Plaatje celebrated as intellectual

2016-09-28 06:00
PROF. YUNUS BALLIM speaks about the intellectual Sol Plaatje before the unveiling of the bust under the cloth next to him. The bust will remain in the William Humphreys Art Gallery. Photo: Boipelo Mere

PROF. YUNUS BALLIM speaks about the intellectual Sol Plaatje before the unveiling of the bust under the cloth next to him. The bust will remain in the William Humphreys Art Gallery. Photo: Boipelo Mere

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PROF. YUNUS BALLIM has described Sol Plaatje as the finest representative of what it means to be an intellectual in South Africa.

Characterising an intellectual in the making, Ballim pointed out that: “You do not actually have to go to university to be an intellectual. Intellectuals do not only emerge from academies of learning.”

He made these remarks at the William Humphreys Art Gallery during the unveiling of the Sol Plaatje bust on 8 September.

By celebrating Sol Plaatje, Ballim emphasised that it meant a celebration of what it truly meant to be an intellectual and the values of intellectuals in the world of a civilised society.

He said people who emerge from academies of learning are sometimes quite uneducated, just as there is a difference between data and information.

“Knowledge is not information, but wisdom is not knowledge,” he elaborated.

Describing the intellectual Sol Plaatje was, he reminded the audience of Plaatje’s ability to fearlessly think about problems of the century, which we were still grappling with.

“He was a person who was fearless to express his opinion. He emerged from the ANC conference in 1912 and wrote a short essay complaining about the fact that the ANC asked a woman to leave the room before voting took place.”

This was unpopular at the time, but that was characteristic of Sol Plaatje as an intellectual: He was fearless in expressing his opinion.

Emphasising the freedom to think, which South Africans should embrace, he said there was no other freedom, “that we are willing to sacrifice. Everything else is a lesser freedom.”

Ballim described the freedom to think as the most sacred, because South Africans come from a world where government tried to curtail their thinking.

“We were told what we were allowed to think, and what we were not allowed to think; and for those who spoke their thoughts in a constructive manner, the response was go to prison.

“Today we realise that it is really only when you live in a world of a single opinion, that you are truly living in a prison.”

Pointing out how he knew Sol Plaatje’s life and times through reading books by Brian Williams and Luka Jaantjie, Ballim expressed his concern about the lack of South African narrative books in Tswana.

“It has always bothered me, these books I read, because they are interpreted for me through someone who happens to be living in England.

“Those are significant books that are worth reading, but we don’t really hear the story in a narrative that local South Africans can accept. We can’t read it in Tswana.”

Ballim expressed his belief that Sol Plaatje was trying to portray the message: “We draw very strongly from our connections with our past, but we also remain irretrievably connected with those who are yet unborn.”

He added that anywhere in the world it is impossible to speak of the transition from colonialism to imperialism without an analysis of Kimberley.

“It is a priviledge for me to be associated with the commemoration of a fine mind, the first African to write an English novel, and to translate Shakespeare into an African language. This is not a small thing.”

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