Imvubu Newsletter

A Tribute to Professor D D. T Jabavu (1885 -1959): Eminent Scholar, Anthropologist, Educator & Author

© Cindi, F. Imvubu 17: 2, 1

Professor Davidson Don Tengo Jabavu, the son of John Tengo Jabavu, was born on the 20 October 1885 in King William’s Town. J.T. Jabavu was a pioneer African politician and educationist who in 1884 founded Imvo Zabantsundu, South Africa’s first Xhosa newspaper, in King William’s Town and one of the founders of the South African Native College, now Fort Hare University, where his son was to gain renown as a scholar, teacher and Christian gentleman.

D. D. T. Jabavu was educated at Morija, Basutoland (now Lesotho) in 1899. During 1900-02, he attended Lovedale. After being denied admission to Dale College in King William’s Town because of his colour, he matriculated at Colwyn Bay, North Wales. Interestingly, his father J. T. was the second Xhosa-speaker to pass the Cape matriculation examination in 1883. D. D. T. attended London University, where he graduated in 1912 with a Bachelor of Arts degree and Honours in English winning distinction as the first South African black university graduate. Later, he obtained a diploma in the theory and practice of teaching at Birmingham University. He also visited the United States, where he studied the educational methods of the great Negro Institution of Tuskegee. Returning to South Africa, he became the first lecturer to be appointed to the new South African Native College at Fort Hare, where he lectured in Zulu, Sotho Setswana, Xhosa, Latin, history and social anthropology. In 1951 he became the first non-European to deliver the Fort Hare graduation address.

Widely travelled, D. D. T. attended a conference in Jerusalem and toured Europe in 1928. After visiting the United States in 1931 and again in 1937, he went to India in 1949 where he met the President, Dr. Rajendra Prasad, and the Prime Minister, Jawaharalal Nehru. When the Royal family visited Alice and Lovedale in 1947, they were charmed by an African choir of 5 000 voices trained by Prof Jabavu. Coronation medals were bestowed on him by King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. The eventide of this gracious, warmhearted scholar was appropriately rewarded with the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (Honoris Causa) awarded by Rhodes University in 1954 and his election as Professor Emeritus of Fort Hare University in 1957. The Royal Society in London also honoured him with a Bronze Medal for outstanding service to his fatherland. 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. By virtue of his Christian conviction, his connection with the Society of Friends and his family tradition, 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. It is for future generations to be enriched by the spirit of this hopeful, but patient, man and to emulate his faith in preparation for the innumerable responsibilities they will eventually be called upon to assume. He was an author of more than thirty publications including books, pamphlets and chapters, in both English and Xhosa. He also responsible for the English translation of our national anthem, Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrica, which is proudly displayed in the museum’s Xhosa Gallery. He was the founder and organiser of the Native Farmer’s Association with a membership that grew to forty in number, not to mention the South African Natives Farmers Congress, the Cape African Teachers Association, the South African Federation of African Teachers and the Cape Native Voters Association. He was invited by Government to contribute evidence to the following Commissions: the Loram Medical Commission (1925), the Urban Areas Commission (1923), the Economic and Wage Commission (1925), the Select Committee on the Hertzog Native Bills (1927) and the Committee on Riots and Disturbances in Native Boarding Colleges (1946-47). He was the founding member of the South African Institute of Race Relations of which he was Vice- President (1929- 1958) and a Committee member of the Bantu Welfare Trust (1936-40). Quite apart from his professional activities, he was a devout Methodist, preacher and a member of the Independent Order of True Templars (I. O. T. T.).

Prof. Jabavu was a very human person and like other paltry mortals, he had his foibles, which served only to increase people’s affection for him. He helped to enlarge our sympathies to humanity. For his fine example of leadership and adherence to principle, we honour him and commend his career to the consideration of our young men and women in the conviction that he will be remembered as a true pioneer in the conduct of life as well as in the pursuit of knowledge. As a towering figure in South African history, he was indeed a shelter from the wind, the shadow of a great rock in a weary land. D. D. T Jabavu was truly a great son of Africa, an unforgettable personality of whom it may rightly be said, “He radiates the sunshine the Almighty planted in his heart.”


The Mercury, 9 July 1963.