Plaatje (1876 � 1932) was born on the Dornfontein
farm in the north-western part of the Orange Free
State, some 45km north east of Kimberley.
He came from a family with a tradition of
contact with Christianity that went back to the
1820's. He attended the Pniel mission school near
Barkly West in the Northern Cape and then at age
nine he went to a Church of England mission school
in Beaconsfield (now a suburb of Kimberley).
In 1892 he was appointed a pupil/teacher at the
Pniel mission school, a post he held for two years
before taking up a job in the Kimberley Post Office.
This post office had been the first in the Cape to
employ Africans as messengers and letter carriers
back in 1880 when they found it impossible to secure
reliable and inexpensive white labour, provoking the
wrath of many whites who felt threatened by this
Plaatje remained at the Kimberley Post Office
for four and a half years, affording him the
opportunity to improve his command of the English
language. Whilst there, he and a few other able and
articulate Africans formed the South Africans'
Improvement Society in June 1895 for fortnightly
meetings. For these Africans "improvement", like
"progress", was an absolutely key concept and the
Society provided an ideological, social and literary
training ground for Plaatje.
In 1898 the newly-wed Sol Plaatje assumed his
post as court interpreter in Mafikeng in the North
West (spelt Mafeking at that time).
after arriving Plaatje got caught up in the
hostilities between the Boers and the British with
the outbreak of the South African Anglo-Boer War
from 1899�1902. He was in Mafikeng during the siege
of Mafikeng which commenced on 11 October 1899.
Over and above his normal duties he had to type
the diary of the magistrate of Mafikeng, Charles
Bell. Plaatje went on to record his own diary which
was later published as "Mafikeng Diary: A Black
Man�s View of a Whiteman�s War".
The experience Plaatje gained from working with
international war correspondents during the siege
stood him in good stead when he became editor of
Koranta ea Becoana (The Tswana Gazette) from 1902 to
In 1910 Plaatje attended the second South
African Native Convention. He also moved back to
Kimberley where he started a newspaper, Tsala
ea Becoana (The Friend of the Bechuana) from 1910 -
1912, and later Tsala ea Batho (The Friend of the
People) from 1912 to 1915.
In 1910 he became a committee member of
Lyndhurst Road School where his children attended
school. Even though Plaatje had only passed standard
three, he valued education greatly.
In 1912 the South African Native National
Congress (SANNC) was formed, with Plaatje elected as
its first General Secretary. This was to be the
fore-runner of the African National Congress (ANC -
renamed in 1926).
In 1914 Plaatje was part of the SANNC
delegation to England to lobby support from
the English public and politicians against
the Natives� Land Act of 1913. Plaatje
remained in England to continue the
struggle, returning to South Africa in
In June 1919 Sol Plaatje led another
SANNC delegation to England to bring the
discriminatory laws of the South African
government to the attention of the British
government. During this time he completed
the manuscript of a book published years
later as "Mhudi; An Epic of South African
Native Life a Hundred years Ago".
Again Plaatje remained in England and
went on to Canada and the United States of
America to make people aware of the plight
of the Black population of South Africa.
Whilst there he preached in numerous
churches as a guest of the Canadian
Brotherhood Movement and in the USA he spoke
at a number of public meetings. During this
time he translated Shakespeare's Merchant of
Venice, Comedy of Errors and Othello into
Plaatje returned to South Africa in
October 1923 to find conditions had changed
dramatically for the worst. The Native
Affairs Act of 1920 was on the statute books
and the Congress was faced with internal
differences. Sol Plaatje became a free-lance
journalist with his articles appearing in
most of the major papers in South Africa.
1929 No.32, Angel Street in Kimberley was
donated to Plaatje by a group of citizens to
express their gratitude for the services he
had rendered to his community (in 1992 it
was declared a National Monument to honour
the owner and to save it for posterity).
1929 he changed his focus and became more
interested in other issues. Plaatje, a
teetotaller all his life, was fully aware of
the negative impact alcohol had on his
people and became engrossed in the work of
the Independent Order of True Templars (IOTT),
an organisation devoted to the fight against
alcohol abuse. The last paper that he was
involved in was the IOTT�s paper Our
Plaatje died on 19 June 1932 in
Johannesburg of pneumonia and
bronchitis and was buried at West End
Cemetery in Kimberley.
Kimberley City municipality is now named
the Sol Plaatje Municipality.