For The People

A win for 3 Universities

Professor Brian Willan’s interest in the South African icon; Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje began over 40 years ago, when he was doing his PhD at the London University in the 1970’s and published a book as a result in 1984, titled; “Sol Plaatje: A South African Nationalist” and later” Sol Plaatje: Selected Writings”. The academic spent another 7 years researching Plaatje in Kimberley, the UK, Germany, and the US, and consequently published his biography; “Sol Plaatje: The Life of Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje 1876 – 1932, through Jacana Media in 2018.  The historian has done many presentations around the world on Plaatje’s and wrote many academic papers on the subject.

His tenacity paid off on the 11th of March 2020, when he was crowned the winner of the 5th Annual Human and Social Sciences the (HSS) Award in the non-fiction category for his Sol Plaatje biography.

Prof Brian Wilan at the 5th Annual HSS Awards

Three Universities will benefit equally from the funds that the researcher will receive for this award and will be given to deserving students of a bursary respectively. These universities include North West University (NWU), Rhodes University (RU) as well as Sol-Plaatje University (SPU). Professor Brian Willan is also research associate at Rhodes University, and an extraordinary professor at NWU and SPU.

Even though Willan lived thousands of miles away from where Plaatje originates. He was spellbound by the work and personal life of Plaatje, and as any researcher who is enthralled by the drive of a new study, he sought to find out more. Primarily doubtful to do the research because he thought not enough material had survived throughout the years. He was soon to realise that he couldn’t have been more wrong. “What fascinated me about Plaatje was his versatility, the range of his achievements and his personal story. It was amazing how in the brink so many challenges for black people in South Africa during the apartheid years was he able to accomplish so much and become an articulate advocate of his people, he is truly an inspiration to me”, says Willan.

Plaatje is known for being a true proponent in inculcating a sense of pride and dignity to black people especially the Batswana. His love for his culture is something that shows through his work. He did this through advocating the importance of culture, African languages and self-pride. He was a politician, translator, and a journalist who authored Native life in South Africa (published in 1916) and Mhudi, (published in 1930).  Plaatje was born more than 140 years ago in Boshoff, Orange Free State Province. In his lifetime he worked as an interpreter, he was proficient in many languages including German, Dutch and many other African vernaculars.  He soon endeavoured in journalism and writing books. He was elected Secretary- General of African National Congress and campaigned against the injustices of the Land Act of 1913.  His works also include, the mote and the beam, as well as translations on the four Shakespeare plays into Setswana.

Brian Willian says that he is grateful to everyone that played a role in him successfully finishing the biography including the members of the Sol Plaatje’s family. “The family could have been forgiven for being suspicious of somebody trying to find out about their ancestor, more so during the dark days of apartheid but they welcomed me with open arms.

The late Johannes Plaatje, who was the grandson of Plaatje’s elder brother Simon. The late Ms Martha Bokako who was the daughter to Simon, who had wonderful knowledge of the Plaatje’s family history and vivid memories of Sol Plaatje himself. So many people contributed to my research many librarians and archivist and the staff of the African Library and the Mc Gregor Museum, these people serve a very vital role in the preservation of our history is not always recognised and without their tireless documenting of information this kind of history and biography could not have been written and if it is not written it will not stand the test of time adds, Willan.

The author is currently working on two books with a creative writing lecturer at SPU and well-known Setswana writer Sabata-Mpho Mokae. Mokae is also a well-researched author on Solomon Plaatje. The two scholars are co-editing a collection of Sol-Plaatje’s letters which will be published later in the year by the Historical Publications Southern Africa. “The book includes a number of letters written is Setswana which will be incorporated along with the letter that are written in English” add Willan. They are also co-editing a collection of essays on the novel Mhudi with contributions from various professional writers. This year marks 100 years of the since the book was published. “In marking the centenary, we think that our book will be an important contributing to the study of one of South Africa’s most important and iconic novels concluded Willan.

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