Edited/updated 11 November 2016.
Plaatje was born in Pniel in the Orange Free State in 1877. He is a major figure in South African black politics and literature and spent some years in today's North-West province. He was educated at the Lutheran Mission School and Church of England Mission near Boshof, about 40 km from Kimberley, but also in the Orange Free State, where he completed Standard 3. In the mid-1890's, in his early 20's, he worked as an interpreter at the Kimberley Magistrate's Court, having passed the Cape Civil Service and Typewriting Examinations and topped the list of successful European candidates.
In 1890, Plaatje was transferred, in the same capacity, to the Resident Magistrate's Court in Mafikeng, where he lived in the Tshidi-Barolong capital, the Stadt, and his association with the North West Province began.
During the famous Siege of Mafikeng (1899-1900), Plaatje sold his secretarial services to the various war correspondents in Mafikeng, but also officiated in a Court of Summary Jurisdiction established by the British military authorities. He kept a diary of the Siege, which offers an African's view of those events. After the Siege, Plaatje founded and edited the first ever Setswana-language newspaper, a weekly called Koranta – ea – Batswana (the Batswana's Newspaper), financed by the Tshidi-Morolong business tycoon, Silas Molema. For financial reasons, this newspaper closed down after several years and Plaatje therefore moved on to Kimberley to edit a tri-lingual weekly called Tsala – ea – Batho (The People's Friend).
The newspapers reflected the views of a black educated elite that was loyal to the Britsh government and hoped that this would lead to an extention of the qualified Cape colony franchise to the rest of the country.
In 1912, when the South African National Native Congress (SANNC – forerunner to the ANC) was formed under the presidency of the Rev. J .L. Dube, Plaatje became its first General Corresponding Secretary. Through his newspaper and role as a Lutheran lay preacher, Plaatje had now become a national figure. He actively campaigned against the formation of the Union of South Africa in 1910 for excluding Africans from the constitutional arrangements for the future of the country. He also campaigned against repressive legislation against Africans, notably the 1913 Land Act whose detrimental effects on African lives he documented in detail in his book Native Life in South Africa. Plaatje was part of a protest delegation to England, the USA and Canada, which unsuccessfully lobbied for action against injustice towards black South Africans.
Plaatje maintained a presence in the western Transvaal, giving evidence in a number of cases to illustrate the essential democratic nature of African traditional rulership; he was not particularly successful at convincing the British authorities of his beliefs. On the literary front, Plaatje translated Shakespeare into Setswana, wrote his first novel, Mhudi, produced a volume of Setswana proverbs and their translations and co-produced a Setswana phonetic reader. He died in 1932, at the age of 55.