John Tengo Jabavu to Frederick Chesson, 21 June 1886

John Tengo Jabavu to Frederick Chesson, 21 June 1886

Archive location: Bodleian Libraries, MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 18 / C139 – 8

Author(s): John Tengo Jabavu

Recipient(s): Frederick Chesson

Sent from: Cape Colony

Date: 21 June 1886

Native Opinion Office
King William’s Town
Cape Colony
21 June 1886

My dear Mr Chesson,

Many thanks for the May number of the Friend which reached me a fortnight ago. I am most grateful to you for the reference to Native Opinion in the ‘Literary Notices.’ I trust my efforts for my countrymen’s welfare may be recognized in a practical form by the good friends of the Natives of South Africa in Great Britain. When you wrote me last you promised to see Miss Moffat with a view to induce her to get me a few subscribers in England. This would have helped me a good deal. It is my fervent wish that Native Opinion should be enlarged so as to induce a great deal more of interesting information especially in the English language about doing not only in the Cape Colony but in Zululand, Swaziland, and the Transvaal. I fear this may never be realized if our friends in England do not come to the rescue. You are aware that whatever has been done for the natives of this land for their good has been done by the missionaries in the teeth of passive opposition from the vast majority of Colonial. Now the missionaries are mainly supported by Societies in Great Britain. That is the position with respect to my venture with the difference as you may know too well that I have no committee in England to back me up. Hence the position of Native Opinion will always be precarious under these circumstances. And there is no other channel open to me to address my appeal to the friends of the natives of Africa in England and Scotland but through you – my only correspondent and friend in England Scotland and Ireland. Don’t feel vexed then by the appeals I am constantly addressing through you.

I must draw your attention to what is taking place out here. I trust you have not forgotten us. We need your constant watchfulness just now and at not time, perhaps, was it more required than at the present.

The present session of the Cape Parliament has made sad havoc with the interests and rights of the natives. You are aware that it is composed of a strong and compact majority of Boers whose policy towards the natives is too well known to you. Well they have put in office a number of needy politicians who seem ready to do anything however ignoble to maintain their seats on the Treasury Bench with the entitlements attached to that position. Now these politicians have acquiescently allowed the repeal of the Excise Tax on Brandy which will render Cape Smoke very cheap, on the other hand they have refused to comply with the prayer of the whole native population that the sale of liquor be prohibited to them. Mr Inuba … during the current session that areas within which spirits might not be sold to natives (on their earnest request, mark!) should be increased. On this our friends were opposed by the Upuytor government strongly backed up by the Boers; and Mr Inuba’s was defeated the effect of it will be to flood the recusent natives with cheap and nasty brandy.

Then the pass law, a measure which has for its object the placing of every black man in the country under his white neighbour is being introduced supported by the Boers, as usual, and also by the English farmers in the house. Any white man according this measure has a legal right to stop a native anywhere and at any time and demand his pass from him. This will be vexatious and we contend that it ought not to be sanctioned unless tangible reasons are stated for it. Well, we are the object of it is to stop stock stealing. We strongly dispute this; as a man determined on a stock stealing expedition would be more intent upon having a pass through the colony which would speak for him before the police officers than a native travelling on honest business. What is the good of the pass? But our Boer friends in parliament would not be moved by all the reasons in the world.

To crown all, the legislature has now changed the constitution ordinance with a view to disfranchising the natives of the Transkeian Territories. Mr Upington has introduced a bill which has passed the lower house to grant the Transkeian Territories representation in the Cape parliament. The object of the bill, as stated by Mr Upington himself, is to have these natives altogether under the Cape parliament so that the Aborigines Protection Society may have no leg to stand upon when legislation affecting the natives is proposed. Your action in regards to the liquor proclamation was doubtless most vulnerable to the colonial ministry. And this measure must needs be brought in. Of this we do not complain so long as the representation is fair and equitable. But it is far from being so. The Boer majority behind the government have introduced a franchise for the Territories based on colour differences. For the white man the franchise as obtained in the Colony is provided, viz, the 25 pound property qualification or 50 pound salary per annum; but the blackman must have four times this (100 pound) property before he can be a voter. The principle, the government has darkly hinted, is to be expanded to the natives on this side of the Kei although they have enjoyed the franchise from the time representative institutions were given us; and have never abused the privilege. The object of it all is to maintain in parliament Boer ascendancy as the natives cannot be expected ever to fall in with the scheme of the Boers in upsetting British institutions and bringing our responsible government to a dead lock with a view of converting it into a republic which the Boers love so much. I greatly fear this direction will stir up race prejudices and will esaxperate the natives. In a country like this representation is our safety valve, so said Mr Sprigg once and wiser words can not be spoken.

Bring your influence to bear on Lord Granville and Mr Osborne … to see that the bill does not receive the approval of the Crown; otherwise the seeds of a war of races have been sown on good ground. It is a terrible thing to allow the law to set up the distinction of white versus black in South Africa. Immediate steps should be taken to avert the calamity. Read the debate in the Cape Times it will open your eyes.

I hope to hear from you by return.

I agree with you that in Mr Forster we have lost an influential and an earnest advocate. I trust Sir C. Dilke may succeed in bearing himself so as to take his place.

With kindest regards
Yours most sincerely
J. Tengo Jabavu


Of late my name has been curiously spelt in the Friend as Jengo Tabavu. Can’t this be changed.


Should be most indebt to you for any English papers you can send me. I scarcely see any. Am an invincible Radical in English politics. Don’t want Tory literature. On present Irish question am a thorough going Gladstonian.