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“His friends called him Sol”

An old Motswana man lay dying. He called his seven sons. He wanted to give them his last words.

“Bring me seven sticks,” he said. His sons did what he asked.

The old man tied the sticks into a bundle. Then he tried to break them. But the sticks were too strong.

Then he picked up one stick at a time. And he broke them one by one.

He sat up and said: “The sticks are strong together. I cannot break them. You must also stand together. Then nobody can hurt you. But if you don’t stand together, you will break into little pieces – one by one.”

The writer of this story loved all the people in South Africa. He wanted them to live and work together.

He worked very hard for his people. He wrote books. He started newspapers and organisations. And he told the world how his people suffered.

His name was Solomon Tshekiso Plaatjie. His friends called him Sol.

Sol Plaatjie was born on a farm in the Orange Free State. His parents had many children. Sol went to a mission school. But he did not stay at school for long. He left after standard three.

After school Sol went to Mafeking. He got a job at the magistrate’s court. He helped black people in the court. He told them what the magistrate was saying. Sol learnt many different languages.

Sol travelled around the countryside with the magistrate. He saw how his people lived. In 1896 drought killed the people’s crops. And a cattle sickness killed thousands of cattle. Sol saw how the people suffered. He wanted to help them.

Sol thought of ways to help his people. He decided to start a newspaper. He called the newspaper ‘Koranta ea Batswana’. This was the first Setswana newspaper. Sol worked on this paper until 1908.

Sol moved to Kimberley. Kimberley was a big city. He thought he cou Id do better work in a big city. In Kimberley, he started another newspaper. He called the paper Tsala ea Batswana (The Bechuana’s Friend). Later he changed the name to Tsala ea Batho (The People’s Friend).

In 1912 Sol went to a big meeting in Bloemfontein. Many leaders, chiefs, ministers and lawyers went to this meeting. This meeting was the first meeting of the South African Native National Council (SANNC). The SANNC later changed it’s name to the African National Congress (ANC).

Sol wanted the SANNC to fight a new law the government was making. The law was called the Land Act. SANNC asked the government to stop this law. But the government did not listen. The government passed the law in 1913.

The Land Act gave most of the land in South Africa to white people. Black people only got land in the reserves. The law let black people live on white land only when they worked for white people.

Sol rode around the Transvaal and the Free State on a bicycle. He wanted to see how people

suffered because of the Land Act. He wrote about the Land Act. He put the stories in a book. The book was called “Native Life in South Africa “.

One story was about the Kgobadi family. The Kgobadi family lived on a white farm. Then the government passed the Land Act. The farmer told the Kgobadi family to leave his farm.

These men went to London in 1914. They wanted the government in England to stop the Land Act. Sol Plaatjie is sitting on the right.

The Kgobadi family packed their things. They took their goats and cattle. They travelled around in an old ox wagon. But they had nowhere to go.

They lived in the ox wagon in the cold winter. The goats began to die. Then their child got sick and died.

The Kgobadis had no land to bury their child. Late one night they stopped the ox wagon. They dug a grave and quickly buried the child. The Kgobadis stole some land to bury their child.

In 1914 the SANNC sent some people to England. Sol Plaatjie went with these people to England. The SANNC wanted the government in England to stop the Land Act. But the government in England did nothing. Sol Plaatjie came home. And the Land Act carried on.

Some people were angry with Sol Plaatjie and the SANNC. The said they wasted their time in England.

In 1918 the workers in Johannesburg went on strike. They wanted a shilIing a day. Many workers were members of the Industrial Workers of Africa (IWA) . The IWA was the first trade union in Johannesburg.

Sol Plaatjie did not agree with the workers. He said the workers must not strike. He said the workers must speak to the government.

The SANNC sent another group to England. Sol Plaatjie was the leader of this group. But the visit failed. The government in England still did not help.

Many workers were very angry with the SANNC. They said only a few workers belonged to the SANNC. They said the SANNC was not fighting for the workers.

Sol Plaatjie never stopped writing. He worked for all the newspapers in Johannesburg. He was a very good journalist.

Sol Plaatjie also loved music. He sang with a choir. He was the first black person in South Africa to make a record. He made a record of “Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica”. And in 1930, Sol Plaatjie’s great book was printed. He called the book Mhudi. The book tells how the Barolong people lost their land.

In 1932 Sol Plaatjie got sick. He died the same year. He was only 52 years old. Many people went to his funeral – even people who did not agree with him. They went to bury a great South African writer.


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