years and in two different, but related settings,” he said. “The first was as a student supervisor when I was asked by him in the 1980s to supervise social work students at UWC and the second was on the occasion two years ago of the FCW’s 40th anniversary celebration.

“Besides his work as a literary giant, it is in these two areas – social work, social development and ECD – that Prof Small made a lasting impression on people and on the two sectors. The word that springs to mind is influence. He influenced these two sectors significantly and this influence will live on in his students, now graduates, and in the ECD sector.

“As I recall, his teaching of social work students broke the mould. He saw students as activists who would go out and change lives. He challenged his students (and others) to think critically and creatively, to question and to innovate and he did this many decades before these words became part of today’s jargon.

“In the ECD sector he was the first director of FCW in the mid-1970s. It was his thinking and influence – especially on the difficulties faced by families who were oppressed and forced into poverty by an uncaring and racist government – which led to FCW taking a particular approach to ECD practice. Not the rigid teacher training programmes which was popular at the time, but a more comprehensive and integrated approach based on the family and on community. Looking back, this ties up neatly with his teaching in social work and social development.

“It must be noted that some 40 years after he led FCW, the recently approved, South African government ECD policy now includes many of the ideas which Prof Small advocated so many years ago.

“From the ECD sector we recognise the role that Professor Small played in bringing these ideas to the fore, for leading the way and for instilling in the sector the practice of caring, supporting, enabling, empowering and above all, respectful intervention when working with people and communities.”

To Shirmoney Rhode, a big fan, who only met Professor Small once, two years ago, he was her hero and role model. Ms Rhode has written three poems in honour of Professor Small, whom she says inspired her to write in “Kaapse Afrikaans”.

“Although I was born many years after him, and found myself in a community and space far removed from him, it felt as if I know him, and as if he knew me,” Ms Rhode said, adding that she felt this way, because she could identify with the characters he wrote about.

She also said she wished she had known him personally.

Ingrid Daniels, director of Cape Mental Health, was a junior social worker in the 1980s, when Professor Small was her boss at UWC.

“Those were difficult political times, but he had no time for heirarchies and was a deeply spiritual man. He was respected by staff and students alike. He allowed me to be bold and big, despite being a junior, who used her small, insecure voice in staff meetings. He inspired us to do that – to voice our opinions. He believed in the right to dignity and humanity. He wanted the social work department to be relevant to the issues of the day. His talent spoke for itself. He was brave, couragious, and powerful in the messages he brought about. He was like a rare gem found in the depths of the earth. Thank you for stretching our thoughts,” Ms Daniels said during her tribute.


Adam van al’ie nasies

Vi’ Adam Small (2016)

Soes ‘* Adam aan die begin van al’ie nasies,

het jy oek spasie gemaak vi ‘* rib aan jou sy,

‘* Rosalie soos ‘* Rut van ouds,

getrou tot aan die roggel.

Getrou aan die rib van jou rib.

Soes ‘* Adam aan die begin van al’ie nasies

het jy spasie gemaak vi ‘* taal.

‘* Standaard.

‘* Bolands.

‘* Kaaps.

Afrikaans met al sy gesigte.

Daai oem da erens in Wellington

met sy vaal stof skoene en brei in sy vehemelte.

Daai antie in Hanover Park met die overall by die wasgoedlyn,

wie se valse tanne nog in ‘* glasie water voo ha kooi staan.

Jy’tie geskroom om hulle storie te vetel nie

Jyt oekie gedink hulle is te common vi Afrikaans’ie

Soes ‘* Adam van ouds het jy opgestaan na die

val vannie vrug, jyt opgestaan van jou rug

en met pen en papier geploeg en gespoeg.

Soema in die gevriete van daai’s wie gemean

het Kaapse Afrikaans is nie genoeg.

Innie liewens van die randfigure het jy die Here gesien,

en sy werke verstaan.

Tanne getel vannie straatvieer en factory worker,

die vrugtesmous en blommeverkoeper.

Soes ‘* Adam van ouds, was jy die vrug vannie liewe

gegie, en toe jy kan sien, het jy geskrywe wat jy sien.

Met jou kitaar as kruis het jy van huis tot huis mure

afgebriek van disgrace.

En nou pellie, kan ek my weergawe vannie taal

praat sonne om skaam te skuil omdat sommiges mean

my storie makie sakie.

Jyt gese dit maak saak, en nou is daai al wat vi’my matter.

Dit staan geskrywe, maybe nou nie op lywe, ma in my hart

wa dit hoort.

Saloet. Saloet. Saloet.

– by Shirmoney Rhode

Previous articleSlain driver remembered
Next article67 minutes