SOL PLAATJE: A Life of Solomon Tshekisho Plaatje, 1876-1932Brian WillanJacana Media Told to nominate a handful of books to help strangers understand SA, my list would start with Nelson Mandela’s Long Walk to Freedom and Hermann Giliomee’s The Afrikaners. I would add Dan Sleigh’s novel Islands about apartheid arising at the Cape. Sol Plaatje’s Native Life in South Africa might have to be on the list because it deals with that seminal event, the Native Land Act of 1913. The book’s weakness is that half of it consists of boring politics of the day — but now there is a solution to that problem: a biography of Sol Plaatje by Scottish historian Brian Willan.

It’s as thick as Long Walk to Freedom, but is easier to read and as lovingly published by Jacana. Packed with descriptions of the decades before and after union, when the foundations of SA’s shaky state were laid, Willan has established himself as the leading expert on Plaatje, and as an authoritative observer of the story of th...

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