John Tengo Jabavu’s correspondence

John Tengo Jabavu’s correspondence

John Tengo Jabavu's correspondence

The most prolific African correspondent with the APS was John Tengo Jabavu. He wrote eighteen letters in total, the first dated 6 May 1880, and the last 28 November 1887.

Jabavu was a mission-educated journalist of Mfengu ancestry. His parents had converted to Christianity and lived on the Heald town mission station. Jabavu completed elementary school and afterwards worked as an elementary school teacher at a Methodist school in Somerset East.

While teaching, he also worked as an apprentice for a Somerset East newspaper and studied privately for the University of Cape Town matriculation certificate (equivalent to a modern high school diploma). From 1881 to 1883 he worked as the editor of Lovedale College’s Xhosa journal Isigidimi Sama-Xhosa, and in 1883 he became the second African to successfully pass the matriculation exams.

In 1884, he left Lovedale to establish his own newspaper in King William’s Town. His newspaper, Imvo Zabantsundu, was the first African language newspaper published outside the control of missionary organizations, and its goal was to present African perspectives and support African interests. In operation, however, Imvo was a mouth-piece for the black elite and for the white politicians who provided Jabavu with funding, and Jabavu has been criticized by contemporaries and historians alike for sacrificing African interests for his own when he declared his support for the Afrikaner Bond in 1898.

His letters to the Society encompass a large variety of topics, although recurring topics include the Anglo-Zulu War, the Basutoland Gun War, and the Parliamentary Registration Act.

John Tengo Jabavu (left) and his son Davidson Jabavu (right), public domain image

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