John Tengo Jabavu to Frederick Chesson, May 18 1881, C139/2

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Jabavu, John Tengo


Indigenous person




Somerset East


Cape Colony

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Bodleian Libraries

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MSS. Brit. Emp. S. 18 / C139-2


Somerset East, Cape Colony
May 18th 1881

F.W. Chesson, Esq

Dear Sir:

Many thanks for the copy of the Aborigines Friend you sent me by last Mail Steamer. The receipt of the Friend led me to believe that you received the letter I sent you last year, for an answer to which I look in vain. Now that I have found out that you do receive my letters I shall not be slow in writing to you on anything I shall deem fit to be brought to the knowledge of the Society.

I have read the friend and have risen from reading with a feeling of admiration or rather amazement at the very accurate information to be found in it about things round about me. I have heard many people, and Sir Bartle Frere is among them, treating information from England with withering scorn. I believe you have been too long connected with the Aborigines Protection Society to be in any way daunted by this assertion. The plain fact is, your information on matters of native policies, if equalled, not surpassed by any, in accurateness emanating from whatever source. There is satisfaction in this that this argument is used by persons who, in becoming colonists, left the hearts and virtues of Englishmen at home, and merely came out to amass as much money as possible, and who would rejoice to have the native kept under by such degrading and vicious laws as the Pass and Vagrant Laws, for their own selfish ends. Unhappily this class is the most influencial. The unthinking section of the colonists has been glamoured into their views, while governors like Sir Bartle Frere, who had an eye to courting popularity can never attain their object without … this class. It is however a gratifying prospect to find that the farmers (Boers) are awakening and the natives also showing signs of awakening to their political interests. I can’t say whether it is especially accounted to Mr Sprigg’s government or some other circumstance but the fact is in black and white that the natives are beginning to have confidence in the Dutch section of the community. For some time past Mr Sprigg has been leading after him the Dutch members of Parliament by baiting the oppression of the aborigines before them. This session that dodge has not succeeded, on the contrary the members of Boer extraction have prided themselves on befriending the natives. Mr Joubert, MP for the county of Albert, who has been supporting Mr Sprigg all the time he has been in Parliament, thus … himself during the debate on the conduct of Government before and after the … of hostilities:

It has been remarked that the blacks were the ‘natural enemies’ of the white man. That might have been the case in former days, but it was not enmity towards the white man but because they … intruded on their lands and took possession of their property. Here they simply acted in their own defence. Europeans could not do in this country without the black man. He thought that that alone was a sufficient reason against disarmament…If they treated the blacks fairly kindly he did not see why they should not be attached to this colony. If they treated them properly they would always have them for their friends and not their enemies.

I need not stay to observe that this is a gratifying prospect. It will go far to neutralize the oppression that has been carried on. The change of government is another satisfying piece of intelligence I have had for many a day. More than moderating the treatment of natives, we may welcome the change as a harbinger of peace in Basutoland. The very just and generous terms of the Robinson Award, the Basutos, it had been said, had rejected. For my own part I believed the retention in office of Mr Sprigg had much to do with their rejection. Time proved I was not mistaken in this supposition. A telegram which came day before yesterday says that Letsea, Lerothodi, and Molappo avail themselves of the Award; Masapha first consults his people. It is an open secret that the Basutos were fighting Mr Sprigg when they have … a nickname of ‘the forgetful one.’ Now that he has been sent about his business we may hope for peace.

Mr Sauer as sympathetic friend of the Basutos and of the natives generally has been placed in the native affairs office. We have reason to congratulate ourselves that matters are wearing a bright aspect. Sir B. Frere a tyrant and a despot has been displaced and Sir Hercules Robinson a prudent and practical man has been placed in his stead; thus a damper has been thrown in the ‘Vigorous’ policy followed among the natives. The Parliament has discharged a brutal and vainglorious ministry, and I may say the reign of coercion has breathed its last. So then you see I am at present writing under happy auspices. I shall keep you posted up in information about our future. At present the burning question is the handing over of the extra colonial territories inhabited by natives to the Imperial government. The proposition finds favour in many quarters, and the natives regard it with satisfaction.

I should be glad to have anything from you to read in connection with the aboriginal affairs of this colony. Where is Mr Ghose now? I am to leave this place in the end of June proximo. I am asked by D Stewart, whom I think you know, to go to Lovedale to edit a vernacular newspaper there. I think you may know how such newspapers are conducted in India. What are their aims? At present I shall aim at educating the people to their rights under the Queen’s sway.

I am, dear sir,
Yours truly
J Tengo Jabavu

After the last of June this shall be my address
Cape Colony