Truly Remarkable

For Solomon Plaatje, scholar and patriot, the most fitting epitaph would be: "He Loved His People".

He was one of the most influential of early African newspaper editors.

He was the first person ever to record Nkosi Sikelele i Africa

Plaatje was a founder member of the African National Congress in 1912.

He devoted his many talents to one overriding cause: the struggle of African people against injustice and dispossession.

Plaatje became involved in the political plight of his people, especially when he realised the tremendous impact the Natives’ Land Act of 1913 would have on the Black population of South Africa.

He spend lengthy periods away from home to campaign against laws aimed at the disenfranchisement of his people.

He was the first black South African to publish a novel in English (Mhudi) and to translate Shakespeare plays into Setswana.

He made an outstanding contribution in the field of literature, both in his native tongue, Setswana, and in English.

He was the first known black person to keep a diary during a protracted war. He wrote his "Boer War Diary" that was only discovered many years after his death. His diary is unique in its presentation of an African perspective.

Sol Plaatje was an accomplished linguist fluent in at least seven languages, but he was preoccupied with the preservation of the Setswana language.

Plaatje campaigned in England, Canada and the USA to make people aware of the plight of the Black population of South Africa.

Dr Ngaka Modiri Molema District (Central Region) Mahikeng Capital City History


Chronology - Sol (Solomon) Plaatje

(By Peter Midgley)

PLAATJE, Soloman Tshekisho (1876-1932)

1876 Birth of Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje on 9 October, on the farm Doornfontein near Boshof in the Free State.

1881/1 Plaatje's parents move to Lutheran mission at Pniel.

1883/4 Plaatje family splits up. He remains at Pniel with his eldest brother, Simon. Attends school under Rev Westphal. Extra tuition provided by the reverend's wife.

1891/2 Plaatje appointed as pupil-teacher at Pniel.

1893 Plaatje passes Standard III (Grade 5), the highest standard offered at Pniel. This marked the end of his formal education.

1894 Plaatje takes up a position as messenger with the Post office in Kimberley.

1896 Plaatje sees a performance of Hamlet and reads The Merchant of Venice. Shakespeare becomes an important influence in his life.

1898 Moves to Mafikeng to take up position as court interpreter. Marries Elizabeth, sister of Isaiah Bud-M'belle. Birth of his first child, Sainty.

1899 Register for the Cape Civil Service examinations. On October 11, Mafikeng is besieged and Plaatje does not write the exam. He records his first diary entry on October 29.

1900 During the siege, Plaatje publishes a number of reports in the Mafikeng Mail -his first attempts at journalism. He re-enters the Civil service Examination and passes with top marks in Dutch and Typewriting.

1901 Birth of his second son, Richard.

1902 Plaatje formally resigns from the Cape Civil Service to take up the position of editor of Koranta ea Bechuana. His involvement in the affairs of the Barolong increases dramatically; so too does his influence over African affairs in general.

1903 Plaatje takes the lead in forming the South African Native Press Association. Birth of a daughter, Olive (named after Olive Schreiner).

1906 Koranta ea Bechuana ceases publication. Plaatje is involved in the debate surrounding the new Setswana orthography.

1907 Birth of a second daughter, Violet.

1909 Plaatje, unhappily, take up employment as a labour recruiter for the mines. Koranta ea Bechuana briefly resuscitated. The first South African Native Convention. Plaatje is a notable absentee, but he is involved at a later stage.

1910 The Union of South Africa comes into being. The South African Native Convention meets again, with Plaatje attending. He moves to Kimberley and starts a newspaper Tsala ea Becoana (The Friend of the Bechuana). Birth of a son, Halley.

1912 The formation of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC), with Plaatje elected as its first General Secretary. A new venture Tsala ea Batho (The Friend of the People) is started three months after the demise of Tsala ea Becoana.

1913 The Natives' Land Act is passed by Union Parliament .Plaatje tours parts of the Free State and Eastern Cape to document the effect of the Act on African people. Much of this material would find its way into the pages of Native Life in South Africa.

1914 Plaatje is elected as a member of an SANNC deputation to England to protest the effects of the Land Act. On board ship he starts writing Native Life in South Africa. When the rest of the group returns to South Africa, Plaatje remains behind at his own cost to see Native Life through the press. Death of his child, Johannes Gutenburg. He publishes a contribution " A South African's Homage" in Professor I Gollancz's Book of Homage to Shakespeare.

1916 Sechuana Proverbs with Literal Translations and Their European Equivalents published by Kegan Paul. Plaatje compiled a phonetic reader in collaboration with a renowned linguist Daniel Jones, A Sechuana Reader in International Phonetic Ortography (with English Translations), which is published by London University Press.

1917 Returns to South Africa. On board ship he translates Julius Ceasar into Setswana. He is offered the presidency of the SANNC, but declines for personal reasons. Works on the manuscript of Mhudi. Tsala ea Batho ceases publication.

1918 Plaatje founds a Brotherhood movement in Kimberley.

1919 Leads second deputation to England. Interview with Plaatje is published in The labour Leader under the title "Homeless! Landless! Outlawed! The Plight of South African Natives". Completes the manuscript of a book published years later as Mhudi; An Epic of South African Native Life a Hundred years Ago.

1920 Leaves for Canada. Spends two months addressing Brotherhood meetings in various Canadian cities. Translates the Brotherhood's Fellowship Hymn Book into Setswana. At this point, Plaatje has completed two further Shakespeare translations: Merchant of Venice and Comedy of Errors.

1921 Visits America. The polemic essay The Mote and the Beam: An Epic on Sex- Relationship 'Twixt White and Black in British South Africa appears. His daughter, Olive, dies of complications caused by influenza.

1922 Visits Tuskegee Institute. On board ship on his way to Britain he starts on a translation of Othello into Setswana. As it is election time in England he assist the Labour candidate with his campaign. To ease his financial position, he accepts a job offer to act in, and assist in preparing, a wildlife film called "The Cradle of the World".

1923 Plaatje is asked to do some recording for Zonophone records. At the end of one record, he provides an impromptu rendition of " Nkosi Sikel' iAfrika" - the first recording of South Africa's national anthem. Finally scrapes enough money together to return to South Africa.

1924 Writes articles for Diamond Fields Advertiser while he tries, unsuccessfully, to re-establish a political career and to revive his newspaper. Tours the rural areas with his educational films brought from America - soon known as "Plaatje's bioscope".

1925 Continues touring with his "bioscope". Protests the Colour Bar Bill and its associated legislation.

1926 Writes regular articles for most of the English-speaking newspapers and Umteteli wan Bantu (The Mouthpiece of the People).

1927 Plaatje joins the Independent Order of True Templars (IOTT). Defends the Cape franchise after the promulgation of the Native Administration Act. Becomes Vice-President of the Cape Native Voters' Association.

1929 Completes the manuscript entitled "Traditional Folk Tales and Other Useful Knowledge" . The house at 32 Angel Street, Kimberley, is donated to Plaatje as a recognition of his service to the African people. Nominated to serve on the Sotho-Tswana sub-committee of the Central Orthography Committee.

1930 Plaatje's Novel Mhudi is finally published by the Lovedale Press. The Setswana translation of Comedy of Errors (Diphosho-phosho), appears at Morija Printing Works.

1931 Visits the Belgian Congo to study labour and social conditions. Becomes editor of Our Heritage, the short-loved newsletter of the IOTT.

1932 Offered editorship of Umteleli wa Bantu, but declines. Plaatje dies on 19 June in Johannesburg, of pneumonia and bronchitis. More than 1000 people attended his funeral in Kimberley.