n English in Africa - Sol Plaatje: A Life of Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje, 1876–1932, Brian Willan - review

Volume 46 Number 2
  • ISSN : 0376-8902



As an appreciative reader of his 1984 Sol Plaatje: A Biography I was immediately curious to find out why Brian Willan returned to the subject of Sol Plaatje’s life after more than three decades. I did not have to wait long; Willan readily addresses this in the preface to his new book, Sol Plaatje: A Life of Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje, 1876–1932. He explains that Plaatje’s contributions to the archive of black intellectual traditions of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century were quickly disappearing from view after his death in 1932, especially since his life and work was so clearly opposed to the political orthodoxies at the time. In the 1970s, when Plaatje’s English writings were rediscovered – first Mhudi and then his diary on the siege of Mafeking – renewed academic interest in Plaatje’s life and work emerged, further augmented by the republication of Plaatje’s Native Life in South Africa in 1982. This prompted Willan’s doctoral research and the first biography. Today, the context within which to contemplate Plaatje’s life could not be more different. Plaatje is widely recognised as a central figure in South Africa’s narrative of national liberation with particular emphasis on his role in the early years of the African National Congress, as founding member, its first general secretary and as member of the two delegations to England in pursuit of the support of the imperial government against the 1913 Land Act. While Plaatje’s association with the ANC is important it should not become the only narrative about his life.

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