Remembering Colin Smuts

Our younger selves. Chatting to Colin at the ANFASA AGM.

Just weeks ago, on 18 April, 2021, Colin ‘Jiggs’ Smuts regaled us with stories about his fascinating life in a talk titled ‘Unsung and Unbung’. He was in full form and as usual everyone enjoyed his sharp wit and quick humour. Sadly, last week Themba messaged me to say that his dad had passed away.

It has taken me a while to sit and write about Colin, as there has been so much to process.

Colin and I met when we were members of ANFASA (the Academic and Non Fiction Association of South Africa) and we quickly became very good friends. As he was based in Johannesburg and I in Cape Town, this was a friendship from afar, but we always gravitated towards each other at the ANFASA AGM’s and my family and I so enjoyed his visits to Cape Town. Colin was someone who knew how to light up a room for everyone and soon had us all in peals of laughter, listening to his humorous stories and responding to his witty remarks. Colin was also a very accomplished writer, journalist and anti-Apartheid political activist who was never afraid of speaking the truth to power. Most importantly, he was a doting father.

At his funeral last week, though I attended on-line, one could feel the deep sense of loss experienced by the many people who loved Colin as very moving tributes came in from friends, his stepdaughter Rona and son Themba.

Colin’s last visit to Cape Town was in March this year when he attended a memorial for his first wife Dolphine and he drove through to have lunch with us. It was a very informal affair, sitting in the kitchen as my son has taken over my dining room table as his workplace since COVID. However, Colin and I had a real heart to heart chat and while I was busying myself in the kitchen, at one stage he remarked: “Do you know how happy it is making me just to sit here and watch you”. I did not realize that he had been diagnosed with emphysema and that he knew that his time was limited. Maybe this is what he was trying to tell me.
When Colin left he hugged my daughter and I goodbye at the gate and we watched him drive off, little knowing that this would be his last visit to us in Cape Town.  

Thank you, dear Colin, for your friendship over the years; for the humorous stories, valued insights and perspectives. You were a very treasured friend and very much loved by my family and friends. My condolences to Themba and Rona. Your loss is a great one and may time heal your pain. What I will miss most about Colin is the laughter.

8 thoughts on “Remembering Colin Smuts”

  1. I met Colin once for a beautiful simple lunch at his beautiful home in Fleurhof.. He was a Family friend more of my Dad and Mom, and ‘we hooked up’ through FB… I so wish I had got to know him better. I did not know he was ill either. That special luncheon in December 2020 is remembered with fondness and love. Life is short… I do miss him, even though it was so brief a time I shared with himself and son. Rest in eternal peace Colin. Condolences once again to Family and Friends.

  2. Thank you Joline for hosting that zoom event with Colin, and linking us like this.
    I knew Jiggs when he ran Open School. Jen Curtis, Pindile Mfeti, Thandie Gugushe and Reuben Denge worked in the archives of Race Relations and I coordinated the Education Information Centre. All of us were housed in Flaxbro House an annex of SAIRR.
    What a time that was! Huge learning for me, intense politics, constant harassment by the security branch, and wonderful friendships formed.
    We, of course, couldn’t eat lunch together at a restaurant, so we brought it in and sat at the long table of Open School . Usually after work we hung out together with a demijohn of “tassies”.
    We had lunch in Cape Town in March last year, and the the zoom thing you organized where he was his feisty, irreverent self.

  3. Colin, or Jiggs as he also liked to be called shared a flat with me in the Paddington area of London in the late sixties. Being hardly out of our teens we both held very left wing views and I can remember a poster of Che Guevara on the lounge wall. Colin told me that he was going to start the revolution on his return to South Africa. My parents visited on one occasion and on being asked by them about his future, he said that he would like to teach. Well he did not JUST teach, he became an educationalist, author, journalist and politician. He may not have started the revolution but he was heavily involved in what he called “The Struggle” during the decades that we had lost contact and after his return to Botswana with Dolphine. It was only during the spring of last year that I made contact with him again after reading a book by Wilbur Smith. Having purchased ‘Nights of Immorality’, I immediately recognised Colin in the character of Arnie Botha. We corresponded regularly and he was always prompt with a reply. That is until after his ‘Unbung and Unsung’ talk. He was quick to say how pleased he was that I had attended. Sadly I didn’t get back to him straight away but when I did, he didn’t respond which concerned me. Finally he did get back to me with what became his last words; “Nick, I have been diagnosed with emphysema and I’m finding it difficult to breathe, it’s a blow. Please be patient with me. I’ll keep you posted”. My heartfelt condolences go out to Themba and Rona. Someone said that Colin was “Larger than Life”. Well he certainly was!

    1. Dear Nick, Thank you so much for sharing these memories of your treasured friendship with Colin.
      You are so right. Colin was larger than life and a very special person. I am so glad that you were
      able to reconnect and will pass your message on to Themba and Rona.

  4. What can I say about 4 decades of knowing this extraordinary human being who was mentor, employer, educator, and most of all solid friend to me throughout this time of knowing him. He was an avid supporter of my music and dance and he rallied inspiring people together in ways that no one else could. He remained steadfast and committed to the arts and education despite all odds. His passing has left a deep void in the lives of all who knew him and he will be remembered and loved throughout time.

    1. Thank you so much, Wendy for sharing these poignant memories and insights into
      the remarkable person that Colin was.

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