John Tengo Jabavu to Frederick Chesson, Nov 30 1885, C139/7

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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 / C139-7


Native Opinion Office
King Williams Town
Cape Colony
30th Nov 1885

My dear Mr Chesson,

After a long period of silence I again take the liberty to address you. It is rather disheartening that now a day you don’t think it worth while to reply to my letters; but with visitors from all the parts of the world interested in your noble work and others drawn by curiosity to see the world renowned and powerful secretary of the Aborigines Protection Society your time must be very limited.

I am still engaged at the work of editing our only native paper in South Africa. The work is a hard one, and ever since I begin it I have been alone and have had to do it single handed from the editing to the running of office errands. The fact is there is no money forthcoming to encourage me. For the past year I have barely managed to make both ends meet, and I trust to Providence to help me during the next year. Much depressed by the prevailing scarcity of food caused by a succession of years of drought our people have, though they were desirous of doing so, been unable to give me adequate support. And partly from the same causes, and unused to addressing the natives my means of a newspaper the merchants have exhibited to enlarge responsibilities in the direction of advertising in my paper. There is over and above all this the apathy to an undertaking begun by a mere native to grapple with. At present the paper is published at the office of messers Hay Bros at 30 pounds a month and other expenses included the undertaking costs me over 50 pounds per month. And it is expected that my single handed efforts are to bring this amount together. When you remember that I am a young man, a son of poor parents, who has got whatever he has by sheer dint of hard work and individual effort and without any capital you can imagine the anxieties in which I am.

So far the paper has answered one of its purposes in keeping the public and the government of the current of native opinion, and it is a hopeful sign that many of our people even the still barbarous Pondos are availing themselves of its existence to ventilate their opinions on current events. This a great step gained. I should be sorry if the only native people in this country should die out without enabling some of the friends of the South African natives in London and in the other towns of England to make an effort, if possible, to keep it going to the untold benefit of our people. For this purpose I should be most obliged to you for your opinion on a scheme that I am thinking out. If there be a friend of ours with any money say 1500 pounds to lend me, I might pay the necessary interest on the amount and it would enable me to secure an office and a plant and the necessary assistance without which it is impossible to develop the almost illimitable field that lies before the only native paper in this country. There would, I think, be no difficulty in raising the necessary interest and paying off the capital after a year or two. At any rate I know nothing of getting up the money and I should wholly trust myself to you in the matter. I despair of getting fair and ungrudging assistance in this country. I shall be most indebted to you for a frank expression of your view on this important subject. So much on purely business affairs.

Politically affairs have already begun to go from bad to worse in the hands of a ministry put into office by the Dutch and doing their crude behests. Mr de Wet is bent upon repeated the programme of the former Sprigg ministry, and is deaf to warnings and advice. You will needs keep a sharp eye upon doings on this country again.

The reckless course downwards has been commenced with the ministerial legislation of last session when an attempt was made to give the native territories, extending from the Kei and Indwe rivers to the borders of Natal, representatives in parliament. While proposing to give the natives what they were fairly entitled to – which was to make up difference between white and black – ministers were cleverly taking the power of voting for members of parliament by giving those of my colour a territorial council which would not have audience in parliament, but which would report to the Secretary for Native Affairs. This was put in a clever way and was not stated in so many words. It would have been the result of three bills introduced by the government simultaneously. And only such of our friends as Mr Innes, Mr Sauer, found it out and opposed the passage of the measures. They will be coming in again next session and you will needs be wide awake.

There is again a pass law which was introduced and withdrawn and which was to make it illegal for a black man to be any where in this country without a piece of government paper in his pocket. This operation of this measure would be most harassing, and I trust the society would not allow it to pass without seeing the Secretary of State about it. I do not hesitate to describe it as a measure founded on the principles of slavery which are so dear to some of our Dutch Boers in this country.

In other respects the policy of the present government is harsh and inconsiderate. If you file the Imvo you will see the high handed manner in which Mbovane Mabandhla the chief of the Fingo tribes, Amabhele, was treated for holding or attending a meeting to pass resolutions to welcome Sir Charles Warren he was ignominiously dismissed without even the semblance of an inquiry. To this day the case of this unfortunate chief has not received attention from the Secretary for Native Affairs. He was most arbitrarily dealt with and the hearts of the Fingoes are very sore over the matter.

The removal of the Tembu nation from a country they were placed on by Sir Cathcart – thirty years ago is exercising the minds of the natives throughout the country. This is being the instance of the Dutch Boers of Queen’s Town and Dordrecht who have never ceased to yearn for the lands occupied by the natives. In complying with their endeavour the government have established a dangerous precedent and one fraught with untold evil to the future of this country. I am glad to say out English brothers are doing all they can for the natives, but in vain, as the ministry can afford to do without their support in parliament, and it is in their interest to please and conciliate the Dutch.

For the same reason that arch enemy of the natives of all the colonial possessions of the British Crown – the ardent spirits, have had free trade opened to them in the native territories beyond the Kei. This is most unaccountable as the natives of this country have never ceased from asking government not to sanction the sale of liquor to them. Mr Sprigg has in spite of all this issued a proclamation opening the floodgates of liquor over our people. This will cause their extermination. You should assist us in fighting these things especially the latter. Your influence Is much dreaded by governments in these parts and it could not be make use of at a more critical junction for the welfare of the aboriginies of the Cape. You should lost no time in interviewing the colonial secretary on these questions, they are creating much evil among the natives.

You have also the Pondo question in on which I am not going to enlarge. Nor will I do so in respect of the Basuto question.

In conclusion I beg to ask you to do me the favour of introducing me to some of the leading journalists in India. I should be glad to exchange papers with them.

I should be glad for Mr Chesson’s photo if he has one.

Rev. Chas. Pamla, Wes Ministers, is desirous of becoming a correspondent of the Society. His name might not be used. I am formally introducing him.

With kindest regards,
I am ever yours,
J. Tengo Jabavu