Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje (1876 - 1932)
The Order of Luthuli in
Profile of Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje
Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje was born in 1876 on a farm in the Boshof district in the Orange Free State. He received his mission education at Pniel where he remained for several years as an assistant teacher while studying further. In 1894, he departed for Kimberley where he sat for, and distinguished himself, in the Civil Service examinations.
Advancement in the Civil Service being closed to him, and with a natural affinity for words, Plaatje turned to journalism. He established the first Setswana-English weekly, Koranta ea Becoana, which he edited for seven years in Mafikeng until it went out of business. With new financial backers, he opened the Tsala ea Becoana, (later renamed Tsala ea batho) in Kimberley. Plaatje was a prolific writer and contributed many articles to other papers, particularly Kimberley’s Diamond Fields Advertiser.
When the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) (the forerunner to the African National Congress [ANC]) was formed in 1912, Plaatje was chosen as its first Secretary General. An articulate opponent of tribalism, he exemplified the new spirit of national unity among a small group of mission-educated African intellectuals.
SANNC’s first major campaign was against the Land Act of 1913, which drastically curtailed the right of Africans to own or occupy land throughout the Union. In 1914, he was as a member of the deputation to Britain responsible for appealing to the British Government to repeal the Act. There he met with several prominent politicians, including the British Prime Minister, Lloyd George.
Plaatje also visited the United States of America where he met with prominent Black leaders such as Marcus Garvey, President of the Universal Negro Improvement Association, and W.E.P Du Bois, the leader of the National Association for the Advancement of the Coloured People.
He wrote numerous books, including the Native Life in South Africa and the Boer War Diary of Sol T. Plaatje. His Mhudi: An Epic of South African life was the first novel published in English by a Black South African. He also wrote two works (Sechuana Proverbs with Literal Translations and their European Equivalents and A Sechuana Reader - written with Daniel Jones of London University) reflecting his interest in the promotion of African languages and culture.
Plaatje, teacher, court interpreter, newspaper editor and journalist, linguist, writer and novelist, was one of the most gifted and versatile Black South Africans of his generation. He devoted his many talents to one overriding cause: the struggle of African people against injustice and dispossession.