John Tengo Jabavu to Frederick Chesson, Nov 28 1887, C139/19

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Jabavu, John Tengo


Indigenous person




King Williams Town


Cape Colony

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MSS. Brit. Emp. S. 18 / C139-19


Imbumba Eliliso Lomzi Ontsundu
Native Vigilance Association
King William’s Town, Cape Colony
28 Nov 1887

My dear Mr Chesson,

I am in receipt of yours of the 27 ult., bearing upon the intelligence that Sir Henry Holland has declined to advise the disallowance of the Registration Act, and saying that you feared that this declaration puts an end to all chance of any good being done by our proposed visit to England. Our committee has received a dispatch which the Governor has received from the Secretary of State confirming this news. I have you today a copy of it. It is impossible for me to state just now what course we shall pursue in the present state of facts. We are still watching the course of the registration. The law officers have said that the new act have not altered the Constitutional Ordinance and that it is not at variance with the explanations and illustrations of the late Mr Porter. We have thankfully accepted this decision, and all we wish to see is how it is to be put in practice. Then we mean to bring on test cases in the Supreme Court to find out whether the ‘tribal and communal’ tenure is applicable to the vast majority of our people whose chiefs have been disrated and ranked as mere policemen, and who have been robbed of whatever tribal existence they possessed. These people, moreover, are subject to all the laws of the Cape Parliament. We take up the ground that they are not tribes, and the tribal tenure cannot refer to them. As to communal that is a myth as applied to our people. Such being the case they must have their lands taken into account in the calculation of the franchise qualification. You are doubtless aware that it is the tribal and communal holders of land who are not allowed to value their lands. Our contention is that the natives of this country do not answer to this description, therefore they are among those who must take their lands together with their houses. If the Supreme Court rejects this contention we must go on with our agitation till the gross anomaly of depriving a whole race of the franchise by virtue of their land tenure, and casting them bound hand and foot into the fiery furnace of Boer politics which do not recognize native rights to land – we must agitate, I say, till this is changed. I may tell you frankly that I never was sanguine that our interview with the Secretary of State would by itself secure the disallowance of the Act. Our deputation was coming to England to lay the case of the native before the English people and the House of Commons, and thus enlist the sympathy of the people of England in the struggle in which we must be engaged till justice is done to the native people. I think this remains to be done. Sir H Holland has lowered the name of the Queen in the eyes of the natives of this country by his flagrant vacillation in this matter. In his reply to Sir G Campbell’s question he promised to hear us, and he led the House of Commons to understand that no decision would be arrived at until our case has been heard. He even invited us to state out case; but in the face of all this, on the … report of Sir Upington he submits a garbled and one-sided statement of the question … to the Crown lawyers and decides without having heard us. As I said in a former letter the decision is, in our opinion, not unfavourable to us, for it throws upon us the onus of showing that we have been really disfranchised although the act is allowed because it does not alter the Constitution Ordinance. The decision of the Supreme Court is bound to throw much light on this. We are securing Mr Leonard to argue the matter on our side, and lawyers as eminent as Mr Innes and Mr Solomon think that we have a good case on our side. If we gain in the Supreme Court then there is an end to our labors. But if we lose and our disfranchisement is confirmed, then the whole subject of the responsible government of this country must be reopened in the House of Commons by Liberal statesmen, if it is to afford a cloak to Dutch majorities to practise what they like towards the natives and native interests. Our fight is for nothing else than for equal rights under the responsible government of the country and I am satisfied the English nation will uphold our contention.

The death of Sir W McArthur had robbed our cause of an earnest and thorough advocate.

Believe me
Yours most faithfully
J. Tengo Jabavu