S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Grobbelaar, Dr Coert Smit (zoology, physical anthropology)

Born: 16 July 1886, Middelburg, Eastern Cape, South Africa.
Died: 15 January 1976, Bloemfontein, South Africa.
Dr Coert Smit Grobbelaar

Coert Smit (Oom Coert) Grobbelaar, son of Coert Grobbelaar and his wife Philippa Elizabeth, born Smit, matriculated at the boys' high school, Paarl, in 1903. Continuing his studies at Victoria College, Stellenbosch, he passed the intermediate examination for the BA degree (equivalent to the first year of study) in 1905, but then interrupted his studies. After a few years he enrolled at Rhodes University College, Grahamstown, and was awarded the BA degree with honours in Zoology by the University of the Cape of Good Hope in 1910. From 1911 to 1913 he was a school teacher at Lindley and Boshof in the Free State and in the latter year was appointed as lecturer in zoology at Victoria College (from 1918 the University of Stellenbosch) to assist Prof E.J. Goddard*. At the same time he continued his studies and obtained the Master of Arts (MA) degree in the natural sciences from the University of the Cape of Good Hope in 1914. In 1922 he went to the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin, Germany, which awarded him a doctoral degree (cum laude) the next year. His doctoral thesis was entitled Beitraege zu einer anatomischen Monographie der Xenopus laevis (Daudin) (Contribution to an anatomical monograph of Xenopus laevis [Cape platanna]). After his return to South Africa he obtained a Higher Secondary Education Diploma from the University of Stellenbosch and was promoted to senior lecturer in zoology and physical anthropology in the university's Institute of Zoology, a post he held until his retirement in 1956. In 1939 he went to Munich on study leave in order to study anthropology, but owing to the outbreak of World War II in September that year he returned to South Africa and studied anthropology at the University of Cape Town.

Grobbelaar's zoological research was reported in various scientific papers, for example, "A plea for vermian parasitological research, with reference to South African domestic and native animals" (South African Journal of Science, 1917); "The Scolopendridae of South Africa" (Annals of the Transvaal Museum, 1921); "On South African Paramphistomidae (Fisch.) II. Some trematodes in South African Anura, and the relationships and distribution of their hosts" (Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa, 1922); "On the venous and arterial system of the platanna (Xenopus laevis)" (South African Journal of Science, 1924); "On some recent experiments in connection with Johansen's pure-line hypothesis, induced variations, and the role of selection in the process of evolution" (ibid, 1926); and "The musculature of the pipid genus Xenopus" (ibid, 1935).

Grobbelaar contributed to the promotion of Afrikaans as a scientific language by writing several zoological publications in Afrikaans, including Suid-Afrikaanse soogdiere (South African mammals; 1924, 255 p.); Die grondbeginsels van die algemene soologie (The principles of general zoology, 1933), the first zoological textbook in Afrikaans, adapted from a German textbook by A. Kuehn; and Die ontleding van die konyn (The dissection of the rabbit, 1935), later additions of which remained in use for many decades. He also made contributions to the Afrikaanse Kinderensiklopedie and the Woordeboek van die Afrikaanse taal.

Grobbelaar's work in physical anthropology included an extensive study of the physical characteristics and blood groups of the surviving members of the Korana people, a small Khoikhoi group living mostly near the middle reaches of the Orange River. He also recorded their !ora language, which is now practically extinct. An account of this work was published in The distribution of the blood groups of the Koranas (South African Association for the Advancement of Science, 1955), and The physical characteristics of the Korana (Special Publication No. 1 of the South African Journal of Science, 1956).

Another important contribution to physical anthropology was his long-term cross-sectional anthropometric survey of some 5500 white male students of the University of Stellenbosch and a number of white schoolboys. This project was started in 1943. He used the results to calculate norms for physical status of adolescent white boys and published the results in Suggested norms of physical status for white South African males aged 10-26 years, based on an anthropometric survey (Cape Town, 1964). Later he conducted similar studies on school girls and female students and published the results in Grafieke van die groei en die norme van fisieke status van dogters 6-20 jaar van die provinsiale administrasie skole, kolleges en universiteit van die stad Bloemfontein (Stellenbosch, 1971). These studies provided a firm basis for all later studies on the Caucasoid section of the South African population and for comparative studies on various ethnic and socio-economic groups. With A.J.H. Goodwin he also wrote a "Report on the skeletons and implements in association with them from a cave near Bredasdorp" (South African Archaeological Bulletin, 1952).

Grobbelaar was a member of the Royal Society of South Africa by 1917 and was elected as one of its Fellows in 1967. In 1917 he joined the South African Association for the Advancement of Science and served as joint secretary of Section C (which included zoology) at the Association's annual congress held in Stellenbosch that year. He was a member also of the Suid-Afrikaanse Akademie vir Wetenskap en Kuns, which awarded him its Havenga Prize for biology in 1955/6.

In addition to his scientific pursuits Grobbelaar was interested in Africana and was a lover of painting and sculpture. He was married to a widow, Elsie Bergh (born Bresler), with whom he had a daughter. He was for many years a member of the Universiteit Stellenbosch Berg en Toerklub, for which both he and his wife often acted as tour guides. He was elected a life member of the Mountain Club of South Africa in 1953. His personal charm, friendly nature and humility are reflected in his nickname, Oom Coert, used by friends, colleagues and students alike. He remained in Stellenbosch after his retirement until 1971, when he moved to Bloemfontein to stay with his daughter and son-in-law.

List of sources:

Annals of the Transvaal Museum, 1921, Vol. 7(4), paper by Grobbelaar.

Dictionary of South African biography, Vol. 5, 1987.

Google scholar. http://scholar.google.co.za/ Publications by C.S. Grobbelaar.

National Automated Archival Information Retrieval System (NAAIRS), at http://www.national.archives.gov.za/naairs.htm Documents relating to C.S. Grobbelaar / Coert S. Grobbelaar.

Ortlepp, R.J. Havengaprys in die natuurwetenskappe en tegniek, afdeling biologie, 1956, toegeken aan Dr C.S. Grobbelaar. Tydskrif vir Wetenskap en Kuns, 1956, Vol. 16(2), pp. 7-8.

South African bibliography to the year 1925. London: Mansell, 1979.

South African Journal of Science, 1917 to 1937, Vol. 14, 15, 21, 23, 25, 32and 34: Papers by Grobbelaar, list of members (Vol. 15), and Presidents and Secretaries of the Sections (Vol. 34).

Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa (SESA). Cape Town: NASOU, 1970-1976.

Thom, H.B. et al. Stellenbosch 1866-1966: Honderd jaar hoer onderwys. Kaapstad: Nasionale Boekhandel, 1966.

Tobias, P.V. History of physical anthropology in South Africa. Yearbook of Physical Anthropology, 1985, Vol. 28, pp. 1-52.

Tobias, P.V. Obituary: Dr C.S. (Oom Coert) Grobbelaar. South African Journal of Science, 1976, Vol. 72, pp. 158-159.

Transactions of the Royal Society of South Africa, 1917, Vol. 6, list of members; 1922, Vol. 10, paper by Grobbelaar.

University of the Cape of Good Hope. Calendar, 1911/2, 1915/6.

Compiled by: C. Plug