John Tengo Jabavu to Frederick Chesson, July 12 1887, C139/12

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Jabavu, John Tengo


Indigenous person




King Williams Town


Cape Colony

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Bodleian Libraries

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MSS. Brit. Emp. S. 18 / C139-12


Native Opinion Office
King Wms Town
Cape Colony
17 July 87

My dear Mr Chesson,

I have this mail to inform you that the Native Disfranchisement Bill has passed through both Houses of the local parliament. It has been carried through all the various stages by large majorities, composed of Dutch members who are bitterly opposed to the natives’ possessing of equal privileges with the rest of the colonists. The minority consists of all the leading citizens of British extraction and the representatives of British justice and intelligence in the House.

That the Bill will not be reserved for Her Majesty’s assent can be gather from the following letter of H.E. Sir H. Robinson in reply to mine. What I wrote to ascertain was whether in the event of the disfranchisement bill passing our people would have time between its passing and its proclamation to petition the governor and the Queen. This is the copy of the Governor’s reply:

‘Thursday, 7th July 1887

Dear Sir,

I have to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 2nd last, which I have laid before His Excellency the Governor.

In reply I am desired to inform you that until the Bill to which you refer has passed through both Houses of Parliament and has been submitted to His Excellency, with the Report of the Law Officer of the Crown, His Excellency is unable to state whether it will require to be reserved or not; I am however, to add that at present His Excellency is under the impression that it will not require to be reserved.’

This confirms the statement I send to you a fortnight ago that the authorities on this side of the waters are bent upon hushing the matter up, although it is a gross infraction of the Constitution and ought to be reserved for the Queen’s assent.

From this you will, I hope, observe that there is no time, but the Secretary of State should be interviewed at once, so that he may instruct the Governor to reserve the Bill. The natives have commenced action. At Port Elizabeth a mass meeting of natives has resolved to send a deputation to England to plead their cause before the Secretary of State. The Governor also is to be petitioned.

The English … in the colony is encouraging the natives in this course. I trust you will do all you can for the deputation when it comes.

I send you the Cape Times with an account of the close of the debate on the measure in the Lower House. The Cape Times, as you may probably be aware, is not unfriendly to the present ministry, but it describes the measure as a ‘disingenuous’ one and as ‘a disgrace to the statute book.’

The parliament was not elected to tamper with reform, and it should be dissolved and the temper of the country tested before such a measure is passed.

Thanking you in anticipation for the measure of assistance you are likely to render us.

Believe me, my dear Mr Chesson,
Always yours faithfully,
J. Tengo Jabavu

F.W. Chesson Esq