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Solomon Plaatje

Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje (1875 - 1932) was a South African author, translator, journalist and politician. Plaatje’s parents were Christian converts and after his mission education he went to Kimberley in 1894 to work as a postman, studying privately to obtain the Cape civil service certificate, and going on to become a court interpreter and magistrate’s clerk in Mafeking. In 1898 he married a school teacher, Elizabeth M’belle. Plaatje was fluent in about eight languages and so in high demand as an interpreter, particularly during the 1899-1902 South African War. Plaatje’s diary of his wartime experiences at Mafeking was later edited and published. After the war, Plaatje encouraged Silas Molema to finance a Tswana-English weekly newspaper, of which he became editor and he later also established a newspaper at Kimberley.

Plaatje became increasingly politically active and when the African National Congress was formed by John Dube in 1912, Plaatje became its general correspondence secretary. He was part of the delegation which travelled to Britain to oppose the 1913 Native Land Act. Plaatje subsequently remained in Britain where he wrote three books including his well-known Native Life in South Africa, published in 1916. He was also part of the delegation to Britain which failed to get the Natives Land Act, amongst other concerns, raised at the peace conference in 1919 at the end of the First World War. He subsequently toured Europe and North America, and on his return to Kimberley in around 1921 he founded the Brotherhood Society aimed at bringing about racial harmony. Plaatje later joined the African People’s Organisation led by Dr Abdullah Abdurahman. Apart from his numerous books and newspaper articles, Plaatje’s publications also included a number of literary works translated into Tswana, including several Shakespeare plays.

While there are several mentions of Solomon Plaatje in Schreiner’s letters written while she was living in London during the First World War, and these indicate that Schreiner met with Plaatje on a number of occasions, there are no extant letters from Schreiner to Plaatje (see Stanley and Dampier 2010). Plaatje named his daughter Olive in honour of Schreiner.

For further information see:
Solomon Plaatje (1976) The Boer War Diary of Sol T. Plaatje: An African at Mafeking (edited by John Comaroff) London: Cardinal
Solomon Plaatje (1997) Sol Plaatje: Selected Writings (edited by Brian Willan) Athens: Ohio University Press
Liz Stanley and Helen Dampier (2010) ‘‘I trust that our brief acquaintance may ripen into sincere friendship’: Networks across the race divide in South Africa in conceptualising Olive Schreiner’s letters 1890-1920’, Working Papers on Letters, Letterness & Epistolary Networks, Number 2 Edinburgh: Olive Schreiner Letters Project (download from http://www.oliveschreinerletters.ed.ac.uk/WorkingPaperSeries.html)
Brian Willan (1984) Sol Plaatje: A Biography Johannesburg: Raven Press
Brian Willan (2004) ‘Plaatje, Solomon Tshekisho (1876-1932)’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Oxford University Press http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/58163
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