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Elizabeth Plaajte, Richard Plaatje at his fathers grave, Isaiah Mbelle with his wife and daughters

TODAY IN KIMBERLEY’S HISTORY 27 DECEMBER

27 December 1870, First cricket game on the Diamond Fields (at Hebron) won by Old Colonists versus Natalians. 
27 December, 1871, Arthur Marcus, aged 17 years, the first to be buried in the new Jewish cemetery.
27 December 1877, Kimberley’s elected town council meets for the first time.
27 December 1877, John Birbeck elected the first Mayor of Kimberley.
27 December 1934, Harry Oppenheimer becomes a Director of De Beers.
27 December 1942, Elizabeth Lillith Plaatje, wife of Solomon, dies.
27 December 1946, Springbok rugby player George Crampton dies. 

THE DEATH OF ‘LILITH’ PLAATJE

Solomon (Sol) PlaatjeSol Plaatje and Isaiah Bud-M’Belle stayed in the Malay Camp, sharing a house in this multiracial and vibrant suburb of Kimberley that was demolished during the apartheid era. It was here that Plaatje met his wife-to-be, Elizabeth (Lilith) Nomthetho M’Belle, the younger sister of Isaiah in 1897. Elizabeth (born in 1877) was a few months younger than Plaatje, and had been educated at the Lesseyton Girls School, receiving an education better than he, according to Plaatje. They had met when she was visiting her brother Isaiah in Kimberley, she being a teacher at a mission school in Steynsburg at the time.

They soon started courting and despite the objections of many – Plaatje was Motswana and Elizabeth was Mfengu – they were married on 25 January 1898 by civil licence. The marriage ceremony that followed was officiated by the Reverend Davidson Msikinya, the Congregational minister who took over after Reverend Gwayi Tyamzashe’s death in 1896.

Plattje himself wrote of the “problem” of their courtship and marriage:

“My people resented the idea of my marrying a girl who spoke a language which had clicks in it; while her people likewise abominated the idea of giving their daughter in marriage to a fellow who spoke a language so imperfect as to be without and clicks.” He called their courtship “rocky” because of both families disapproval.

Being able to communicate in seven languages Plaatje was employed that same year – 1898 – in Mafeking (now Mahikeng) as the court interpreter and clerk for Charles Bell, the resident magistrate (Civil Commissioner) in that far-flung border town some 400 kilometres from Kimberley.

In November 1898, a month after moving to Mafeking, their first child was born – Frederick York St Leger Plaatje (Sainty) being named after a well-known journalist and the proprietor of the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley. By 1910 another five children were born, Richard, Olive (after Olive Schreiner), Violet, Johannes Gutenberg (after the famous pioneer printer), and Halley, after the comet that passed by in 1910.

Elizabeth and the one year old Sainty had left Mafeking in August on a visit to Kimberley and her parents’ home in Burghersdorp, and had not returned when the Anglo-Boer War and subsequent siege of Mafeking commenced. This, although making Plaatje’s life extremely lonely in the extreme, was probably a blessing in disguise as the life in the besieged town became quite intolerable as it wore on with constant death from lack of food as well as from Boer shells and bullets.

Plaatje did a tremendous amount of travelling to Britain, Europe and North America over the next thirteen or so years after 1910, but their marriage remained a loving one.

When Plaatje finally arrived back to stay in Kimberley during December 1923, he found that his wife and family were living at 32 Angel Street, the home of Isaiah Bud-Mbelle. During his absence times had been tough and Elizabeth had sold their Shannon Street house just to survive. His printing press too, had been sold and whatever chances he now had of re-launching Tsala ea Batho had been extinguished. Likewise his Brotherhood movement had suffered financially and he no longer had control of the association. He was at this time extremely bitter towards the African National Congress as they had failed to support not just himself while overseas on both his trips, but also his family in Kimberley despite some personal promises, and all the while he was campaigning for blacks under the African National Congress auspices. (The SANNC had been re-named the ANC in 1923).

In June of 1932 Plaatje went on his last trip – to Johannesburg to arrange the publishing of more of his works. Staying with a family relative in Pimville, Moroa Smouse, he again caught influenza which then developed into double pneumonia and Elizabeth was urgently called from Kimberley to be with him.

She arrived on a cold winter’s morning just in time to see him – he died later that afternoon of 19 June 1932 aged 55 years.

Affectionately known as “Ma Sainty”, Elizabeth stayed at 32 Angel Street Kimberley after Sol’s death, and it was at that house that she died two days after Christmas in 1942, having outlived him by ten years. She was buried next to her husband in the West End cemetery.

Original Post Dec 2017

Sol Plaatje and Isaiah Bud-M’Belle stayed in the Malay Camp, sharing a house in this multiracial and vibrant suburb of Kimberley that was demolished during the apartheid era. It was here that Plaatje met his wife-to-be, Elizabeth Lilith, the sister of Isaiah. They soon started courting and despite the objections of many – Plaatje was Motswana and Elizabeth Mfengu – they were married in 1898.

Being able to communicate in seven languages Plaatje was employed that same year – 1898 – in Mafeking (now Mahikeng) as the court interpreter and clerk for Charles Bell, the resident magistrate (Civil Commissioner) in that far-flung border town some 400 kilometres from Kimberley. One can see the hand of Bud-Mbelle in this but it was Plaatje who had to do the interview!
In November 1898, a month after moving to Mafeking, their first child was born – Frederick York St Leger Plaatje (Sainty) being named after a well-known journalist and the proprietor of the Diamond Fields Advertiser in Kimberley. By 1910 another five children were born, Richard, Olive (after Olive Schreiner), Violet, Johannes Gutenberg (after the famous pioneer printer), and Halley, after the comet that passed by in 1910.
Elizabeth and the one year old Sainty had left Mafeking in August 1899 on a visit to Kimberley and her parents’ home in Burghersdorp, and had not returned when the Anglo-Boer War and subsequent siege of Mafeking commenced in October 1899. This, although making Plaatje’s life extremely lonely in the extreme, was probably a blessing in disguise as the life in the besieged town became quite intolerable as it wore on with constant death from lack of food as well as Boer shells and bullets.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

About Steve Lunderstedt

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