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Tengo Jabavu

John Tengo Jabavu (1859 - 1921) was a prominent black leader and newspaper editor in South Africa. He was born in Healdtown where Schreiner’s father worked as a missionary from 1861 to 1865. In 1885 he married Elda Sakuba and their eldest son D.D.T. Jabavu later became the first black professor at Fort Hare University.

Jabavu was educated at the famous Lovedale College in the Eastern Cape. He went on to work as a teacher at Somerset East, and also as a ‘printer’s devil’ on a local newspaper, where his interest in journalism was first sparked. Jabavu began corresponding with Saul Solomon, editor of the Cape Argus, and submitted a number of articles to the newspaper, some of which were published pseodonymously. In 1881 Jabavu was offered the editorship of the Lovedale newspaper, and he also continued his own studies, matriculating in 1883.

Jabavu’s interest in politics grew and in the Cape elections of 1884 he was approached to canvas Xhosa votes for James Rose Innes. Innes won his seat and subsequently his brother, Richard Rose Innes, an attorney in King William’s Town, helped Jabavu to finance the establishment of the first Xhosa-language newspaper, Imvo Zabantsundu (‘views of the people’), of which Jabavu became editor. Jabavu became increasingly politically-involved and lent his support to the so-called Cape liberals - Merriman, Sauer, Rose Innes and later Will Schreiner also. In 1898 Rhodes made an unsuccessful attempt to win Jabavu’s backing, and after he failed in this he began funding a rival Xhosa-language newspaper edited by A.K. Soga. Later in 1898 Hofmeyr managed to win Jabavu’s support for the Afrikaner Bond by hinting at changes in the Bond’s ‘native policy’, but some of Jabavu’s erstwhile supporters turned away from him after his defection to the Bond. During the 1899-1902 South African War, Jabavu’s public denouncement of Milner’s agitation of the war led to the temporary closure of Imvo.

Later, Jabavu once again came to political prominence as one of the members of the ‘black delegation’ led (at its members’ request) by Will Schreiner which travelled to London in 1909 to protest against the Draft South Africa Act, which among other things sought to exclude black South Africans from parliament and failed to protect the Cape’s non-racial franchise. Jabavu’s participation in the delegation won him popularity as a black leader, but this was severely undermined when in 1913 he supported the retrograde Natives Land Act introduced by Sauer. Jabavu was later involved in founding Fort Hare University College in 1916, the first non-white university. Schreiner’s letters contain several mentions of Jabuvu: in 1905 she suggested to Fred Pethick-Lawrence that he should meet Jabavu while he was travelling in South Africa, and in 1909 there are a number of references to Jabavu in her letters to Will Schreiner, including her request to pass on her “hearty greetings” to Jabavu. It is likely that some letters were exchanged between Schreiner and Jabavu, although none have been traced (see Stanley and Dampier 2010).

For further information see:
J. B. Peires (2004) ‘Jabavu, John Tengo (1859-1921)’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Oxford University Press http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/53763
Liz Stanley and Helen Dampier (2010) ‘I trust that our brief acquaintance may ripen into sincere friendship‘: Networks across the race divide in South Africa in conceptualising Olive Schreiner‘s letters 1890-1920 OSLP Working Papers on Letters, Letterness & Epistolary Networks, No. 2. http://www.oliveschreinerletters.ed.ac.uk/GiantRaceArticlePDF.pdf
A.P. Walshe (1969) “The Origins of African Political Consciousness in South Africa” Journal of Modern African Studies 7, 4, 583 - 610
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