For The People

Sol Plaatje University hosts the annual Sol Plaatje Lecture

The annual Sol Plaatje lecture, usually held as the opening of the Annual Northern Cape Writers Festival,takes place as close possible to Plaatje’s date of birth. Solomon Thekisho Plaatje was born on the 9th of October, 1876, in the homestead of Podisetlhogo which is about 50 kilometers outside of Kimberley. He was a South African Journalist, linguist, translator and founding member and first General Secretary of the African National Congress (ANC).

The event took place on the 16th of October 2019 in the library auditorium of the young Sol-Plaatje University. The programme director was David Letesedi from the Department of Sport Arts and Culture (DSAC). Professor Yunus Balim the Deputy Vice Chancellor of the Sol Plaatje University gave welcoming remarks to all that gathered to attend the lecture. The lecture was delivered by Professor Barney Pityana who is the former Vice Chancellor and Principal of the University of South Africa (UNISA).

Lesetedi opened the podium to award winning author Sabata Mokae, a well-researched academic in Plaatje’s life and work to give the audience a brief history of the lecture. In his address, he explained that the lecture series dates back to the University of Bophuthatswana (currently known as North West University), where these lectures where organised by Professor Bob Leshoai, although the series came to a halt.

In 2009, The Northern Cape Department of Sport Arts and Culture and the Sol Plaatje Educational Trust re-established the series, in which the first speaker to be invited was the former Deputy President of South Africa, Kgalema Motlanthe. The following year the lecture returned to its birth place, the North West University in collaboration with the Northern Cape Department of Sports, Arts and Culture. He further stated that in the past 3 years the lecture has also been held in the Free State Province organised by the Vrystaat Arts Festival.

Professor Barney Pityana, in his introduction explored the life of Plaatje, and began with the words of the writer’s Native Life in South Africa book which read:

Awakening on Friday morning, June 20, 1913, the South African Native found himself, not actually slave, but a pariah in the land of his birth.

Professor Pityana explored Plaatje’s life, his oeuvre, particularly in language, literature and his endeavour on justice for the people of South Africa. The lecture described Plaatje as a multi-lingual, intellectual who had confidence in his own gifts. “His love for literature and the written word is best expressed not just in his own writing but also in his love of the spoken work as speaker and as a debater” said Pityana.

Audience at the Annual Sol Plaatje Lecture

He further enlightened that Plaatje was a self-taught journalist, author, translator among many things. “His columns and commentary were a condemnation of the oppression that black people in South Africa were subjected to under the colonial, Boer regimes. The lecture explained how the journalist became an activist writer and relentlessly campaigned for justice and human dignity.

According to the speaker, Plaatje was proud of his heritage and was rooted in his culture, the writer in Plaatje expressed this by speaking his native language Setswana. Plaatje published his work in Setswana and also translated Shakespeare into Setswana in doing so he opened the outside world to his people. “I also think that even though Plaatje came across as mild, I think that he had the capability of becoming a fierce and powerful proponent in the African diaspora” added Pityana.

The professor expressed his deep concern on the growing culture in many South African universities “It is frightening to observe that the corruption, violence and killings taking place in universities. Violence has become so deeply embedded in our institutions, student turn to violence if they do not get what they want” says Pityana. He further said that such conditions are not only dehumanising but that they will not help society shape a whole and self-respecting character in the students who emerge from universities”, he added.

The address aimed to keep the audience mindful of the state of higher education institutions, stating that the landscape of higher education that South Africa has inherited from apartheid is not going to change anytime soon. Black people are moving into the places that were previously occupied by white people, which in turn has evolved into a situation where so called black universities are deemed unstable, mismanaged, with a culture of grievances and alienation. He adds that these institutions have become targets of dissatisfaction with the social conditions of black people. Meanwhile institutions that are seen to be privileged continue to be barely disturbed, a phenomenon he feels needs closer examining, and discourse analysis.

In his concluding remarks Pityana said: “Let Sol Plaatje live in your hearts and minds. Sol must influence your activism, your thoughts and learning process. Let him be your guiding tool in your intellectual pursuits, above all this is the generation that must build on his legacy, each generation must build its own Solomon Plaatje”.

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