Who is the Author?
After wondering for some time how best to answer this question, we decided to reply to it by using one of several personal references in our possession. The next puzzle was: "Which one?" We carefully examined each, but could not strike a happy decision until some one who entered the room happened to make use of the familiar phrase: "The long and the short of it". That phrase solved the difficulty for us, and we at once made up our mind to use two of these references, namely, the shortest and the longest. The first one is from His Royal Highness the Duke of Connaught, and the second takes the form of a leading article in the `Pretoria News'.
Central South African Railways,
High Commissioner's Train.
On February 1, 1906, Mr. Sol Plaatje acted as Interpreter when I visited the Barolong Native Stadt at Mafeking, and performed his duty to my entire satisfaction.
February 1, 1906.
We commence to-day an experiment which will prove a success if only we can persuade the more rabid negrophobes to adopt a moderate and sensible attitude. We publish the first of a series of letters from a native correspondent of considerable education and ability, his name is Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje. Mr. Plaatje was born in the district of Boshof, his parents being Barolongs, coming originally from Thaba Ncho, and trekking eventually to Mafeking. He attended the Lutheran Mission School at the Pniel Mission Station, near Barkly West, as a boy, under the Rev. G. E. Westphal; and at thirteen years he passed the fourth standard, which was as far as the school could take him. For the next three years he acted as pupil-teacher, receiving private lessons from the Rev. and Mrs. Westphal. At the age of sixteen he joined the Cape Government service as letter-carrier in the Kimberley Post Office. There he studied languages in his spare time, and passed the Cape Civil Service examination in typewriting, Dutch and native languages, heading the list of successful candidates in each subject. Shortly before the war he was transferred to Mafeking as interpreter, and during the siege was appointed Dutch interpreter to the Court of Summary Jurisdiction, presided over by Lord Edward Cecil. The Magistrate's clerks having taken up arms, Mr. Plaatje became confidential clerk to Mr. C. G. H. Bell, who administered Native affairs during the siege. Mr. Plaatje drew up weekly reports on the Native situation, which were greatly valued by the military authorities, and in a letter written to a friend asserted with some sense of humour that "this arrangement was so satisfactory that Mr. Bell was created a C.M.G. at the end of the siege."
Had it not been for the colour bar, Mr. Plaatje, in all probability, would have been holding an important position in the Department of Native Affairs; as it was, he entered the ranks of journalism as Editor, in the first place, of `Koranta ea Becoana', a weekly paper in English and Sechuana, which was financed by the Chief Silas Molema and existed for seven years very successfully. At the present moment Mr. Plaatje is Editor of the `Tsala ea Batho' (The People's Friend) at Kimberley, which is owned by a native syndicate, having its headquarters in the Free State. Mr. Plaatje has acted as interpreter for many distinguished visitors to South Africa, and holds autograph letters from the Duke of Connaught, Mr. Chamberlain, and other notabilities. He visited Mr. Abraham Fischer quite lately and obtained from him a promise to introduce a Bill into Parliament ameliorating the position of the Natives of the Orange River Colony, who are debarred by law from receiving titles to landed property. Mr. Plaatje's articles on native affairs have been marked by the robust common sense and moderation so characteristic of Mr. Booker Washington. He realizes the great debt which the Natives owe to the men who brought civilization to South Africa. He is no agitator or firebrand, no stirrer-up of bad feeling between black and white. He accepts the position which the Natives occupy to-day in the body politic as the natural result of their lack of education and civilization. He is devoted to his own people, and notes with ever-increasing regret the lack of understanding and knowledge of those people, which is so palpable in the vast majority of the letters and leading articles written on the native question. As an educated Native with liberal ideas he rather resents the power and authority of the uneducated native chiefs who govern by virtue of their birth alone, and he writes and speaks for an entirely new school of native thought. The opinion of such a man ought to carry weight when native affairs are being discussed. We have fallen into the habit of discussing and legislating for the Native without ever stopping for one moment to consider what the Native himself thinks. No one but a fool will deny the importance of knowing what the Native thinks before we legislate for him. It is in the hope of enlightening an otherwise barren controversy that we shall publish from time to time Mr. Plaatje's letters, commending them always to the more thoughtful and practical of our readers. — `Pretoria News', September, 1910.
(The writer of this appreciation, the Editor of the Pretoria evening paper, was Reuter's war correspondent in the siege of Mafeking.)