Review: Native Life in South Africa

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Native Life in South Africa

Author: Sol. T Plaatje

In any and all post-colonial countries in the world, the questions of land and the redistribution and restitution thereof are considered to be some of the most toughest and most debated questions after the independence of such countries; and the same can be said about South Africa. Together with the pivotal role it plays in the economic emancipation of the inhabitants, and most importantly the natives of such lands, land, in the words of Fanon, is one of the tools, if not the only one, that will bring such people, above all, dignity. South Africa, being the last African country to gain its independence from colonial rule, is a country that started these debates having had a pool of data from which they can extract lessons from other countries about which ways to go about answering the very tough question of how a government should fairly redistribute the land to its people without infringing on the rights of others.

But together with the pool of data which, if used correctly, can help bring change both faster and better came the fact that, since it was the last country to gain its independence – over 36 years after sdeGhana, the land in South Africa was in the greedy hands if colonialists for way too long and will therefore be very hard to regain and redistribute to the people of the country.

To gain a better understanding of the “land issue” in South Africa – like with many other things in life – it is very important that we look at and understand the history, and ipso facto the root cause, of this thorn on our side: and there is by far no better book I have ever come across that is better suited for this purpose than the book “Native Life In South Africa” by Sol. T Plaatje. This book, published in 1916 by P.S. King and Son, Ltd., London, is a thrilling firsthand account of the damages caused by the plaguing Natives’ Land Act that was signed into law in 1913. In it the author documents, as Brian Willan indicates in his introduction to the book, ‘the wider political and historical context that produced policies of the kind embodied in the natives act, and documents meticulously steps taken by South Africa’s rulers to exclude black South Africans from the exercise of political power.’

It is no hidden fact that ‘most black South Africans suffer from a very broken sense of history,’ as Bessie Head wrote in the foreword of the book. ‘[And] Native Life,’ she continued, ‘provides an essential missing link.’ In the book the author documents the history that led to the drafting and signing in to law of the treacherous Natives’ Land Act of 1913, and also traces the effects that that law had on the African people in South Africa. Even though he was a successful editor of a native newspaper, Tsala ea Becoana (Friend of the Becoana) – which was later renamed Tsala ea Batho (Friend of the People) – the author decided to write this book not as a passive reporter of the events that happened during and after the passing of the act, but decided to write it as an experiencer of its damaging effects. But because of his journalistic background, the book also possesses a lot of research and, as a consequence, is filled with facts and figures that the author uses to both substantiate his accounts and give it a “leg to stand on” if people were to ever criticize it and call it the work of an over imaginative mind.

The author also documents other important events that happened during the early 1900s: which include the formation of what is now the oldest liberation movement in the continent – the South African Natives National Congress (now called the African National Congress) – of which he was the founding Secretary; their failed attempt at finding assistance from the Imperial Government regarding stopping the suffering of the natives English subjects of one of His Majesty’s colonies due an unjust act passed by its’ parliament; he also documents the war between England and Germany and the effects it had on all of the English colonies – of which South Africa was the youngest member; he also documents the rebellious actions of the Boers against the English Imperialist government and their fight to make South Africa a self-governing and sovereign country.

The early 1900s were eventful times in South Africa and the Native’s Land Act of 1913 was but one of many other events whose effects we are still feeling today. It was during those times that South Africa unionized and the oldest liberation movement in Africa was born; and it was through this book that Sol Plaatje helped, through the written word, make these events both immortal and time transcending. This book is an important part of our country’s history and it gives a voice to a narrative of our history that has up to so far never been given a thorough listening to.



One thought on “Review: Native Life in South Africa

    Decolonising literature at Rutanang Book Fair 2016 said:
    April 19, 2016 at 10:03 am

    […] For those of you who haven’t read the book, and I count myself in that group, you can read a review by The Literature Man here. Plaatje is also the author of one of the first published African novels in English (Mhudi […]


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