Sunday Times Books LIVE Community Sign up

Login to Sunday Times Books LIVE

Forgotten password?

Forgotten your password?

Enter your username or email address and we'll send you reset instructions

Sunday Times Books LIVE

RIP Adam Small (1936-2016)

Adam Small en Rosalie Small
GoreeThe Orange EarthKlawerjasVi' Adam SmallKrismis van Map JacobsKo lat ons singKanna hy kô huistoe

Poet, writer, academic and Black Consciousness activist Adam Small has died, aged 79, after complications arising from an operation.

Small was born on 21 December 1936 in Wellington. He matriculated in 1953 from St Columba’s High School in Athlone on the Cape Flats. In 1963 he completed an MA (cum laude) in the philosophy of Nicolai Hartmann and Friedrich Nietzsche at the University of Cape Town. He also studied at the University of London and Oxford University in the United Kingdom.

Small became a lecturer in philosophy at the University of Fort Hare in 1959, and in 1960 he was one of the academic founders of the University of the Western Cape, when he was appointed Head of the Philosophy Department. In the early 1970s he joined the Black Consciousness movement.

In 1973 he was pressured to resign from the UWC, which prompted a move to Johannesburg, where he became the Head of Student Body Services at Wits University. He returned to Cape Town in 1977, where he was Director of the Western Cape Foundation for Community Services until 1983. In 1984 he returned to the UWC as the Head of the Social Services Department, a position he held until his retirement in 1997.

Adam SmallSmall made his debut as a poet in 1957 with Verse van die liefde. Some of his other well known poetry volumes include Kitaar my kruis (1961) and Sê Sjibbolet (1963). His best known theatrical drama is Kanna hy kô hystoe (1965).

He was awarded the Hertzog Prize in 2012, for his contribution to drama. The award, long overdue, was not without controversy as the prize is usually awarded to a writer who has published new work.

His play The Orange Earth, written in 1978 in the heyday of apartheid and two years after the Soweto Uprising, was published for the first time by NB Publishers in 2013. At the same time his first poetry collection in 40 years, Klawerjas, was also published.

City of Cape Town Mayor Patricia de Lille paid tribute to Small, saying: “It is with great sadness that I have learnt of the passing of one of our county’s dear sons, Adam Small.

“As a writer and poet, Adam Small used his craft to highlight the oppression suffered by the working class under the apartheid regime.

“Last year I was honoured to sit next to Adam Small and listen to his famous pieces, ‘Kô lat ons sing’ and ‘Oos wes tuis bes Distrik Ses’. Many years after he had written those pieces, his words and the emotions were still so vivid and touching. On behalf of the City of Cape Town, I extend my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Adam Small.

“Rest in peace Adam Small. We will always remember you for your great contribution to literature and the Struggle.”

Books LIVE sends condolences to Small’s wife, Rosalie, and his family and friends.

Book details

Rus in vrede, Adam Small (1936-2016)

Adam Small
GoreeThe Orange EarthKlawerjasVi' Adam SmallKrismis van Map JacobsKo lat ons singKanna hy kô huistoe

NB-Uitgewers deel met leedwese die nuus dat een van Afrikaans se grootste stemme stil geraak het. Adam Small is op Saterdag 25 Junie oorlede nadat hy die vorige dag ’n operasie ondergaan het. Ons innige meegevoel gaan aan sy vrou, Rosalie, en sy familie.

Adam Small was een van die reuse van die Afrikaanse letterkunde. Hy het groot aansien geniet as digter en dramaturg, sowel as akademikus. Small het veral stem gegee aan die mense van die Kaapse Vlakte – beide deur die tematiek van sy werk en die wyse waarop hy Kaapse Afrikaans as literêre taal gevestig het, waarin ‘n gemeenskap se totale menswees uitgeleef word, en ook uitgedruk kan word. As lid van die Sestiger-beweging het hy baanbrekerswerk in Afrikaans gedoen.

Adam SmallDie erkenning wat hy reeds dekades vroeër verdien het, het weens die omstredenheid rondom sy werk agterweë gebly. Dié fout is eers ’n paar jaar gelede, in 2012, reggestel toe die Hertzogprys aan hom toegeken is en hy dit met grasie aanvaar het. Sy dankwoord by die aanvaarding van die prys is deur sy vrou, Rosalie, voorgelees, en het soos volg geëindig: “En heeltemal ten slotte, die belangrikste gedagte vir vanaand moet wees: laat die tesamevoeging van die name Hertzog en Adam Small ’n groot simboliek van versoening vir die mense van ons land wees. Politieke versoening is belangrik, maar intellektuele versoening, wat slegs deur die filosofie en die kuns gedra kan word, is diepsinniger en die grond van alles. Laat ons opvrolik. In daardie ewige woorde: Kô lat ons sing!”

Marga Stoffer, uitgewersbestuurder van NB-Uitgewers, het gesê: “Vir NB-Uitgewers was dit ’n voorreg om hierdie merkwaardige skrywer se werk te kon publiseer. Sy werk het mense se lewens diep geraak, en sy heengaan is ’n groot verlies vir Afrikaans.”

Tertius Kapp, fiksie-uitgewer by Tafelberg: “Adam Small het diep, skerp, slim en mooi spore getrap waarin ‘n generasie skrywers vandag kan naloop. Die wyse waarop hy ‘n geweldige intellek, medemenslikheid en sosiale betrokkenheid in drama en poësie kon saambring, is ongeëwenaard. Hy maak steeds vir ons lig: “moet hierie woorde soes moet kerse”.

Eloise Wessels, uitvoerende hoof van NB-Uitgewers: “Adam Small het gesê ‘ons lewe in ’n land van hart se bloei’, maar nou bloei ons harte oor die verlies van ’n skrywer wat in baie opsigte die gewete van die Afrikaanssprekende gemeenskap was. Ons sal hom baie mis.”

Book details

2016 Media24 Books Literary Awards winners announced

2016 Media24 Books Literary Awards winners announced

Alert! Finuala Dowling, Ingrid Winterbach and Milton Shain were among the winners of the 2016 Media24 Books Literary Awards.

The awards recognise the best work published by Media24 Books – including NB Publishers and Jonathan Ball – during the previous year. More than 50 books published by Media24 during 2015 were entered for the awards, which offered prize money totalling more than R200,000.

The Fetch
The 2016 Herman Charles Bosman prize for English fiction went to Finuala Dowling for her novel The Fetch, published by Kwela. In their commendation, the judges lauded Dowling for “the strength of the writing, the subtlety and wit of the language, her descriptive powers and her skill at creating credible characters that are of real interest to us: complex, human, and quirky”.


A Perfect Storm
Milton Shain received the Recht Malan prize for nonfiction for A Perfect Storm: Antisemitism in South Africa 1930-1948, published by Jonathan Ball and described by the judges as history at its most compulsively readable. “In a time when violent xenophobia regularly rears its ugly head across the country, the continent and the globe, this marvellous book is a timely reminder of what can happen when politicians in pursuit of power demonise a vulnerable group,” the judges said.


The winner of the WA Hofmeyr prize for Afrikaans fiction is Ingrid Winterbach for her novel Vlakwater, published by Human & Rousseau. It is the fourth time Winterbach received this prestigious award. The novel, which is currently being translated into English, broadens an already impressive oeuvre, the judges said.


The Elisabeth Eybers prize for English or Afrikaans poetry went to Free State poet Gilbert Gibson for his fifth collection of poetry, Vry- (Human & Rousseau).


Elton Amper-Famous April en Juffrou Brom
The MER Prize for youth novels went to Carin Krahtz for Elton amper famous April en juffrou Brom (Tafelberg).


Die Dingesfabriek: Jannus en Kriek en die tydmasjien
The MER prize for illustrated children’s books went to Elizabeth Wasserman and illustrator Astrid Castle for Die Dingesfabriek 4: Jannus en Kriek en die tydmasjien (Tafelberg).


The judges were:

Herman Charles Bosman Prize: Johan Jacobs, Molly Brown and Ann Donald

The Recht Malan Prize: John Maytham, Elsa van Huyssteen and Max du Preez

The WA Hofmeyr Prize: Thys Human, Danie Marais and Bernard Odendaal

Elisabeth Eybers Prize: Henning Pieterse, Antjie Krog and Francois Smith

MER Prize for youth novels: Louise Steyn, Verushka Louw and Wendy Maartens

MER prize for illustrated children’s books: Lona Gericke, Paddy Bouma and Magdel Vorster.

Book details

Dancing in Other Words - extravaganza of poetry, music and dance at 2016 Spier Poetry Festival

Keorapetswe Kgositsile & Breyten Breytenbach

The 2016 Spier Poetry Festival, Dancing in Other Words, was a remarkable event, buzzing with vital, vibrant conversations, wonderful fusions of music and poetry, and powerful live performances by living legends.

This, the third festival curated by South African authors Breyten Breytenbach and Dominique Botha, brought local and international poets together for a series of vital discussions held at the wine farm and elsewhere over the course of a week. Saturday, 7 May, was a balmy late autumn day, perfect for the final outpouring of creative conversations that had commenced over the previous week in a range of places, both internal and external.

Dominique Botha

During the week they spent together, poets and songsters, writers and translators, publishers and academics, teachers and students spoke among – and sometimes at – each other. This conversation took place in the present and across the ages. It was old; it was entirely new. An inter-generational and cross-cultural dialogue unfolded, which sometimes resonated and sometimes rattled. This represents a continuation of the discourse commenced at previous festivals held under the Spier banner, and talks to other literary festivals where bright minds have sought to express themselves and wrestle with inconvenient truths.

The Spier Poetry Festival opened, once again, a space for a full and robust creative expression and celebration of that which makes us uniquely human.

Keorapetse Kgositsile


James Matthews

Dominique Botha, Marí Stimie, Neo Muyanga, Catherine du Toit, Breyten Breytenbach, Georges Lory, Maram al-Masri, Efe Paul Azino, Yvette Christiansë, Keorapetse Kgositsile, James Matthews and Hans C ten Berge spent a week travelling The caravan of artists had travelled from Khayalitsha to Kayamandi, holding court with students at UWC and at UCT, and also engaging with rural communities in Darling, Kersefontein and Wellington.

As the caravan meandered along, another layer of art-making was added, as the journey was documented in a stunning dance of images by photographer Retha Ferguson. Their final day was spent at the Spier estate outside Stellenbosch where three final public discourses, all ambitiously and provocatively titled, were followed by stirring performances by the poets, some of whom were accompanied by musicians Neo Muyanga, Schalk Joubert and Laurinda Hofmeyr.

Neo Muyanga


Breytenbach’s greeting, which opened the proceedings, was uttered from all present to those, known and unknown, who once had stood there and recognised those who had called poetry to life, literally and metaphorically:

We, the band of merry minstrels, dancers and shufflers of the word before the wind of eternity, nomads searching for the horizon of the unknowable, dry drunks, low-way robbers, apprentice tricksters, would-be revolutionaries … salute and hail you, our illustrious ancestors and companions who preceded us here to imbue these spaces with beauty and with dignity.

We send you our greetings and regards as we move through the paces and the patterns and the rhythms that you laid out for us. As we fit our feet into your shoes to walk the road, it is with the hope to have lived up to the quality of sound and sincerity that people around here still remember you for.

The ensuing discussion addressed the recent statue removal at UCT, enquiring whether this represented the armed wing of political correctness. “Does destruction of the symbols from the past bind the wounds of the present, or are we tilting at windmills?” asked Breytenbach. “A confident and secure government – and populace – does not find such symbols threatening.”

Breytenbach reflected on how the interrogation of authority is integral to art-making. He reflected how authority has historically imposed a “unitary view of truth, correctness, what we ought to doing, who we should be leading and who we should follow”. The taking down of the statue of Rhodes, the removal of art from the walls at UCT provided fertile soil for impassioned engagement.

Christianse queried whether an opportunity had been missed to explore South Africa’s colonial history, using the statue of Rhodes as a point to talk about the self-perpetuating, haunting nature of power. “Modernism taught us how to incorporate the fragment,” she said, citing JM Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians, which reveals that the fragment is a sign that history was a series of tremendously violent occurrences. “The law is created by violence. If you try to break the law, it will immediately come forward to smack you again. The responsibility of teachers is to show their students how to respond in ways that remain responsive and fresh.

“As conscious community we need to care that slippage doesn’t occur. The removal of statues is symbolically important, but the issue we must urgently address is what’s next? The removal of statue, becomes the removal of a painting, becomes the burning of a library.”

Conversation II: Taunting that powdered death called Respectability. The history of protest in poetry and song, fighting for revolution, against politics.

Hans C. ten Berge


Maram Al Masri


Georges Lory

This session commenced with a slideshow containing images of Syrian refugees. The words of Syrian poet, Maram Al Masri, were read aloud in Arabic and appeared in translation in English.

A vigorous conversation followed, with the Nigerian protest poet Azino and Dutch poet Ten Berge, chaired by the French translator Georges Lory. The discussion focused on how poets speak to power. While Ten Berge was criticising the European response to the Syrian crisis, a member of the public interrupted the discussion, taking issue with him on poverty and racism in South Africa.

In Breytenbach’s words the “would-be revolutionary” had appeared. She was certainly interrogating the authority of those present, but her questions might better have been engaged with by the previous panel, where the topic had been more directly addressed.

Efe Paul Azino



The discussion was summed up by Yvette Christiansë who reminded the gathering and poetry organisers of their responsibility to attending to those in need of every form of articulation.

Yvette Christiansë


The day’s finale commenced with the Siyaya Choristers taking the stage. This young choir showed immaculate musical discipline. Dressed in red and black traditional kikois, they followed their conductor to the letter, singing with excellent intonation and exciting choreography. Their energetic performance was a perfect introduction to the reading by all the poets. Their works appeared in the original languages, projected onto the screen, alongside translations into isiXhosa, Afrikaans and English.

Siyaya Choristers


Liesl Jobson tweeted from the event:


A Red Cherry on a White-tiled FloorIf I Could SingPresent is a Dangerous Place to LiveFalse RiverUnconfessed
ImprendehoraRecumbentsVyf-en-veertig skemeraandsange uit die eenbeendanser se werkruimteParool/ParoleDie na-doodThe Party Is Over

Book details

Authors and dates announced for the 2016 Lowveld Book Festival

Invitation to the launch of 2016 Lowveld Book Festival

The 2016 Lowveld Book Festival will take place from 5-7 August this year in Mpumalanga.

Authors involved in the festival this year include Jayne Bauling, Mabonchi Goodwill Motimele, Joanne Macgregor, Cynthia Robertson, Arja Salafranca, Bontle Senne, Kiran Coetzee, Linzé Brandon, Fiona Snyckers, Jacquie Gauthier, Tony Park, Sindiwe Magona, Wynie Strydom, Melanie Reeder-Powell, Samkela Stamper, Pamela Power, Onkgopotse JJ Tabane, Alita Steenkamp, Paul-Constant Smit, Eric Miyeni, Siphesihle Shabalala, Jessica Pitchford.

The programme will be announced soon.

Event Details

  • Date: Friday, 5 August to Sunday, 7 August 2015
  • Venue: Casterbridge Lifestyle Centre
    White River
    Mpumalanga | Map
  • Email:
  • Phone: 071 134 8172


Soccer SecretsKe a hwa, ke a ikepelaFault LinesUitsonderlike liefdeBeyond TouchPowers of the Knife
Now Following YouThe Gift of an ElephantAn Empty CoastChasing The Tails of My Father’s CattleWynie - My bloed is blouA Sangoma's Story
Ms ConceptionLet's Talk FranklyLoui FishGold Never RustsHere Comes the Snake in the GrassSwitched At Birth

Book details

Stop going back to the farm: Celebrating the strong voices trying to pull South African fiction out of its self-indulgent swamp

By Wamuwi Mbao for the Sunday Times

Stop going back to the farm: Celebrating the strong voices trying to pull South African fiction out of its self-indulgent swamp


When I asked someone who claimed to be an enthusiastic reader what South African fiction he was reading, his face fell as if I had suggested drinking a tumbler full of a stranger’s tears. The kind of novel he envisioned was probably a grief-and-violence-sodden morality tale about apartheid.

South African literature, to borrow a joke from Tom Waits, is dominated by Grand Weepers and Grim Reapers. It reflects a society in which repressed sadness and spectacular violence trade regular places at the forefront of our national attention span.

The die was cast by Cry, the Beloved Country. Many people left school believing that all South African literature amounted to was wordy sermonising about the soul and pitched exchanges between white and black for the edification of some unseen interlocutor.

For many years they weren’t wrong. The crucible of South African writing has produced many significant writers, but also a great many also-rans. An odd result is that our literary scene loves a good formula. The first critic who called Cry, the Beloved Country “magisterial” should have patented the term, because that mode has become the coveted descriptor of serious South African fiction. That, and “searing”, which looks great in a review but quickly reaches its limits as an expression of anything. Paton’s novel spawned a hundred watery imitations, and so we came to understand literature as a mirror reflecting lives we already know, rather than as a way of opening life outwards.

The tree continues to bear bitter fruit. Most South African literature does too much of the work for you. This may or may not explain why South African literature sells like pork at a kibbutz. Very few, if any, South African authors make a sustained living from books alone. As one confided to me while slipping scones into his coat pocket at a book launch: “Ingrid and André obviously didn’t have student loans.”

But for the past year, I’ve been telling anyone who asks that there’s a must-read list of young South African authors. If the Mandela era birthed a crisply ambivalent literature that morphed into the hallucinatory crime-fiction boom of the Mbeki and Zuma years, the last two years have seen a new cohort of writers loosened from our traditional moorings of corruption and buried secrets.

Between postgraduate limbo and day jobs in ad agencies, these university-reared and copywriting-matured new writers create ways of speaking to the turbulence of the present. A ragtag group of novelists, poets and playwrights, their work is much more compelling than a lot of the stuff that has occupied our bookshelves over the past decade.

What does the new South African writing look like? It would probably use keywords like “hyper-literate” to describe itself. There’s a determined turn away from apartheid preoccupations, a campily sardonic humour always in touch with its own self-absorption; a favouring of statement over meditation, a pervasive anti-sentimentality, whether describing the kid next door’s death or the trepidations of a matric Rage party.

These authors are united less by age than by the environment in which they write. They understand that forgetting about verisimilitude is the first step towards achieving it. They are ciphers of our discordant age, and they embrace the unknown in ways that are exciting and that – most importantly – feel new.

* * * * *

How you know you are reading an old South African novel

1. Following the death of a father/mother/sundry other relative, Character X returns to South Africa after 10/15/20 years and must confront a dark and unresolved secret from the past (SPOILER: usually something bad involving race and/or sex).

2. Crime-by-numbers action in a loud dust-jacket, making mordant criticisms of the current government while taking great pains NOT to be about apartheid. May involve scenes from prison life that read suspiciously like they were culled from a Ross Kemp documentary.

3. Ordinary-lives drama in which City X (usually, but not always Jozi) is an awesome and edgy backdrop for a fairly ordinary story whose ordinariness is awesome and edgy because of the city.

4. Historical fiction usually involving a little-known South African historical event, padded out to speak to present-day anxieties. Is the old-world version of 5 (below).

5. Science/Future fiction, which goes to great lengths to show that the future will happen in South Africa too (probably in Joburg, but not Bredasdorp); usually uses the future to comment on the present.

* * * * *

New SA writers who might save us

Mohale MashigoThe Yearning
Mohale Mashigo
Mohale Mashigo’s The Yearning begins like a folkloric tale, reminding us that “we all have the desire to be special”. Mashigo can sound like Toni Morrison, with that same burnished sense of storytelling speaking through the novel. Zakes Mda, no less, calls The Yearning “a bewitching addition to the current South African literary boom”. Mashigo stakes out an imaginative terrain and then decorates it.
Panashe ChigumadziSweet Medicine
Panashe Chigumadzi
Panashe Chigumadzi’s Sweet Medicine brings a transnational dimension to this area of writing, being set in Zimbabwe. Sweet Medicine courses with the complications of coming to fruition in an economically precarious society. Rather, it’s a rueful tale about how to live in uncertain times, weaving in the problematics of patriarchy and gender inequality that is especially pertinent in a climate of blessers and sugar daddies.
Genna GardiniMatric Rage
Genna Gardini
Genna Gardini’s terse collection Matric Rage makes childhood feel like a morbid conspiracy. In each poem, Gardini finds an unexpected metaphor in the provincialism of everyday routines (a school outing becomes “a foefie-slide ride past the exit sign”), and her aphorisms unstitch old horrors (an abuser is “thready as a wear in the leather”). My copy is guiltily underlined, because every line shows off Gardini’s formidable powers. Her lens might swing to the past, but her poetry is rooted firmly in the present.
Nick MulgrewStations
Nick Mulgrew
In Nick Mulgrew’s Stations, muggy middle-class worlds are made knowable via reverberant prose. The stories are preoccupied with capturing the texture and shadow of an otherwise impenetrable world. Mulgrew has a knack for taking up or leaving off a story at just the right moment. Some characters’ stories stretch across several pages, while others like “Daughter” exhale their intimacies in half a page.
Koleka Putuma
Koleka Putuma
Koleka Putuma’s poetry has received rapturous attention, for good reason. She uses droll wit to cauterise old wounds and puncture new ones with equal candour: her poems reconfigure the odd predicaments of black life in South Africa without seeking to over-define what that life might be. Her magnificent suite of poems, Water, knows the deprivations and desolations beneath the everyday rituals of family life.
Wamuwi Mbao is an essayist and cultural critic. His short stories have been published in various collections. He lectures at Stellenbosch University on literary and cultural studies and post-transitional South African life.

Book details

Koleka Putuma image courtesy of the author’s website