Sol Plaatje (Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje) was born in the Free State Province near the town of Boshof in 1876. He attended school at Pniel, a mission station near Kimberley. Sol Plaatje became one of the notable leaders of his generation in South Africa. As the first general secretary of the African National Congress (ANC) that was founded in 1912, Sol Plaatje became a leading political representative, interacting regularly with government officials and other leading white people in both South Africa and Great Britain.
After leaving school, he moved to Kimberley in 1894 where he became a telegraph messenger for the Post Office. He subsequently passed the clerical examination (the highest in the Cape Colony) with better marks than any other candidate in Dutch and in Typing.
Shortly thereafter, he became a court interpreter for the British authorities during the Siege of Mafeking (now Mahikeng), and he kept a diary of his experiences that was first published 40 years after his death – The Boer War Diary of Sol T Plaatje: an African at Mafeking.
Sol Plaatje the linguist
Plaatje grew up speaking the Setswana (Tswana language). Soon he would become a multilingual speaker – fluent in at least seven languages. He acted as a court interpreter during the Siege of Mafeking during the Anglo Boer War and made time to translate works of Shakespeare into Tswana. This talent for languages would eventually lead to a career in journalism and writing. He was editor and part-owner of “Koranta ea Becoana” (Bechuana Gazette) in Mafeking and in Kimberley “Tsala ea Becoana” (Bechuana Friend) and “Tsala ea Batho” (The Friend of the People). He was the first black South African to write a novel in English – Mhudi
As an activist and politician he spent a considerable part of his life in the struggle for the empowerment and liberation of black South African people. He was a founder member and also the first General Secretary of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC), which would become the African National Congress (ANC) ten years later Plaatje is the person sitting in the right hand corner.
On 16 October 1923 while he in London, he was the first to have the future anthem “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika” recorded, accompanied by Sylvia Colenso on the piano.
He died on 19 June 1932 of pneumonia at Pimville, Johannesburg and was buried in Kimberley. Over a thousand people attended the funeral. The local munisipality was named after him – the Sol Plaatje Metropole.