Sol Plaatje - A life of Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje 1876-1932, by Brian Willan
Sol Plaatje is celebrated as one of South Africa’s most accomplished political and literary figures. A pioneer in the history of the black press, editor of several newspapers, he was one of the founders of the African National Congress in 1912, led its campaign against the notorious Natives Land Act of 1913, and twice travelled overseas to represent the interests of his people. He wrote a number of books, including – in English – Native Life in South Africa (1916), a powerful denunciation of the Land Act and the policies that led to it, and a pioneering novel, Mhudi (1930). Years after his death his diary of the siege of Mafeking was retrieved and published, providing a unique view of one of the best known episodes of the South African War of 1899–1902. At the same time Plaatje was a proud Morolong, fascinated by his people’s history. He was dedicated to Setswana, and set out to preserve its traditions and oral forms so as to create a written literature. He translated a number of Shakespeare’s plays into Setswana, the first in any African language, collected proverbs and stories, and even worked on a new dictionary. He fought long battles with those who thought they knew better over the particular form its orthography should take. This book tells the story of Plaatje’s remarkable life, setting it in the context of the changes that overtook South Africa during his lifetime, and the huge obstacles he had to overcome. It draws upon extensive new research in archives in southern Africa, Europe and the US, as well as an expanding scholarship on Plaatje and his writings. This biography sheds new light not only on Plaatje’s struggles and achievements but upon his personal life and his relationships with his wife and family, friends and supporters. It pays special attention to his formative years, looking to his roots in chiefly societies, his education and upbringing on a German-run mission, and his exposure to the legal and political ideas of the nineteenth-century Cape Colony as key factors in inspiring and sustaining a life of more or less ceaseless endeavour.
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