Book review – Intimate biography

2012-11-24 16:53

Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje was not only one of the founding fathers of the ANC, he was a pioneering journalist and politician.

So at a time when the movement he helped to establish is facing off with the media over freedom of expression, Plaatje’s legacy is all the more important to the public discourse. After all, a free press was a key value in his generation’s dream for South Africa.

Hence the release in English of Modiri Molema’s biography of Plaatje, originally written in Setswana, the subject’s mother tongue. The author knew his subject personally, which lends a unique intimacy to the writing.

Molema’s lyricism rings with the echo of its era, a time when missionaries were converting Africans to Christianity. Along with faith, they brought English traditions and ways into the daily lives of Africans. This

accounts for the oral Shakespearean language with its missionary Christian sensibilities that is part of both Plaatje and the author’s social fabric.

The writer, due to his personal proximity to his subject, though struggles to balance his admiration of the subject with the need to write an objective historical appraisal of a gigantic personality.

The book describes Plaatje’s spat with his siblings over the sale of his late father’s belongings, which gives insight into the personal reality of the man. The lessons he learns in domestic diplomacy, along with his job as a court interpreter, prepare him for his role as an international political negotiator.

As a gifted and hard-working education enthusiast, Plaatje taught himself to speak Dutch, English, German and many other languages.

His literary triumphs too are chronicled in the book.

He wrote the first English novel by an African, titled Mhudi.

It is a fictionalised account of the fatal clash between the Barolong and amaNdebele of Mzilikazi. Plaatje also translated Shakespeare’s classics into Setswana.

Molema also paints Plaatje as a tireless, industrious figure helping to realise a new African modernity, primarily as a crusader for education.

Though other more comprehensive biographies exist, Molema’s book shows us Plaatje as he was perceived by his contemporaries.

Join the conversation! encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions. publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.


Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire network.


Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.