Sol T Plaatje

Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje (1876-1932) se lewensverhaal is merkwaardig. Ten spyte van sy nederige herkoms, word hy een van die belangrikste politiese en literêre figure van sy generasie. Sy visie was vir ‘n samelewing waar almal ‘n bydrae tot die land kon lewer, sonder dat ras en kleur in hul weg sou staan. Hy was ‘n kranige joernalis, ‘n stigterslid asook die eerste sekretaris-generaal van die South African Native National Congress en skrywer van verskeie boeke. Sy bekendste werke is  Native Life in South Africa wat handel oor die regte van swart Suid Afrikaners asook Mhudi, die eerste vollengte boek wat deur ‘n swart Suid-Afrikaner in Engels geskryf is.

Sol Plaatje, gebore in Morolong, in ‘n Tswana-sprekende Christen-gesin, het basiese opvoeding ontvang voor hy sy eerste behoorlike werk as boodskapper by die Poskantoor in Kimberley gekry het. Hier vorm hy deel van kosmopolitiese gemeenskap van Swart Afrikane wat van regoor Suider-Afrika heen kom. Hy het homself verskeie tale geleer om sodoende ‘n pos as hoftolk, destyds een van die bes-betaalde posisies vir ‘n swarte, te verkry. In 1898 word hy aangestel as ‘n klerk en tolk vir die magistraat in Mafeking. Hy was dus teenwoordig tydens die bekende beleg wat begin het met die uitbreek van die Suid-Afrikaanse Oorlog. (Hy het gedurende hierdie tydperk ‘n dagboek in Engels gehou wat eers in 1973, lank na sy dood, gepubliseer is.)

Na die oorlog word hy die redakteur van verskeie koerante en was hy instrumenteel in die vorming van die ‘South African Native National Congress’ in 1912. Hy is aangestel as die eerste sekretaris-generaal en speel ‘n belangrike rol in die Congress se veldtog teen die ‘Wet op Naturellengrond’  (Wet nr 27 van 1913) wat drastiese beperkings geplaas het op grond aankope deur Swart Suid-Afrikaners. In 1914 reis hy na Engeland as lid van ‘n afvaardiging wie se doel was om die Britse regering te oortuig om in te meng en die wetgewing te weier. Hy bly tydens die Eerste Wêreld Oorlog in Engeland om sy boek, Native Life in South Africa, klaar te maak terwyl hy ook ‘n beroep op die Britse publiek doen vir steun in sy veldtog teen die wet.

.

Wesselton Myn Kimberley (1904)
Die afvaardiging van die “South African Native National Congress”na England, 1914 (Plaatje voor regs)

Hy besoek Engeland ‘n tweede keer van 1919 tot 1923. Hy besoek ook Noord Amerika tydens hierdie tydperk om die Swart Suid-Afrikaner se lot rugbaar te maak. Hierna keer hy terug na Suid-Afrika en moes hy aanvaar dat daar geen sprake meer was van eksterne ingryping in Suid-Afrikaanse sake nie. Tuis keer Plaatje terug na die binnelandse politiek, maar meer as ‘n individuele woordvoerder as deel van enige organisasie. Hy skryf steeds omvattend vir koerante en fokus meer om sy moedertaal, Setswana. Hy publiseer onder andere ‘n Setswana woordeboek, Setswana vertalings van Shakespeare asook ‘n Engelse roman.

Brief van Plaatje aan Silas Molema, Januarie 1911 

Plaatje skryf ook vele briewe in Engels en Sestwana. Hy korrespondeer gereeld met vriende en familie asook vele ander individue, ondersteuners en opponente. Hoewel baie van die briewe verlore gegaan het, word 260 van die briewe wat behoue gebly het in hierdie boek weergegee. Die meerderheid was geskryf as private eerder as publieke leesstof. Die briewe wat in Setswana geskryf is het ook ‘n Engelse vertaling by. As ‘n versameling werp die briewe nuwe lig op die verskeie aspekte van Plaatje se lewe en loopbaan, sy private asook publieke sake. Dit strek van sy tyd as hoftolk en koerant redakteur in Mafeking, sy politiese veldtogte rondom die ‘Wet op Naturellengrond’, sy reise na Brittanje en die Verenigde State tot – aan die einde van sy lewe – sy pogings om Setswana te bewaar.

UITTREKSEL VANUIT DIE TEKS

1916:4.18. 18 July 1916. Letter to Rev. Joseph Booth.

33 Alfred Road, Acton, London, W.

Dear Mr. Booth

I must tell you that I am happy to find … that you are in old England, pleading as hard as ever for the forlorn cause of the much misunderstood African. Besides the Colenso family, I cannot remember any white person who has fought so doggedly in the thankless cause of an ignorant, despised race, as you have consistently done. I have very often asked myself what encouragement or satisfaction you can hope to get for all the discomfort that I know you have had to endure, for the sake of our Race, which is helplessly ignorant, and too fettered to lend any tangible or material support.

I have read the Preamble and plan of your Association, formed at Johannesburg, while I was here (in England), and I find it accurately represents the aspirations of the Africans. We claim no monopoly of any part of Africa, and while others are warring for “a place in the Sun’” our only prayer is that in our own Continent of Africa the British Government should treat us as well as the foreigner. Surely no unprejudiced reasoner could misconstrue this into a desire to usurp other people’s prerogatives.

I am posting you my Book, pleading for the Natives of South Africa, which, as you know, does not represent your continent-wide experience. It only deals with conditions in that huge Black Man’s prison, which is officially and diplomatically styled “The Union” of South Africa, &c.

Yours faithfully,

(signed) Solomon Plaatje

1916:4.19. 31 October 1916. Letter to Jane Cobden Unwin, 3 Adelphi Terrace, London.

33 Acton Road, W.

Dear Mrs Unwin,

Many thanks for your kind letter of the 25th instant which, with the week-end pressure, I have been unable to answer till now. I cannot come to the Strand as I have a pile of work to get through before going away. But I shall hope to be at your service after my return to London before the middle of November.

In reply to your questions: I was never present at any meeting where a body of Natives approved of the present policy of South Africa; and if you addressed General Botha direct, I have no hesitation in telling you that his reply will be that I have had several interviews and correspondence with him, his fellow-ministers and officials on the matter, but that I have NEVER at any time, by word, deed or implication conveyed the impression that I approved of the Native Lands Act or any of its ruinous principles.

SECONDLY: When in 1914, the Native Deputation failed to enlist the sympathy of Mr. Harcourt, the A.P. Society advised us to send a petition requesting him to guarantee certain undertakings attributed to Gen. Botha by Mr. Dower in a letter to Mr. Dube. In signing this petition we made it clear to the Society that General Botha never uttered those promises in our presence – but even now the Society would seem to attach a greater importance to Mr. Dower’s letter than to the findings of the statutory Commission.

The letter was duly sent to Mr. Harcourt. His reply appears on page 201 of my book, thus: “If Gen Botha breaks his word I have no power to enforce it. I cannot bind his successors, &c.” I am accused (always behind my back) with excluding the whole of this interesting if futile correspondence. But since you are the first to address me direct on the point, my reply is that, my book deals with facts, that is, the declared pronouncement of statesmen, and not with hearsay allegations attributed to them in correspondence between third parties. The thing began at Denison House, we signed it on their advice, it was rejected by Mr. Harcourt so what useful purpose could I serve by giving a whole history of it? Further, seeing that I alone paid for the printing of this book, out of the scant income so hardly earned by Elizabeth and myself, surely my faultfinders must admit that I was entitled to select what matter should, and what matter should not, appear at my expense.

THIRDLY: With regard to your question whether the Commission’s awards are not instalments to be gradually added to in future you will please notice that Sir William Beaumont suggested something of the kind, which was promptly rejected by his four colleagues who decided to make their findings final; whereupon, in view of this final decision, Sir William, like a good Natalian, asked that Natal should be kept out of it. And I, like a good South African, likewise claim that South Africa “should be kept out of it.”

I am leaving this week to address two meetings at Stratford-on-Avon. On my return I will touch Oxford where a friend has for months been asking me to spend a week with him. He is a native of Oxford and his father a native of Cambridge; you will thus see that in the Provinces (just like in London) I cannot get out of the University atmosphere, so that if I am not a full-fledged scholar by the time I get back to South Africa, it will not be the fault of the Natives of your beautiful island.

With many thanks for your sustained interest in our

forlorn Cause, I remain,

With kindest Regards to Mr. Unwin and yourself

Yours Very Respectfully

Sol T. Plaatje

Redakteurs

Brian Willan is ‘n Buitengewone Hoogleraar by Sol Plaatje Universiteit en Noordwes-Universiteit asook Senior Navorsingsgenoot aan die Instituut vir die Studie van Engels, Rhodes Universiteit. Hy het ook volop geskryf oor die Suid-Afrikaanse geskiedenis en literatuur van die negentiende en twintigste eeue. Sy mees onlangse boek, Sol Plaatje: A life of Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje, 1876–1932 (Jacana, 2018), wen die toekenning vir nie-fiksie (biografie) van die Nasionale Instituut vir Geesteswetenskappe en Sosiale Wetenskappe in 2020.

Sabata-mpho Mokae is die skrywer van ‘n toeganklike biografie, The Story of Sol T. Plaatje (2010) en Setswana romans Ga ke Modisa (2012), Dikeledi (2014) en Moletlo wa Manong (2018). Saam met Brian Willan is hy die mederedakteur van Sol Plaatje’s Mhudi: History, criticism, celebration wat in Oktober 2020 uitgegee word. Hy is die wenner van die M-Net Literêre Toekenning vir Beste Setswana Roman (2013), M-Net Film Toekenning (2013) en die Suid-Afrikaanse Literêre toekenning (2011 en 2019). Hy doseer kreatiewe skryfkuns in Afrikatale aan die Sol Plaatje Universiteit in Kimberley.