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Sol Plaatje,
Native Life in South Africa

Chapter 13

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Introduction etc. | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14 | Chapter 15 | Chapter 16 | Chapter 17 | Chapter 18 | Chapter 19 | Chapter 20 | Chapter 21 | Chapter 22 | Chapter 23 | Chapter 24 | Appendices etc.

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Chapter XIII    Mr. Tengo-Jabavu, the Pioneer Native Pressman

  Egotists cannot converse; they talk to themselves only.

There is issued in King Williamstown (Cape) `Imvo', the second oldest
newspaper published in any one of the South African native languages.
This paper formerly had a kind of monopoly in the field of native journalism,
and it deserved a wide reputation.  In later years the `Izwi',
another native journal, appeared on the scene; and then
the King Williamstown pioneer could hardly hold its ground
against the new rival.  The `Izwi', though somewhat too pronounced
against the traditional policy of the Dutch, appealed to a large section
mainly by reason of its Imperial sentiment.  The result was that
Mr. Tengo-Jabavu's paper began to sink into difficulties and had to cast about
for a financial rescuer.  Prominent supporters of the present Ministry
came to the rescue; three out of the ten members of the first Union Cabinet
became shareholders in the sinking `Imvo', so that the editor,
in a sense, cannot very well be blamed because his paper is native
only in language.  However, we do not think that he does full justice
to his ministerial employers.

God forbid that we should ever find that our mind had become
the property of some one other than ourselves; but should
such a misfortune ever overtake us, we should at least strive
to serve our new proprietor diligently, and whenever our people
are unanimously opposed to a policy, we should consider it a part of our duty
to tell him so; but that is not Mr. Jabavu's way of serving a master.
Throughout the course of a general election, we have known him
to feed his masters (the S.A. party), upon flapdoodle,
fabricating the mess out of imaginary native votes of confidence
for his masters' delectation, and leaving them to discover
the real ingredients of the dish, at the bottom of the poll,
when the result has been declared.

He did the same thing in the case of the Natives' Land Bill.
Thus when he found that the trouble was organizing the Natives
on an unprecedented scale, and that the Native Press and the Native Congress
were unanimous in denouncing the Grobler-Sauer Bill,
a Reuter's telegram appeared in the newspapers purporting to give
the proceedings of a meeting of the Natives of King Williamstown,
who, it was alleged, approved of the Bill.  When the author reached
King Williamstown, during this visit, he found the King Williamstown Natives
disgusted with what they said was Reuter's speculation upon their feelings.
But Reuter's agent on the spot, whose office we also visited,
knew nothing about the meeting.  The only meeting ever held in the place,
we were told, was one of nineteen persons presided over by Mr. Tengo-Jabavu,
and when Mr. Jabavu asked the other eighteen Natives present in the meeting
besides him to signify their approval of the legislation,
Mr. W. D. Soga (a well-known native politician) asked the chairman
to place a motion before the meeting, as he was ready to move an amendment.
The temper of the meeting having already shown itself unfavourably
to the chairman's suggestion, the latter, instead of challenging
a positive defeat, suggested an adjournment.  This was agreed to
for the simple reason that nineteen persons were too few
to express the wishes of the 100,000 Natives of King Williamstown.
But, the next morning, the message "from Reuter's agent at King Williamstown"
appeared in all the daily papers, except that of King Williamstown,
conveying the Natives' approval of the Bill, and Mr. Sauer, in Parliament,
made capital out of the "mess"-age.  But Mr. Tengo-Jabavu lived
to rue his action in this matter before very long.  His authority,
or rather his leadership, of the Natives, was put to the test in March, 1914,
when he contested the Tembuland seat against Dr. W. B. Rubusana.
Dr. Rubusana had always been supposed to occupy the second place,
and Mr. Jabavu the first place, in the estimation of the Natives
of the Cape Province:  yet, to the surprise of everybody,
Mr. Jabavu, although assisted by the Dutch vote, polled only 294 votes,
while Dr. Rubusana, who relied entirely on the coloured vote, polled 852.

We mentioned, in a previous chapter, the names of Principal Henderson
and Mr. Tengo-Jabavu, as those whom we especially desired to interview
during our trip.  Having stated the fulfilment of this desire
in regard to Mr. Henderson, we now proceed to state it
in regard to Mr. Jabavu.

There was to be a meeting of the Natives of King Williamstown,
in the Baptist Chapel, on November 3, 1913, to discuss the Natives' Land Act.
To this meeting we had been invited by telegram; and in going
to King Williamstown we made up our mind to invite Mr. Jabavu
to this meeting of Natives of his town, and in fact, to treat him
with the same respect as we had shown the Principal of Lovedale
with such happy results; but, to our horror, we found that Mr. Jabavu
was not only preaching the Backvelders' dangerous politics, that were ruinous
to native interests, but that, besides their dangerous politics,
he had imbibed their baser quality of ingratitude.  For this man
had not only enjoyed our free hospitality on three occasions,
when he visited up-country, and the hospitality of our relatives
at various times in other parts, but when he was about to leave for Europe,
on a holiday jaunt, and wanted some one to take charge of his work,
we left our own affairs and went to King Williamstown, at our own expense,
to fill that post, and we filled it without a fee; but, see his retaliation.

We reached King Williamstown on Saturday evening and called
at Mr. Jabavu's house on Sunday afternoon.  Mrs. Jabavu said her husband
had gone to Stutterheim, and would be back by a late train.  On Monday morning
we called at Mr. Jabavu's office, and his son whom we saw said his father
would be there in the afternoon.  We called in the afternoon and was told
that he was inside and would see us later.  We waited from 2.30
till nearly 4 p.m., chatting with his son, while Mr. Jabavu was closeted
in the next room, evidently unwilling to see us.  As his son had to leave,
we also went away, but returned to his office at 6 p.m., just an hour before
the opening of the public meeting to which we wished to invite him.
Mr. Jabavu sent a verbal message, with the young lady who had taken in
our card to him, to the effect that he was not prepared to see us.
That in brief was our reception by the man who edits "a native paper".

We went to the meeting at the Baptist Chapel, which was a huge success.
Mr. W. Sebe presided.  The editor of the King Williamstown daily paper,
an Englishman, attended the meeting in person and took notes for his paper,
while no reporter represented the soi-disant native paper
of King Williamstown.

When the proceedings of the meeting appeared in the King Williamstown
English paper, Mr. Jabavu attempted to discount the report by writing
in his own paper that "the `Cape Mercury' evidently does not know that there
are Natives and Natives, as well as King Williamstown and King Williamstown,
there being town and country," etc.  This being a veiled insinuation
that the rural native view was opposed to the urban native view
at King Williamstown, we could not leave the matter unchallenged,
so we posted the following challenge to Mr. Tengo-Jabavu, which he evidently
found it impossible to accept: --

Dear Sir, --

`Imvo' comments disparagingly on Monday's meeting, and adds that
the Natives who composed the meeting were a handful drawn by curiosity.
Now, I challenge `Imvo', or Mr. Tengo-Jabavu, to call a series
of three public meetings, anywhere in the district of King Williamstown.
Let us both address these meetings immediately after the Natives' Land Act
has been read and interpreted to each.  We could address the meetings from
the same platform, or separately, but on the same day and at the same place.
For every vote carried at each of these meetings in favour of his views
on the Act I undertake to hand over 15 Pounds to the Grey Hospital
(King Williamstown), and 15 Pounds to the Victoria Hospital (Lovedale),
on condition that for every vote I carry at any of the meetings,
he hand over 15 Pounds to the Victoria Hospital (Mafeking),
and 15 Pounds to the Carnarvon Hospital (Kimberley).

That is 30 Pounds for charity, if he will accept.

I will not place difficulties in his way by inviting him to meetings up here,
but leave him to call meetings among his own people (if he has any)
in his own district, and I will attend at my own expense.

                         Yours, etc.
                           (Sgd.)  Sol. T. Plaatje,
  Editor of `Tsala ea Batho', and Secretary S.A. Native National Congress.
14, Shannon Street, Kimberley.

                                "IMVO'S" REPLY

Dear Sir, --  I am instructed by the Editor of "Imvo" to acknowledge
the receipt of your letter, and to inform you that as he has not been
reading and following your writings, etc., he cannot understand
what you mean by it.  In short, to let you know that he takes no interest
in the matter.

                    I am, Sir,
                         Yours truly,
                           (Sgd.)  A. M. Jabavu.
"Imvo" Office, King Williamstown,
  November 24, 1913.

Poor fellow!  He had not met a single member of the Government
since the plague law was so rudely sprung upon an unsuspecting country,
and since it sent unprotected widows and innocent children adrift,
to wander about with their belongings on their heads.
Mr. Jabavu had not met any member of Parliament and discussed the measure
with him or with a responsible Government official; so he found it awkward
to accept a challenge to substantiate his arguments, in the presence of one
who had not only discussed the measure with members of Parliament,
with Cabinet Ministers and their representatives, but who had also witnessed
the ravages of the Act amongst the Natives in the country.

The general complaint of the Natives of King Williamstown,
his fellow-townsmen, is that he refuses to attend their meetings and relies
on the white daily papers for information about the Natives at large.

But Mr. Jabavu is nothing if he is not selfish.  We are informed,
and have every reason to believe, that, three months after the Act was passed,
he wanted to raise a loan of 200 Pounds on landed security,
but was debarred by the Natives' Land Act.  The next issue of his paper
praised the Act for the sixtieth time and noted the following exception:
"There is only one flaw in this otherwise useful Act,
which is occasioning a manifest hardship through harsh administration,
and that is the provision relating to lending money."

Now, from our point of view, this seems to be the only defensible provision,
as it would tend to discourage usury, a common evil in money transactions
between Europeans and Natives; but because it interfered
with Mr. Jabavu's personal aims, that is the only flaw.
The cold-blooded evictions and the Draconian principle
against living anywhere, except as serfs, are inconsequential
because they have not yet touched Mr. Jabavu's person.

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