Bartho Smit (1924–1986) was a South African writer, poet, dramatist, director, translator, editor and publisher.
Born Bartholomeus Jacobus Smit in Klerkskraal on 15 July 1924, he matriculated in Standerton and then completed a bachelor's degree at the University of Pretoria in 1949, followed by a Master of Arts degree in 1951.
He met the actress Kita Redelinghuys while a student and they married in 1949. The two of them to toured Paris, Munich and London between 1952 and 1957, where he immersed himself in drama and philosophy. While in Europe they also met and became close friends with South African author Jan Rabie and others.
When they returned to South Africa, Smit initially worked as an arts editor for publications like Dagbreek and Sondagnuus, before becoming a publisher at the Afrikaanse Pers-Boekhandel. Founder and key member of the Sestigers movement, he was successively also the editor of magazines such as 60, Kol and Sestiger. Later, in the 1980s, he was also an influential founding member of the Afrikaanse Skrywersgilde ("Afrikaans writers' guild")
He was finally awarded the Hertzog Prize for Drama in 1978 in recognition of his work as dramatist, with special mention being made of his plays Christine, Moeder Hanna, Putsonderwater and Die Verminktes (Beeld, 29 Apr 1978).
In the year he turned 60 (1984), three compilations of essays were published by Perskor to celebrate his life and contribution to Afrikaans literature and theatre: Bartho edited by Chris Barnard; Sestigers in Woord en Beeld: Bartho Smit and Spel en Spieël. Besprekings van die modern Afrikaanse drama en teater, the latter two edited by Charles Malan.
Sadly, he died of cancer in Johannesburg on 31 December 1986, aged 62.
Contribution to SA theatre, film, media and/or performance
Though he began his writing career as a poet, when he and his actress wife Kita went to Germany to finish his doctorate in philosophy (which he never did), Smit became enamoured with theatre and returned ready to become a dramatist and director.
An intellectual and highly experimental writer with a respect for theatrical tradition and a flair for the dramatic and metaphoric, Smit’s work is vastly eclectic and frequently controversial, the writing at times slightly cumbersome – yet always memorable.
Always a political maverick, he - like his contemporary Athol Fugard - soon moved on to highly charged and serious political work, perhaps making him the most banned playwright in South African history, with virtually all his plays running into trouble with the authorities (see entries on the individual plays).
For details on the plays, click on the titles to go to the individual entries
Meisies van Vervloë Dae ("Girls of bygone days"), written early 1950s, performed 1959.
Don Juan onder die Boere ("Don Juan among the Farmers/Boers"), 1960
Putsonderwater (later translated into English as Well-without-water, or The Virgin and the Vultures), 1962
Die Man met 'n Lyk om sy Nek ("The man with a corpse around his neck"), 1967
Die Man met die Alibi ("The man with an alibi"), 1971
Bacchus in die Boland, 1974
Die Keiser, "variasies op ’n sprokie van Hans Andersen", ("The emperor, variations on a theme by Hans Andersen"), 1977
Hagar, written in 1977-8, but not performed or published.
Sagmoedige Neelsie (1973)
Love Potion 196*
At the same time he was a superb translator of a wide range of European writers, an activity that brought him many awards, including the Hertzog Prize.
His Afrikaans translations include:
Die Les (Ionesco),
Die Renosters (Ionesco)
Die Koning Sterf (Ionesco),
Montserrat (Emmanuel Roblés),
Becket of Die Eer van God (Jean Anouilh),
Jakkalsstreke van Scapino (Molière),
Die Burgemeester (Gert Hofmann),
Klaagsang om 'n Sagmoedige (Fyodor Dostoevsky)
Die Besoek van die Ou Dame (Dürrenmatt), 1962
Kom Terug, Klein Skeba (William Inge)
Most of his translations were first published in individual editions, that were later collected in Bartho Smit-vertalings, a set of five volumes published by HAUM Literêr in 1985. The set received the Hertzog Prize for Translated work in 1985.
Smit directed many of his own plays over the years, making his name with a few experiments with the realistic one act play, including his earliest work – Meisies van Vervloë Dae - and the play that established his reputation as dramatist, the haunting Moeder Hanna. Both produced by NTO in their NTO Kamertoneel in 1959, directed by Smit himself. He was also appointed as director of both Putsonderwater (1970) and Christine (1971) for CAPAB, but both plays were withdrawn just before rehearsals were to start.
Other plays directed by Smit over the years include Sagmoedige Neelsie (1973).
As publisher, theorist and mentor
Smit was a visionary and daring publisher and a natural mentor to writers. With his interest in philosophy, he was naturally drawn to exploring the link between the theory and practice of the theatre and the society it arose from. A number of his articles in this regard were published in the collection Losgoed (1974), along with early plays and poetry.
Besides acting as mentor for a range of his contemporaries, his spirit has also lived on in the work produced by a dynamic new generation of Afrikaans writers that came to the fore in the 1980s, among them Reza de Wet, Deon Opperman and Charles Fourie.
1960: Encyclopaedia Britannica Award for his English translation of his play Die Verminktes (The Maimed).
1985: Hertzog Prize for Translated Work
The Star, 16 November 1968.
Chris Barnard. 1984. Bartho. Johannesburg: Perskor.
Charles Malan. 1984. Sestigers in Woord en Beeld: Bartho Smit. Johannesburg: Perskor.
Charles Malan. 1984. Spel en Spieël. Besprekings van die modern Afrikaanse drama en teater. Johannesburg: Perskor.
Percy Tucker. 1997. Just the Ticket. My 50 Years in Show Business. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press.
SATJ Sept. 1987
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