Sol Plaatje Residence (formerly Sanlam Student Village - Protea)

Intellectual, journalist, politician
Birthplace: Orange Free State

Like most intellectuals, Plaatje was keenly aware of the plight of his countrymen under colonial rule.

Revolutions are fought not only with weapons, but with words.

For famed South African linguist, translator and author Sol Plaatje, the pen proved mightier than the sword in his struggle for the country’s liberation from colonialism.

Co-founder and first Secretary-General of the South African Native National Congress (SANNC) – later the African National Congress (ANC) – Plaatje was born with few advantages and received very little formal education.

Despite this, he thrived academically, studying under missionaries, taking civil service examinations and becoming fluent in at least eight languages, including German and Dutch, by his early twenties.

Boer war years

Such was his proficiency that Plaatje was sent to Mafeking as an interpreter on the eve of the Boer War.

There, he acted as court interpreter and clerk to the Mafeking administrator of Native affairs during the Siege of Mafeking (1899-1900).

The field of journalism had always appealed, and in 1901 he established Koranta ea Becoana (Newspaper of the Tswana) – South Africa’s first Setswana-English weekly.

More editorships and newspaper contributions followed, and Plaatje became respected in both media and political circles.

Political pressure

Like most intellectuals, Plaatje was keenly aware of the plight of his countrymen under colonial rule.

As SANNC secretary-general, he appealed against the Land Act of 1913, which strangled African land ownership and occupation.

Following a failed SANNC meeting with the British government in 1914, Plaatje remained in London for several years, producing several books, working as a language assistant at London University and lecturing.

His iconic book, Native Life in South Africa, Before and Since the European War and the Boer Rebellion (P.S. King, 1916), was a highlight of his literary career.

Plaatje was determined to recruit, “through writing and lecturing, the liberal and humanitarian establishment to his side,” writes Professor of History at the University of Botswana, Neil Parsons, in his foreword to the fourth edition of Native Life (1998).

Fruitful travels

Plaatje was an astute political observer, willing participant in reform movements and an enthusiastic traveller.

During his visits overseas, he met British Prime Minister Lloyd George, spoke widely about his political concerns and travelled to Canada and the United States to meet the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).


In 1923, Plaatje settled back home and divided his time between literary pursuits and covering Parliamentary sessions in Cape Town, where he represented the ANC and African interests.

Plaatje was also a member of the African People’s Organisation and joined ANC representatives in presenting African complaints against the pass laws.

Since Protea is a senior residence, students wished to name it after a stalwart and intellectual giant who not only played a significant political role, but left an indelible literary legacy.