IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF A GIANT
SOLOMON Tshekisho Plaatje, early liberation thinker, literary guru and founder of the African National Congress, would have turned 133 years old today.
Plaatje died exactly 77 years ago today in Pimville, Soweto.
Perhaps this is the appropriate time to reflect on what this man of letters did throughout his lifetime for black scholarship and early media initiatives, political thought and literary excellence.
Many lectures have been given, speeches written and read and different scenarios painted about, for example, how the late Black Consciousness leader Steve Biko would have fitted into today's South Africa.
And yet little has been said about how one of this country's most illustrious sons, a founder of the current ruling party, would have fitted into today's political formulations.
This is particularly important because, as father of the ANC and a leader in terms of black thought and liberation, Plaatje was in a class of his own.
Yes, his literary and intellectual achievements have been acknowledged, but his political leadership, pioneering media initiatives and liberation credentials have been less appreciated publicly in the circles of the ruling party and also intellectuals.
At least in Northern Cape, where Plaatje spent most of his time, a museum has been named after this great son of the soil.
So who was Sol Plaatje?
Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje was born on October 9 1876 on a farm called Doornfontein in the Boshof district of the then Orange Free State.
His parents, Johannes and Martha, were devoted and practising Christians.
Both Johannes and Martha had royal blood. They belonged to the Barolong clan.
According to Maureen Rall in her book Peaceable Warrior: The Life and Times of Sol T Plaatje (Sol Plaatje Educational Trust, 2003), Martha already had five sons when she became pregnant with Solomon.
She had hoped that her next child would be a girl and when a boy was born she named him Tshekisho, meaning "judgment", in repentance for pre-empting the will of God.
In 1883 the young Plaatje started school under the Reverend Ernest Westphal. At this time the young Plaatje was living with his eldest brother Simon, who became his guardian for some years.
It was at this time that Plaatje began showing signs of brilliance. A new biography of Plaatje - The Story of Sol T Plaatje - written by researcher and freelance journalist Sabata-Mpho Mokae, will be launched in February 2010.