On Tuesday 21 August 2018, JIAS and Jacana Media, in partnership with the UJ Library, hosted a discussion of Sol Plaatje: A Life of Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje, 1876–1932, by Brian Willan.
Following Dr Willan’s opening talk, the book was discussed by Prof Mcebisi Ndletyana and Prof Liz Gunner. A question and answer session followed. The event was chaired by Dr Bongani Ngqulunga, Deputy Director of JIAS.
The book tells the story of Plaatje’s remarkable life, placing it in the context of the changes that overtook South Africa during his lifetime, and the huge obstacles he had to overcome. It draws upon extensive new research in archives in southern Africa, Europe and the United States, as well as an expanding scholarship on Plaatje and his writings.
Today, Sol Plaatje is celebrated as one of South Africa’s most accomplished political and literary figures. He was a pioneer in the history of the black press, the editor of several newspapers, and one of the founders, in 1912, of the African National Congress. He led the ANC’s campaign against the notorious Natives Land Act of 1913, and twice travelled overseas to represent the interests of his people.
Plaatje wrote several books, including – in English – Native Life in South Africa (1916), a powerful denunciation of the Land Act and the policies that led to it, and a pioneering novel, Mhudi (1930). Years after his death, his diary of the Siege of Mafeking was retrieved and published, providing a unique view of one of the best known episodes in the South African War of 1899–1902.
About the author
Brian Willan holds a doctorate from the School of Oriental and African Studies at London University, and is currently an Honorary Research Associate of the Institute for the Study of English in Africa at Rhodes University. He has written extensively on Sol Plaatje and other aspects of nineteenth and twentieth century South African history. Sol Plaatje’s Native Life in South Africa: Past and Present, a multi-author volume edited by Willan, Janet Remmington and Bheki Peterson, was published by Wits University Press in 2016.