n Critical Arts : A Journal of South-North Cultural and Media Studies - Rethinking Sol Plaatje's attitudes to class, empire, and gender

Volume 16, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 0256-0046



Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje is widely regarded by scholars as a British Empire enthusiast and a moderate leader of the African National Congress (ANC) who, if valiant in his espousal of black rights, then nevertheless was staunchly opposed to radical and working class forces. Yet he criticised, if often in an ironic style, the very Empire and Establishment he allegedly upheld, and he remained throughout his life deeply concerned about the harsh conditions of African workers and the plight of African women, including working women. Today his position as an icon of the new South Africa is well established. However, a better understanding of his complex attitudes to nation, class, and gender is required to fully appreciate this image. In this paper, I primarily examine his attitudes to African workers. To a lesser extent, I survey his use of irony, his attitudes to Empire and women, and his place today in South African studies. I argue that recent insights of literary scholars, together with a close analysis of historical records and especially his journalism, and a re-envisaging of his life project, all point to 'another' Plaatje. This necessitates significant modifications to the portrait so ably crafted by his biographer Brian Willan some twenty years ago. This new way of looking at Plaatje is important in interpreting the ideological and historical underpinnings of the current political hegemony of the ANC.

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