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"If Mr. Edward is not expecting you," she said, "I don't

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While in England Plaatje pursued his interests in language and linguistics by collaborating with Professor Daniel Jones of the University of London -- inventor of the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) and prototype for Professor Higgins in Shaw's "Pygmalion" and thus the musical "My Fair Lady". In the same year as Native Life was published, 1916, Plaatje published two other shorter books which brought together the European languages (English, Dutch and German) he loved with the Tswana language. "Sechuana Proverbs" was a listing of Tswana proverbs with their European equivalents. "A Sechuana Reader" was co-authored with Jones, using the IPA for Tswana orthography.

Plaatje returned to South Africa but went once again to England after the war's end, to lead a second SANNC delegation keen to make its mark on the peace negotiations in 1919. This time Plaatje managed to get as far as the prime minister, Lloyd George, "the Welsh wizard". Lloyd George was duly impressed with Plaatje and undertook to present his case to General Jan Smuts in the South African government, a supposedly liberal fellow-traveller. But Smuts, whose notions of liberalism were patronizingly segregationist, fobbed off Lloyd George with an ingenuous reply.

Disillusioned with the flabby friendship of British liberals, Plaatje was increasingly drawn to the pan-Africanism of W. E. B. Du Bois, president of the NAACP in the United States. In 1921 Plaatje sailed for the United States on a lecture tour that took him through half the country. He paid his own way by publishing and selling 18,000 copies of a booklet titled "The Mote and the Beam: an Epic on Sex-Relationship 'twixt Black and White in British South Africa" at 25 cents each. In the following year, after Plaatje had left, this new edition of "Native Life in South Africa" was published, by the NAACP newspaper "The Crisis" edited by Du Bois.

Plaatje returned home to Kimberley to find the SANNC a spent force, despite its name change to ANC, overtaken by more radical forces. At a time when white power was pushing ahead with an ever more intense segregationist programme, based on anti-black legislation, Plaatje became a lone voice for old black liberalism. He turned from politics and devoted the rest of his life to literature. His passion for Shakespeare resulted in mellifluous Tswana translations of five plays from "Comedy of Errors" to "Merchant of Venice" and "Julius Caesar". His passion for the history of his people, and of his family in particular, resulted in a historical novel, "Mhudi (An Epic of South African Native Life a Hundred Years Ago)", dedicated to his daughter Olive who had died in the influenza epidemic while Plaatje was overseas -- described in the dedication as "one of the many victims of a settled system".

"Mhudi" was published by the missionary press at Lovedale in 1930, in a somewhat bowdlerized version. It has since been republished in more pristine form and is today considered not just the first but one of the very best novels published by a black South African writer in English.

Plaatje lived an extraordinary life but died a largely disappointed man. His feats of political journalism had been largely forgotten and his creative talents had hardly yet been recognised -- except in the confined world of Tswana language readership. But today Plaatje is regarded as a South African literary pioneer, as a not insignificant political actor in his time, and as a cogent commentator on his times. He was an explorer in a fascinating world of cultural and linguistic interaction, who was in retrospect truly a "renaissance man".

To Miss Harriette E. Colenso, "Nkosazana Matotoba ka So-Bantu", Daughter of the late Rt. Rev. J. W. Colenso (In his life-time Bishop of Natal and "Father of the Zulus").

In recognition of her unswerving loyalty to the policy of her late distinguished father and unselfish interest in the welfare of the South African Natives,


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