Sol Plaatje, a man of his words — and they are legion

Sol Plaatje, a man of his words — and they are legion

22.2.2020

Sol Plaatje, a man of his words — and they are legion

As centenaries come and go, the works of Sol Plaatje live on, and through them, this pioneering polymath is writ large, writes Chris Thurman

The Sol Plaatje bicycle sculpture by Egon Tania and Guy du Toit, seen here at the Oliewenhuis Museum in Bloemfontein. Picture: SUNDAY TIMES/SEAN O'TOOLETwo years later, Plaatje was one of the eminent group that formed the SA Native National Congress, which would later become the ANC. In 2012, when the ANC celebrated its centenary, Plaatje’s name was often cited, although he has been more readily associated with a cosmopolitan, erudite – “elitist”? – strand in the ANC that did not fit with the populist brand emphasised by the party in the shift from Thabo Mbeki’s presidency to Jacob Zuma’s.

. The book was Plaatje’s seminal response to the passage of the Natives Land Act of 1913. This notorious piece of legislation set a traumatic tone for the dispossession, segregation and violent oppression that would characterise late-colonial and apartheid SA as the 20th century wore on.

The year 1916 is also significant in the field of Plaatje studies because it was when he contributed his short bilingual English-Setswana essay, “A South African’s Homage” toHere again, we have the paradox of Plaatje writ large. The “homage” signals his future undertaking as a translator of Shakespeare’s plays into Setswana. He saw this as complementary work to his wider promotion of the language. Yet his affinity for Shakespeare cannot be disconnected from his attachment to Britain and to its empire, his role, indeed, as an imperial apologist, which can seem difficult to reconcile with some of his other political and literary credentials.

At almost 600 pages it is an encyclopaedic tome, documenting Plaatje’s life and times in rich detail. The true achievement of the book, however, is that it manages to do this in an engaging manner and with a prose style that — while never “chatty” — imagines a kind of conversation with the reader.

. I am fortunate to be one of the contributors to this volume.What are we to make of this novel, with its eponymous heroine and her husband Ra-Thaga, whose lives coincide with major colonial-era clashes in the first half of the 1800s?

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Sol Plaatje, a man of his words — and they are legionAs centenaries come and go, the works of Sol Plaatje live on, and through them, this pioneering polymath is writ large, writes Chris Thurman

Sol Plaatje, a man of his words — and they are legionAs centenaries come and go, the works of Sol Plaatje live on, and through them, this pioneering polymath is writ large, writes Chris Thurman

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