UFH’s longest-serving Afrikaans Professor retires after a fulfilling 26-year-long academic career

Read time: 3 mins

The University of Fort Hare (UFH) bids farewell to its longest-serving staff at the Department of Afrikaans, Prof Susan Smith – an Afrikaans Literature Prof and Poet.

Prof Smith started her academic career in 1997 as a part-time lecturer at the then satellite campus of Rhodes University in East London. When UFH and the Rhodes satellite campus merged in 2005, she was mandated to establish an Afrikaans department in East London.

During the first few years, she was the only lecturer in the Department, designing and teaching 21 undergrad modules and supervising the first masters’ student. In 2009 she was eventually appointed as full-time lecturer, while a second staff member joined the department.

Her determination saw the department grow in leaps and bounds, and by 2011 the UFH Afrikaans Department was recognised in an annual report by the Department of Higher Education and Training as the fastest-growing Afrikaans department at tertiary level in the country.

She also played a significant role in the planning of the first Language Policy at UFH.

As an academic, her research focus on ecocriticism and ecopoetics paved way for many academics in the Afrikaans literary field to follow, especially the younger generation, who are adding their voices to this critical area of research.

 During her career, she has published 10 articles in accredited and peer-reviewed journals, delivered 12 conference papers, of which two are keynote addresses, one nationally, and the other internationally, at the University of Gent. She supervised 6 masters’ students and five doctoral students. She was an external examiner for 19 masters’ dissertations and 3 doctoral theses at various universities in South Africa.

As a poet, Prof Smith has published two solo poetry volumes, and poems in over 30 anthologies, of which 17 are school textbooks. Her poetry has during the past 20 years been prescribed at all school levels, both in Home Language Afrikaans and in Afrikaans First Additional Language, and has been included in Final Matric Exam Papers for many years.

In August last year she delivered the University’s 28th Inaugural Lecture titled: Can poetry save the earth? Language and Literature in the time of posthumanism, where she took the audience on a journey of her academic career in Afrikaans literary from the time she obtained her Doctoral Degree in 1993, at age 32.

In her address, she reminded the audience that: “Words make or break things. Words move people. Words move mountains. And every word uttered, every poem read, has the possibility of changing perceptions and changing directions. It has the possibility of entering the mind and changing attitudes and actions. Of rethinking where we are, what our motherland looks like, what the soil underneath our feet looks like, where we are going, and how we are living on this soil and this land. The right word, the right poem, listened to by an absorbing, willing mind, can change the world.”

In a notice sent to the University on her last day at Fort Hare, Prof Smith wrote: “My heart is filled with so much gratitude for all the relationships I have been part of and for the love, kindness and support that I experienced over 26 years. Many of you have become my family, the people that were part of my daily life with whom I could share the joys and sorrows of our existence. I will cherish that forever. The people of Fort Hare, and the people of the Eastern Cape have made me a better person, they made it possible for me to look through different eyes, and walk in different shoes.”

“I admire the road that the institution has been taking… do not get tired, do not falter. The high road of integrity, excellence, and truth is one that is worthwhile in the end. May you all have the courage to tackle the challenges that lie ahead.”

Die Universiteit wens jou alles van die beste in die nuwe hoofstuk van jou lewe Prof Smith.