John Tengo Jabavu

John Tengo Jabavu. National Library of South Africa
John Tengo Jabavu. National Library of South Africa

Journalist | educator | political commentator

Born: 11 January 1859 Died: 10 September 1921

“Conferences are the order of the day among the natives of South Africa on the ugly colour line that is being imposed on them in the draft constitution. We have never known our people so united and determined to contest, constitutionally a political issue.”

Who is
John Tengo Jabavu?

Early African political activist and writer who co-founded the South African Native College, which later became the University of Fort Hare.

and Roles

Teacher, journalist, newspaper editor, political activist.

Best Known For

Founding and editing the multilingual African newspaper Imvo Zabantsundu.

Life highlights

  • In 1883, Jabavu became the third African to pass matriculation exams and to hold a matric certificate.
  • Due to his excellent schooling career, Jabavu was employed as a teacher in Somerset East at the age of 17.
  • While in Somerset East, Jabavu worked as a journalist for the Cape Argus. There he learnt to write journalistically and got the inspiration for a secular African newspaper.
  • Jabavu later worked as the editor for Isigidimi Sama-Xhosa newspaper at the Lovedale School Press.
  • In 1884, Jabavu launched Imvo Zabantsundu with the help of white liberal financers from the Cape. It was the first multilingual African newspaper that was not based at a mission station.
  • Jabavu founded Imbumba Eliliso Lomzi Yabantsundu, or the Union of Native Vigilance Associations, which was established to protest the erosion of voting rights in the Cape.
  • Jabavu helped form the South African Native College in 1916, which became the University of Fort Hare, which is still operational.
  • Jabavu was awarded the Order of Luthuli in Gold by the presidency in 2006.


“Conferences are the order of the day among the natives of South Africa on the ugly colour line that is being imposed on them in the draft constitution. We have never known our people so united and determined to contest, constitutionally a political issue.”

– John Jabavu, Imvo, 1909


“Give way! Today the people are united!
Dispatch one to go tell them that in Scotland
To tell them that the black nation is awake.
Send messengers to England
With: ‘Thank You! Don’t be tired even tomorrow!’
‘We’ve done it!’ To those who wished us ill, we say:
‘The black man has left ignorance behind,
We’ve done it!’ to the Distractor, we say:
‘Your distraction brought us blessing
We have iMvo zaba Ntsundu to lead us.’

As the Editor of the paper, the people chose a man from the Jili clan; to be in charge of this skin calabash into which to pour our hopes, wishes and aspirations; a calabash that would give us a beverage that would not sour the stomach of the offspring of the braves and notables of our land, causing wind in their stomachs. Supporting him were the elders of the land who loved him without reserve. As a result:

All blindness was gone
The layers of ignorance were removed
The iMvo came and spoke without fear
The Editor’s column the most provocative
News from Parliament reached the people
The question of the vote was made clear.

There was improvement in the homes
With the women of the nation much involved
Education and learning became a pleasure
What the government was about was made known
Understood too, was the authority overseas
All this, through the columns of the iMvo.

It was loved by all the people
With their hearts the black people loved it
The young man was to them like a prince
He was honored and respected by all
The Whites too, loved the iMvo
And so did Victoria, the Queen.

It was brave; it was fearless
With wings spread it soared into the sky
Faster and swifter than the eagle
Outsoaring even the airplane
Diligently, it traced the roots of the black nation
That, was the iMvo zaba Ntsundu.

There was even a time when many people proposed that the Editor be anointed as
a prince of the Royal House, with the iMvo as his mouthpiece.

I well imagine it being our only voice
Its sweet smell filling the nostrils
Read by all the gentlemen of the nation
Each to the other saying: ‘Thank you much, for bringing iMvo!’
You, whose stomach is bloated with lumps
Pregnant with the grievances of the people
I hear it roaring like a lion
Snarling like a bear that has lost its young
Holding Sprigg by his hair and angrily shaking him
Its fingers buried deep in Lode’s windpipe.

– Poetry of SEK Mqhayi, Izwi Labantu, 1901

Jabavu was adamant that African women should be admitted to the South Africa Native College (Fort Hare), in a period where it was uncommon for women to have access to education.


Audio Visual

President Mandela gives his State of the Nation address in Parliament. Mandela ends his address with the words, “Let us all get down to work”.

“We must construct that people-centred society of freedom in such a manner that it guarantees the political and the human rights of all our citizens.”– President Mandela, extract from State of the Nation Address, 24 May 1994

President Nelson Mandela announces his cabinet. It includes members of the African National Congress, National Party and Inkatha Freedom Party.

“There was pride in serving in the first democratic government in South Africa, and then the additional pride of serving under the iconic leadership of Nelson Mandela … [He] represented the hopes of not just our country, but of oppressed, marginalised and the poor in the world.”– Jay Naidoo, then Minister of RDP housing
“We place our vision of a new constitutional order for South Africa on the table not as conquerors, prescribing to the conquered. We speak as fellow citizens to heal the wounds of the past with the intent of constructing a new order based on justice for all.”– President Nelson Mandela, 10 May 1994