Reflecting on the work of John Tengo Jabavu, pioneer of SA journalism

Reflecting on the work of John Tengo Jabavu, pioneer of SA journalism

- Jabavu was a teacher and journalist before creating the first Bantu-language news publicatioin

- He was a pioneer for black revolutionary journalism in Africa

- He did not support the SANNC (now ANC) and was criticized by its supporters

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John Tengu Jabavu was born on this day in 1859. He was a leader in South African journalism and an advocator for equal rights and education. He began the first newspaper intended for Bantu people, written in Bantu languages without English translations, Imvo Zabantsundu. While Jabavu forged the way for many activists, thinkers, leaders and writers, he is also a controversial figure in the history of black empowerment in the country.

During the struggle against colonialism and later apartheid, the press played a significant role in uniting Africans against oppression and providing a voice for the voiceless. The progression of the black revolutionary press faced many setbacks and successes and it all began in the time John Tengo Jabavu.

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The life of John Tengo Jabavu

Although his parents were poor, they worked hard to provide Jabavu with an education. He loved books and reading and was a bright and eager learner. He followed his love for education and became a teacher, encouraging his students to take a keen interest in learning, learned Briefly.co.za.

The multi-skilled educator worked at a newspaper office after hours and wrote articles which were well received by the public.

His passion for journalism grew, leading him to become the editor of Isigidimi samaXhosa. Despondent by the paper’s lack of critical coverage and focus on the missionary agenda and spirituality, Jabavu forged his own way forward.

In 1884 at the young age of 24, Jabavu founded his own paper, Imvo Zabantsundu with the hopes of creating a space where black people can express their opinions and experiences. It also published African poetry and did not translate articles into English.

Jabavu commented on the progression of Afrikaner nationalism and its potential impact on Africans. He advocated for the country’s black population to have equal rights to the colonizers.

He also fought for women’s rights and the right of Africans to be educated.

Although he was admired and respected by the community, the story of John Tengo Jabavu is not one without controversy.

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Jabavu, a controversial figure

Failing to support the South African National Native Congress (SANNC), (which would later become the African National Congress) led to many leaders of African intelligence and opinion challenging the writer and his work.

Another leader of South African journalism, Sol Plaatjie, criticized him and considered him to be a puppet for the Afrikaner Bond.

His conservative African views were not received well by the progressive and liberal party, and in modern times, Jabavu is considered to have misrepresented African intellectual opinion.

His writing is argued to contain ‘self-hating’ ideology, advocating for the equal rights of Africans but also supporting the right for whites be in power.

African academics argue that Jabavu and those with similar opinion were "black Victorians” which positions Africans as imperial citizens in their own land.

Jabavu supported the 1913 Natives Land Act which deprived South Africans the right to own land

Nevertheless, his role in creating a space for Africans to voice their experiences and to challenge the status-quo is undisputed.

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Source: Briefly.co.za

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