While the story of modern South Africa has long captured global attention, the story of one of its key forefathers has been eclipsed by those of more iconic political figures. In Sol Plaatje: A Life, Brian Willan restores to history the importance of a remarkable man whose contributions as an intellectual, politician, teacher, linguist, and journalist expanded and advanced the vision of a common South Africa.
Drawing on an extraordinary range of sources reflecting decades of archival and field work, Willan animates Plaatje’s personal and professional fortunes in the context of the tumultuous changes that overtook South Africa during his lifetime, spanning the country’s industrialization and the rise of African nationalism in the early twentieth century. A pioneer in the history of the black press and a literary luminary, Plaatje translated Shakespeare into his native tongue, Setswana, the first such into any African language. Plaatje was a founder of the African National Congress in 1912 and led its campaign against the notorious Natives Land Act of 1913, efforts resonant more than a century later as the ANC today seeks to salvage its legacy from the stain of twenty-first-century corruption. This richly woven biography is essential reading for anyone interested in the generation of black leaders who came before Mandela.
Brian Willan, University and Senior Research Associate at Rhodes University in South Africa, is the editor of Sol Plaatje’s Native Life in South Africa: Past and Present and Sol Plaatje: Selected Writings.