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WHO is sol plaatje?

Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje (1876-1932)

A man of extraordinary gifts, Sol Plaatje, teacher, interpreter, journalist, politician, linguist, orator, is perhaps best known as founding member and first Secretary General of the African National Congress in 1912.

From obscure beginnings on a Free State farm and Lutheran mission station, he travelled to England, Canada and the U.S. in the first decades of the 20 th century, in the attempt to emancipate his fellow black South Africans from the triple oppressions of land dispossession, economic servitude and social downgrade.In this struggle, Plaatje used the spoken and written word. Such was his character and humanity, with his words he could breathe life and hope even in hopeless times. The freedom he sought for his people, however, did not come until 1994, but he will be remembered as one of South Africa's earliest freedom-fighters.

Sol Plaatje received formal education only up to standard III, but through self-study went on to become probably the most widely read journalist and leading Setswana scholar of his day. His Setswana journalism was intended to inform and enlighten his people. His other S etswana and Setswana-English writings: published proverbs, 1916; published folk narratives co-authored with Professor Daniel Jones, 1916; Shakespeare translations, Diphosphoso ( Comedy of Errors ), 1930 and Dintshontsho tsa bo-Juliuse Kesara ( Julius Caesar ) published posthumously, 1937; and other proverbs, recently published, 2010, together represent his commitment to teaching, developing and preserving Setswana language and showing its equality to English.

Plaatje is better known for his English publications: his famous diary written during the Seige of Mafikeng, first published 1973, his seminal political work Native Life in South Africa , first published 1916, and his classic historical novel Mhudi , first published 1930. Together with his short biographies of Batswana dikgosi (chiefs), essays, pamphlets and English language journalism, these publications speak on behalf of the voiceless and misrepresented black South African in his day, and contain vehement yet measured words of protest and critique. They also implicitly redress European history and a European world view, putting black South Africans back at the center of their own history, evidence of Plaatje's progressive vision. Truly Plaatje was a visionary, who lived ahead of his time and a man of unrivalled stature.

Proudly Morolong Motswana from the royal Barolong-bo-Madiboa, which had been deposed in the 1500's, and proudly black, his place in Africa and world history, though long neglected is gradually being unearthed and restored. The Sol Plaatje Educational Trust and Museum, housed in his Kimberley home, and opened in 1991, actively furthers his written legacy. On June 15, 2000, the Department of Education building in Pretoria was renamed Sol Plaatje House, in honour of this political giant and consummate educator. T he first Plaatje Festival in Mafikeng, hosted by the North-West Department of Sports, Arts and Culture and Department of Education on November 5 and 6, 2010, brought together Plaatje and Molema descendants, poets, journalists, scholars, language practitioners, educators, and learners, who paid tribute to this brilliant Setswana man of letters. His lifework continues to inspire and unfold…


Source: Sol Plaatje Educational Trust, 32 Angel Street, Kimberley, 8301



"Now the bestowing of names is a universal human practice. Our names uniquely identify us. In a mysterious way, our names become part of our personalities. Names are often perpetuated in families. Clan names link a person's present identity with the historic continuity of families and communities across generations. Some names are given to mark an event, or even a state of mind. Others are given in remembrance of a loved one whose life is an example for those who follow.

Something of each of these elements is present in our choice of a name for this Department of Education building. We want the name of our building to remind us of where we have come from, and to inspire us on the road to our destination. We want the name of our building to proclaim that we South Africans are proud of our extraordinary diverse heritage, to show the world that our diversity is the source of our unity.  

That is why we have chosen to name our building in honour of a great South African with whom we can all identify, from whom we can all learn."

An excerpt from Mr. Kadar Asmal's speech on the renaming of the then Department of Education building on Schoeman Street.


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