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Solomon Plaatje


9 October 1876, Solomon T Plaatje (pictured) born near Boshof.
9 October 1901, Presentation of a Silver Cradle to the Mayor and Mayoress.
9 October 1902, Memorial to the Jewish soldiers who died during the Boer War unveiled.
9 October 1913, Four Kimberley prisoners executed in Pretoria for murder.
9 October 1980, Centenary banquet of the NC Chamber of Business.

The Birth of Solomon T Plaatje


Solomon Plaatje

Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje was born on Monday 9 October 1876 on the farm Doornfontein situated between the modern day towns of Boshof and Warrenton, the sixth child (and son) of Johannes (Kushumane Mogodi) and Martha Plaatje – a Christian Barolong couple who were members of the Lutheran faith. As a four-month old baby Sol was christened at Bethanie in the Free State, his first name being biblical while his second name Tshekisho, translated from Setswana, means “judgment”.

The young Plaatje was probably about five or six years of age when his parents moved to Pniel, the Lutheran mission estate very close to Barkly West and situated along the Vaal River. In 1883, possibly 1884, Johannes and Martha moved to Mayakgoro in the Harts River valley, but Sol stayed at Pniel with his eldest brother and his wife, Simon and Gracie Plaatje, in order to get an education at the mission school run by the Lutheran minister Ernst Westphal, the first most important personality to play a role in his life. (Simon was 19 years older than Solomon.)

According to David Ramoshoana, Plaatje also received some of his education in Beaconsfield, quite possibly when the Westphals were based there in 1887 and 1888:

“In 1886 he attended the Church of England Mission School, then housed in the little iron building which still stands near the large church building near the Town Hall of Beaconsfield. Often, when we went past that iron building he fondly remarked that it was in that little house that he learned to spell English words and the rudiments of arithmetic. His teacher, whom he held in high esteem, was the late Reverend H Crossthwaite.”


Sol Plaatje

It was at Pniel though that Plaatje spent the best years of his early life. Living with his eldest brother Simon on Plaatje’s Hoogte (Heights) on the fringe of the Mission land, he lived literally in the bushveld with its ample opportunities for not only playing but assisting at the smallholding as animals kept by Simon Plaatje included horses, sheep and cattle while crops and vegetables were also grown. He actively sought out his education and received extra tuition after hours from Elizabeth Westphal, the wife of the reverend. From Mrs Westphal he learnt how to speak and write English, Dutch, and German, while other languages he could communicate in were Setswana, Sesotho, isiZulu and Koranna. He was introduced to William Shakespeare and Sir Walter Scott, and learnt from her how to play the piano and the violin, and was also voice trained for singing.

As a teenager he also worked as a groom and herdsboy at the hotel situated on The Bend, a well-known stop next to the Vaal river on the then Barkly West-Kimberley road. This income allowed him to purchase books.

He was 14 years of age when he started helping the Westphal’s to teach despite being a pupil and in 1893 he passed the equivalent of Grade Five, the highest grade offered at the mission school, and thus ended his formal education.

Indeed, from the time he learnt how to walk Sol Plaatje had worked hard, and loved every moment of it.

Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje

As a young man Plaatje would read the missionary newspaper Mahoko a Becwana to the elder men at his childhood home, the Pniel mission station near Barkly West, and in a sense his position as the disseminator of news and information to the small audience at Pniel represents in microcosm the far wider role he was to assume in his future career. In Plaatje’s own words: “How little did the writer dream, when called upon as a boy to read the news to groups of men sewing karosses under the shady trees outside the cattle fold, that journalism will afterwards mean his bread and cheese”. (Sol Plaatje: Sechuana Proverbs).

His education paved the way for his first job, that of a messenger (courier or letter-carrier) in the Kimberley Post Office in 1894 at the age of 17. Here he continued to educate himself privately and in 1896 he saw his first Shakespearian play, Hamlet. It would be the first of many. It was also while at the Post office that he befriended Isaiah Bud M’Belle, a court interpreter who worked at the Griqualand West Supreme Court on the opposite side of Market square to the post office. Just as hard working as himself, Bud-Mbelle would be a lifelong friend.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

About Steve Lunderstedt


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