John Tengo Jabavu to Frederick Chesson, 25 July 1887

John Tengo Jabavu to Frederick Chesson, 25 July 1887

Archive location: Bodleian Libraries, MSS. Brit. Emp. s. 18 / C139 – 13

Author(s): John Tengo Jabavu

Recipient(s): Frederick Chesson

Sent from: Cape Colony

Date: 25 July 1887

Port Elizabeth
Cape Colony
25 July 1887

Dear Mr Chesson,

By this mail I have to inform you that we are in possession of news that Sir Hercules Robinson has consented, in the Queen’s name, to the Bill introduced by the Sprigg ministry ostensibly as a measure to make better provision for the registration of people entitled to the Parliamentary franchise, which in reality is rendered by Clause 17 to be the Native Disfranchisement Bill. It was assented to on the 21st instant, and has now practically the force of law. Our people do not, nevertheless, seem disposed to give up the fight. Resolutions have been carried at various public meetings of natives binding the people to the alternative of appealing to Her Majesty’s government. A cable message has been dispatched to the Secretary of State for the Colonies to intimate the fact. Funds are being raised in the Colony among the natives and among the English element to defray the expenses of a deputation, to consist of about three or four natives, to interview the Secretary of State on the subject. I have come as far as Port Elizabeth to consult with the local committee and am returning to K.W.Town tonight, but I thought I should not allow this mail to leave without giving the Society, or more particularly your committee, the information at present in my possession. We found our appeal on the despatch of the Duke of Newcastle dated 14 March 1883, in which the noble Duke so charged the … constituting the Cape parliament as to enable natives to exercise equal political privileges with the rest of Her Majesty’s subject in the Cape. The present law alters all that and at the next general election 1888-9 the natives will be absolutely without a vote.

I sincerely trust you have commenced action on your side of the water. It is to the English people, through their parliament and government that we now look. In the Cape the rights of our people have not been safeguarded even by Her Majesty’s representative, they have been sacrificed to the … mercies of a cruel and an unreasoning majority of Dutch Boers, the eternal enemies of native political rights. It is to your society more especially that we look for help. As a native community under a responsible government in which we had equal rights with the rest of our fellow citizens we did not deem it necessary to trouble you with our grievances which we had the power of righting my means of the constitutive powers we enjoyed. We are now being deprived of these powers so that cruel oppression may be practiced on a defenceless section of the community. Can this be looked at with indifference by Her Majesty’s government in this decade of reform – in this end of the nineteenth century? I cannot set myself to believe it. Our people cannot believe it. I sincerely hope it will not go down with our friends in England, but these friends of ours in England and Scotland look to you Mr Chesson to point the way. I am certain our fate is in your hands more than in those of any other men. It depends upon the enthusiasm you throw into the agitation and the amount of pressure you bring to bear upon the secretary of state. We now look to you. I am certain we shall not wait in vain.

A question in the House of Commons will clear the way and strengthen the hands of the natives and their friends in this country in their constitutional fight. I do not think I need say more.

Meantime, I remain,
Yours always,
J. Tengo Jabavu


A letter in The Times from your able pen might call attention to the disingenuous action of the Cape Government. J.T.J.