Le Sol Plaatje

Solomon Tshekiso Plaatje (1876 – 1932) was born on the Dornfontein farm in the north-western part of the Orange Free State, some 45km north east of Kimberley.
He came from a family with a tradition of contact with Christianity that went back to the 1820’s. He attended the Pniel mission school near Barkly West in the Northern Cape and then at age nine he went to a Church of England mission school in Beaconsfield (now a suburb of Kimberley).
In 1892 he was appointed a pupil/teacher at the Pniel mission school, a post he held for two years before taking up a job in the Kimberley Post Office. This post office had been the first in the Cape to employ Africans as messengers and letter carriers back in 1880 when they found it impossible to secure reliable and inexpensive white labour, provoking the wrath of many whites who felt threatened by this act.
Plaatje remained at the Kimberley Post Office for four and a half years, affording him the opportunity to improve his command of the English language. Whilst there, he and a few other able and articulate Africans formed the South Africans’ Improvement Society in June 1895 for fortnightly meetings. For these Africans ‘improvement’, like ‘progress’, was an absolutely key concept and the Society provided an ideological, social and literary training ground for Plaatje.
In 1898 the newly-wed Sol Plaatje assumed his post as court interpreter in Mafikeng in the North West (spelt Mafeking at that time).
Shortly after arriving Plaatje got caught up in the hostilities between the Boers and the British with the outbreak of the South African Anglo-Boer War from 1899–1902. He was in Mafikeng during the siege of Mafikeng which commenced on 11 October 1899.
Over and above his normal duties he had to type the diary of the magistrate of Mafikeng, Charles Bell. Plaatje went on to record his own diary which was later published as ‘Mafikeng Diary: A Black Man’s View of a Whiteman’s War’.
The experience Plaatje gained from working with international war correspondents during the siege stood him in good stead when he became editor of Koranta ea Becoana (The Tswana Gazette) from 1902 to 1907.
In 1910 Plaatje attended the second South African Native Convention. He also moved back to Kimberley where he started a newspaper,  Tsala ea Becoana (The Friend of the Bechuana) from 1910 – 1912, and later Tsala ea Batho (The Friend of the People) from 1912 to 1915.
In 1910 he became a committee member of Lyndhurst Road School where his children attended school. Even though Plaatje had only passed standard three, he valued education greatly.
In 1912 the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) was formed, with Plaatje elected as its first General Secretary. This was to be the fore-runner of the African National Congress (ANC – renamed in 1926).
Lekker Links
ANC biography of Sol Plaatje
South African History Online
Sol Plaatje House museum
North West Province page In 1914 Plaatje was part of the SANNC delegation to England to lobby support from the English public and politicians against the Natives’ Land Act of 1913. Plaatje remained in England to continue the struggle, returning to South Africa in January 1917.
In June 1919 Sol Plaatje led another SANNC delegation to England to bring the discriminatory laws of the South African government to the attention of the British government. During this time he completed the manuscript of a book published years later as ‘Mhudi; An Epic of South African Native Life a Hundred years Ago’.
Again Plaatje remained in England and went on to Canada and the United States of America to make people aware of the plight of the Black population of South Africa. Whilst there he preached in numerous churches as a guest of the Canadian Brotherhood Movement and in the USA he spoke at a number of public meetings. During this time he translated Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, Comedy of Errors and Othello into Setswana.
Plaatje returned to South Africa in October 1923 to find conditions had changed dramatically for the worst. The Native Affairs Act of 1920 was on the statute books and the Congress was faced with internal differences. Sol Plaatje became a free-lance journalist with his articles appearing in most of the major papers in South Africa.
In 1929 No.32, Angel Street in Kimberley was donated to Plaatje by a group of citizens to express their gratitude for the services he had rendered to his community (in 1992 it was declared a National Monument to honour the owner and to save it for posterity).
After 1929 he changed his focus and became more interested in other issues. Plaatje, a teetotaller all his life, was fully aware of the negative impact alcohol had on his people and became engrossed in the work of the Independent Order of True Templars (IOTT), an organisation devoted to the fight against alcohol abuse. The last paper that he was involved in was the IOTT’s paper Our Heritage.
Plaatje died on 19 June 1932 in Johannesburg  of pneumonia and bronchitis and was buried at West End Cemetery in Kimberley.
Kimberley City municipality is now named the Sol Plaatje Municipality.

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