Sol Plaatje: A Life 1876 - 1932

Author:

Brian Willan

Title:

Sol Plaatje: A Life 1876 - 1932

Publisher:

Jacana

Nataka Books Reviews: 

Sol Plaatje: A Life 1876 - 1932

This is a book that will always have space in our bookshelf. One buys books to read them, to learn and to be entertained.  And, one buys books to re-read them. Sol Plaatje's volumous biography falls in both camps. His life is also parallel to what we observe in South Africa today, thereby informing of not only the challenges of 2020 but those of 1920 too. A perfect reference tool and an inspiration.


This book is not only fascinating because of the extraordinary activities and life of Sol T. Plaatje, but it is an engaging account of other historical events told not from the point of view of the political event itself but its impact on human life. It is similar to taking the various side streets in a new town to gauge the people and their lives instead of travelling down Main Street. One gets more intimate personal accounts rather than grand events. 


If there were a vote for the "Greatest South African" in the last 100 years, Solomon Mogodi or Sol Plaatje wins outright in our view. Court Interpreter, Diarist, Book Translator, Writer, Newspaper Columnist, Newspaper Owner, Publisher, Community Campaigner, Founder of SANNC, Petitioner and Folklore Archivist and Historian. Sol did all this  in 56 years ! 


-- Review by Nataka Books

Nataka Books Full Review: 

Sol Plaatje: A Life 1876 - 1932

We read this classic many years ago but never got round to penning a review. Here it goes.


This is a book that will always have space in our bookshelf. One buys books to read them, to learn and to be entertained.  And, one buys books to re-read them. Sol Plaatje's volumous biography falls in both camps. His life is also parallel to what we observe in South Africa today, thereby informing of not only the challenges of 2020 but those of 1920. A perfect reference tool and an inspiration.


Frequently books that are meant to focus on informing fail dismally at their task. History books are the perfect example. Well, Brian Willan extensive research over many decades and writing about Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje has allowed him to produce a masterpiece.


Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje is mostly know as Sol Plaatje in South Africa today. In fact, we would wager than very few school going pupils and adults who went through the same education system know who Sol Plaatje was. Alongside influential South Africans such as Nelson Mandela or Charlotte Maxeke, Sol Plaatje's name should be mentioned.


Sol Plaatje's name was Solomon Mogodi before his father changed his name or was forced to change his name in the years following the arrival of the Dutch in the Cape and their movement to the interior to Kimberly where the Mogodi's family was based. The Missionaries conferred new names on members during registration. This is how Mogodi became Plaatje. In the name Plaatje is ethed not just a history of a family but of a people and an era.


Sol learned how to read and write in the Mission school he attended before enrolling in higher education. In 1910, local people still had the same rights as the newly arrived at the Cape or further east in KwaZulu later to be known as 'Natal'. Natal simply means Christmas, and was named after the Bartholomeu Dias as he rounded the Cape of Good Hope on his attempts to get to India. By 1911, it was evident things were changing. 


Access to higher education became increasingly race based. Sol was still able to further his studies and became a Court Interpreter in the Cape Government. Sol would later be one of the founders of the earliest newspapers locally, 'Koranta ea Becoana'. He would move to print, become a newspaper owner, educate and organise his community against increasingly unjust laws that were being passed. This was in 1913. 


Sol would later be one of the founders of the organisation then called the SANNC. Most people know this as the ANC of Nelson Mandela. Read this biography for full information on its earliest days, the founding principles and the struggles of the day.


Sol later travelled to England to petition the British Parliarment to stick to its agreement that was in place before the South African Wars. Most people know these as the Anglo-Boer War but Africans fought on both sides for various reasons Brian Willan covers in full. For example, locals like Plaatje who sided with the Cape (British) Government had assurances that their rights would be respected in law and the rewards from fighting would ensure the survival of their people and lands.


Most people will know the name Sol Plaatje because of the detailed diary he kept in Mahikeng when the town came under siege in 1899, so-called 'The Siege of Mahikeng'. The full diary was later published by Sol Plaatje and offers a unique first-hand account, in his own voice, of the alliances and resistances the people were involved in long before the discovery  of gold in the city that now bears that name 'Gauteng' in Johannesburg.


Sol is also known for the number of books he published including 'Mhudi'. The subtitle captures what the novel is about: 'An Epic of South African Native Life a Hundred Years Ago.' Sol translated a few works of Shakespeares including 'A Comedy of Errors'. Sol documented the folklore and proverbs of Tswana-speaking people, launched various newspapers and pamplets and was always at the forefront in the fight for rights in the land of his birth.


This book is not only fascinating because of the extraordinary activities and life of Sol T. Plaatje, but it is an engaging account of other historical events told not from the point of view of the political event themselves but its impact on human life. It is similar to taking the various side streets in a new town to gauge the people and their lives instead of travelling down Main Street. One gets more intimate personal accounts rather than spruced up grand events. 


The Natives Land Act of 1913 has been covered by numerous writers, some with that name in the title. In this book, Brian Willan explores the impact of the changes on local people, how the law was resisted over many years BEFORE the law came into effect, and how to uphold that law subsquent laws were passed. There is no chapter dedicated to this but the story unfolds over events as Sol Plaatje moves from the Mission school to his work for the Cape Government, his struggle to be paid the same as other workers and the formation of the SANNC. We will stop our review here.


--Review by Nataka Books