John Tengo Jabavu to Frederick Chesson, 19 September 1887

John Tengo Jabavu to Frederick Chesson, 19 September 1887

Archive location: Bodleian Libraries, MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 18 / C139 – 18

Author(s): John Tengo Jabavu

Recipient(s): Frederick Chesson

Sent from: Cape Colony

Date: 19 September 1887

Native Opinion Office
King William’s Town
Cape Colony
19th Sept 1887

Dear Mr Chesson,

Your letter of the 18th ult has been received. I read its contents with great interest. The information it conveyed had already been anticipated by recent telegram to the Press; but it was a pleasure to me to read the exact terms of Sir Henry Holland’s reply to the Society. I confess that we have been laid under another debt by the Society in this matter.

You will be very pleased to learn that the committee of the native which has this matter in hand has received a letter from Sir Hercules Robinson intimating that Her Majesty’s government are ready to hear our representations on this subject. The question now engaging our attention is how these representations are to be made. We feel we cannot do much without the Society; at the same time fear that the Society will be placed at a disadvantage if they are to act on a written statement of our case. For this reason I am assured by a member of the Cape Parliament who is a shrewd observer that, in getting up their report, in compliance with the request of the Secretary of State, the Sprigg ministry will eschew the real facts as they did in parliament where they carried their Bill by means of ‘false representations.’ The phrase I am quoting was employed in parliament in the discussion of the Bill but no minister dared to deny it. The same line of defence will be followed by the ministry who are very unscrupulous. For this reason our committees are absolutely of opinion to send a deputation to the Secretary of State with a view of meeting such subterfuges in the Report of the Cape ministry, as also to instruct the friends of the natives of South Africa – the Society as regards the real facts of the matter. With this end in view we propose to send you a deputation of three native young men who understand English. It is just possible I may be of the number, and I cannot say how glad I would be to be permitted to meet you Mr Chesson, my friend face to face and our other English friends.

You ask me to send you authentic information as to the practical working of the measure in disfranchising the natives. In this I think I have anticipated your request in a former letter; I have only to add now that our best information cannot more effectually settle the matter than the submitting of the 8th Section of the Constitution Ordinance together with the 17th Clause of the new act (14, 1887) to any lawyer in England to say whether the latter does not override the former; if it do, then you have only to remember that only those who have been settled after the fashion of all the natives of this colony have been settled ever since they were taken over by the British government are singled out for disfranchisement. In support of this read our petition to the Queen in a former issue of Native Opinion. I also send you two numbers of the Cape Law Journal, written by lawyers, with articles on the subject. I trust the Society will carefully study these articles. I may add that I have been able to secure the opinion of Mr H F Blaine, barrister at law, of the Supreme Court of this colony, on this matter. Mr Blaine’s opinion is in addition to that of Mr Leonard, Mr Innes, and Mr Solomon aa nephew of our respected friend Mr Saul Solomon – all leading advocates in the colony, who hold that the Constitution Ordinance has been changed to the disadvantage of our people. Fully 90 per cent of the native population will be disfranchised. This is Mr Blaine’s opinion given while on circuit:

“Tengo Jabavu Esq,
Dear Sir

I have carefully read the sections in the Constitution Ordinance bearing on the question of the qualifications required for the registration of voters, and have also studied the recent Act 14 of 1887. Section 8 of the Ordinance distinctly lays down that a man is entitled to be registered as a voter (provided he has the other necessary qualifications) if for 1 year previous to the day of registration he has occupied a house which is, either by itself, or taken in connection with the land occupied with it, of the value of 25 pounds.

Section 17 of Act 14 of 1887 distinctly states that a man is not entitled to be registered as a voter, if the house he had occupied for a year previous to the registration is, either of itself or taken together with the land held on tribal or communal tenure, in connection with which it is occupied, of less value than 25 pounds. In so far as the value of land held on tribal or communal tenure is not allowed to be taken into consideration, in determining the qualification of any person claiming to be registered as a voter, I am of opinion that the act of last session in terms distinctly alters the 8th section of the Ordinance.

I am
Yours truly
H F Blaine”

Next mail I think I shall be able to send you Mr Tamplin’s opinion whom I have also consulted. I beg to call your attention to an extract from the Cape Times appearing in Native Opinion of the 14 September which gives a correct statement of the position. What must always be borne in mind in the discussion of this question is, as I have said, that all the natives in this country have always been settled in reserves after what the ministerialists are now describing as the tribal or communal tenure – which we are prepared to prove cannot be so characterized if the Englishman in England is to be told the real truth about the native system of land tenure, which does not differ from that of the [cotters?] in Scotland if I am correctly informed. I need not add more further than to say do all you can to prevent the Secretary of State not to close the matter until at least he has heard us which cannot be until the English winter is over – as we fear we cannot stand the cold. Please convey our sincere thanks to Sir R. Fowler for the trouble he is taking on our behalf.

With kindest regards and best wishes,
I am very faithfully yours,
J. Tengo Jabavu