Davidson Don Tengo Jabavu: A true pioneer in the pursuit of knowledge

John Tengo Jabavu was a prominent pioneer journalist and the founder of the first black owned newspaper Imvo Zabantsundu. In October 1886 his first son, Davidson, was born in King William’s Town. Like his father, Davidson Don Tengo Jabavu (affectionately known as D. D. T Jabavu) played an incredibly important role in our media history. Changing the course of the future and fighting for equality and justice through the pen ran through Davidson Don Tengo Jabavu’s blood.

Formative years

Davidson Don Tengo Jabavu lived through a significant time in the history of South Africa. He began his schooling in 1899, at the beginning of the second Anglo-Boer War, in Morija, Lesotho. This is where he learned Sesotho which is one of the languages he would later teach at the University of Fort Hare in the Eastern Cape, where he became the first black professor.

At the end of the decisive war between Afrikanerdom and British Imperialism, the young D. D. T Jabavu made his way to back to the Cape Colony to the Lovedale Institution. The move to Alice came after he was denied access to Dale College in King William’s Town because of the colour of his skin.

After leaving Lovedale he went to Colwyn Bay, north of Wales, where he completed his matriculation. He continued to make history alongside his father, who in 1883, when young Jabavu was only two years old, became the second isiXhosa speaker to pass the Cape matriculation examination. The young Jabavu learnt the importance of education from a young age and went on to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts Degree and Honours in English, cum laude, at the University of London in 1912 the same year the ANC was formed. At the time he was in his late twenties.

Jabavu became a man of stature, first in his father’s eyes and then to the rest of the continent, when he went to read towards a diploma in the theory and practice of teaching at Birmingham University. As a pedagogue, he also sailed to the United States to learn about the methods of education at Tuskegee Institution.

His visit to the United States was around the same time as the revered South African intellectual, journalist, linguist, politician, and writer Sol Plaatje. Jabavu rubbed shoulders with prominent South Africans such as Plaatje as well as highly respected Africans in the diaspora including Booker T. Washington, W.E.B. Du Bois and the Jamaican-born Marcus Garvey, who in the early 1920s, birthed the Universal Negro Improvement Association (UNIA) as well as African Communities League. UNIA sought African emancipation from European colonialism, black politico-economic advancement including institutions religion, education and culture.

A thinking teacher

D. D. T Jabavu turned 66 in 1951 and became the first black to deliver an address at the graduation at Fort Hare. Three years later, Rhodes University awarded him Doctor of Philosophy (Honoris Causa) and this was followed by an election as Professor Emeritus of Fort Hare.

D. D. T Jabavu took great interest in land when he became a founder and organiser of the Native Farmer’s Association (NFA), the NFA enjoyed membership of over 40 individuals. Following that came South African Natives Farmers Congress, the Cape African Teachers Association, the South African Federation of African Teachers as well as the Cape Native Voters Association.

He was also the president of the All African Convention, an umbrella organisation comprised numerous organisations opposing segregation legislations passed by J.B.M. Hertzog’s government.

Like his father, he would be one of the second-generation black elites who followed in their fathers’ footsteps to become well-known intellectuals and newspapermen. Together with Herbert Msane and Cleopas Kunene, D. D. T Jabavu would head the ANC newspaper, Abantu-Batho. Msane was the first-born son of one of the founders and editors of the ANC, Saul Msane, who was a contemporary of John Tengo Jabavu. In fact, when Msane was studying at Healdtown, he became Imvo Zabantsundu’s correspondent in Edendale.

The founding father and newspaper man

D. D. T Jabavu was well travelled. According to a write up by South African History Online, he attended a conference in Jerusalem and toured Europe in 1928. He visited the United States more than once, in 1931 and in 1937, he also visited India in 1949 where he met the then President, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, and the then Prime Minister, Jawaharalal Nehru.

D. D. T Jabavu also trained a choir in Lovedale and when the Royal family visited the area they were so pleased by the performance that medals were bestowed on him by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. He was indeed a man of many talents. The Royal Society in London honoured him with a Bronze Medal for outstanding service to his continent.

South African History Online writes: “It was entirely fitting that public recognition on a national scale should be paid to the memory of Prof Jabavu, who was not only a teacher and interpreter, but also a mediator at the interface of race relations in Southern Africa. He was committed to constitutional, non-violent methods of political advocacy and was convinced that sound public opinion would in time result in real progress across the whole socio-political spectrum.”

D. D. T Jabavu penned over 30 publications including books, pamphlets and chapters, both in isiXhosa and English. The highlight of his writing career must have been when he wrote his father’s biography titled: The Life of John Tengo Jabavu (1922). Notably, The Black Problem (1920), The Segregation Fallacy and Other Papers (1928) and IziDungulwana (1958) were his other publications, the last one preceded his last days on this side of the grave, where he joined his father and ancestors on the other side.

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