Adam Small is treasured for his mostly Afrikaans works that highlight the lives and oppression of the working class under the apartheid regime.
Born in Wellington in the Western Cape on 21 December 1936, Adam was raised on a farm in Goree, outside Robertson, where his father was the school principal, community leader and lay preacher to the farm labourers.
Adam was exposed to the faith of the Dutch Reformed Church and Islam through paternal and maternal influences. This taught him cultural and religious tolerance. His family moved to Retreat on the Cape Flats where Adam discovered the Kaaps vernacular that characterises his writing.
After attending several Catholic schools and matriculating in 1953, he obtained a degree in languages and philosophy and an MA cum laude on the philosophy of Nicolai Hartmann and
Friedrich Nietzsche at the University of Cape Town. He was appointed lecturer in philosophy at the University of Fort Hare in 1959 and at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) in 1960. He was also a past professor of English literature at the latter institution.
His activism and involvement with the Black Consciousness Movement forced him to move to
Johannesburg for some years, before returning to Cape Town in 1977. In 1983 he rejoined UWC as head of the department of social work, where he retired in 1997.
Adam’s first published collection of poetry was “Verse van die Liefde” (1957). This was followed by
“Klein Simbool” (1958). In his poetry collections “Kitaar My Kruis” (1961) and “Sê Sjibbolet” (1963) he criticises apartheid policies and racial discrimination. The theme is echoed in his long essay “Die Eerste Steen”, which looks at the influence of apartheid on race relations.
In “Kô Lat Ons Sing” it is evident that he uses his writing as a weapon in the struggle to free his people. “Oos Wes Tuis Bes Distrik Ses” (1973) is a book of poems that pays homage to the lives affected by the forced removal of the entire District Six community.
“Kanna Hy Kô Hystoe” (1965) is his landmark Afrikaans drama, praised by critics for its use of the Brechtian epic theatre and the way it experimented with music, decor and time. Adam’s protagonist is torn between his ambitions and meeting the expectations of his people. The play highlights the politics
that imprisons people in despair and explores responsibility for one’s actions.
The work preceded plays like “Joanie Galant-hulle” (1978), which relates a family’s exposure to the gang violence and poverty of the Cape Flats after being forced to move from Woodstock.
In the novel “Heidesee” (1979) Adam looks at the effect of apartheid and a capitalistic economy on a small fishing community, while “Krismis van Map Jacobs” (1983) investigates a search for identity as the protagonist deals with the guilt of being partly responsible for a violent act committed against
Other work includes A Brown Afrikaner Speaks: A Coloured Poet and Philosopher Looks Ahead (1971); Black Bronze Beautiful (1975), Oh Wide and Sad Land: Afrikaans poetry of NP van Wyk Louw (1975), translated into English by Adam, and District Six (1986, with photographer Chris Jansen).
For his everlasting contribution to Afrikaans literature, the City of Cape Town confered Civic Honours on Adam Small.
Adam leaves behind his wife, Rosalie, and his four children. Rest In Peace Professor.