Imvubu Newsletter

The Xiniwe family and the Temperance Hotel

© Victor, S. 2015 Imvubu, 25:1

We have been receiving several enquiries regarding the exact location of an old King William’s Town landmark, known as the Temperance Hotel, a building which was closely associated with the Xiniwe family of King William’s Town. The establishment, also known as Xiniwe’s Hotel, was a large double-storey building overlooking the Market Square and is fortunately still standing, although it is much altered. We were able to pinpoint its exact location with the assistance of the Museum’s photo collection, the King William’s Town Burial Register, as well as the Deeds Office records. After comparing old images of the hotel with contemporary photos of a double-storey building in Fleet Street, I am now confident that the hotel was indeed situated in Fleet Street, adjacent to what is now known as ‘KwaKokoyi’.

According to Prof. Z.K. Matthews: ‘The Temperance Hotel was not merely a business place. It was a centre of culture … A home away from home for many thousands … who, for one reason or another have had occasion to pay a visit to King William’s Town.’ In a short time the Temperance Hotel made a name for itself. It was, reputedly, the first hotel for black people in the erstwhile Cape Colony and was founded by Paul Xiniwe, a pioneer black businessman and a prominent African intellectual at the turn of the century. Xiniwe worked as a teacher before establishing, with his wife, Eleanor Xiniwe (neé Dwanya) who hailed from Annshaw Mission near Middledrift, a successful general dealer’s business and the hotel. Subsequently they branched out to East London and Port Elizabeth. It is not clear when exactly he commenced business in King William’s Town. It is estimated that Xiniwe set up business c. 1885 in town. The venture was probably encouraged by J.T. Jabavu, the editor of the first black-owned newspaper in South Africa, Imvo Zabantsundu. The Xiniwes bought the hotel in 1895.

Paul was given an opportunity to write an autobiography which was published in the ‘Illustrated London News’ in July 1891.

“I was born in November 1857, of Christian parents. I attended school from my youth, and contributed in some measure to the cost of my education by doing some domestic work for an English family before and after hours. This materially assisted my mother in paying the school fees and for my clothing. At fifteen years of age I left school and entered the service of the Telegraph Department as lineman, having to look after the poles and wires, and to repair breakages, by climbing the poles in monkey-like fashion. Being transferred to the Graaff Reinet Office, 130 miles from home, I had to go there alone, without knowledge of the road, or of any person there; but I go (sic) there in three days travelling on horseback. The officer in charge at Graaff Reinet found my handwriting better than that of the European clerks, and, in consequence, gave me his books to keep, with additional pay, and any amount of liberty in about the office. This was a privilege which I highly valued and turned to the best advantage by studying the code-books, taking them home to pore over them at night, and coming to the office about two hours before opening time, as I kept the keys, to learn, privately, the art of telegraphy. I surprised the master and the clerks one day by telling them that I could work the instrument, and, to dispel their serious doubts went through the feat to their great astonishment, but, happily, also, to the pleasure of my master. After three years’ service I left the post of lineman, quitted Graaff Reinet, and was employed on the railway construction as telegraph clerk, timekeeper, and storekeeper: a highly respectable and responsible post for a native to hold. When I left school and home I only had a little knowledge of the ‘three R’s’; but I was assiduous in improving my learning and seeking to qualify myself for a higher position. I had now earned a good sum of money on the railway, as well as a good name, as the testimonials I hold from there could show. Still desirous of greater improvement, I went to Lovedale, and held the office of telegraphist also in that institution, which helped me to pay my college fees. I stayed there two years, and passed the Government teachers’ examination, being one of only two who passed from the institution out of twenty-two candidates presented. I then took charge of a school at Port Elizabeth, which I kept for four years, and which I gave up to carry on business at King William’s Town.”

Paul Xiniwe was also prominent in political circles. He embraced Christianity and the Victorian values of the time, including equal political rights for all men. Xiniwe, as part of the small missionary-educated black elite in King William’s Town, thus accepted the colonial order and tried to change it from within. Attempts to influence government were expressed in the printed media, through petitioning, electioneering and through the formation of political organisations. The Border area formed the crucible for most of the first political black organisations, including the Vigilance Associations of the time. Xiniwe served as executive member and Jabavu as General Secretary of ‘Imbumba Eliso Lomzi Yabantsundu’ (Union of Native Vigilance Associations) in October 1887 – the first combined political conference of black people held in King William’s Town.

The establishment of ‘Ingqungqutela’ and its newspaper, ‘Izwi Labantu’, was indicative of the split in local black politics at the time, a division that included Jabavu and Xiniwe. The latter namely joined Walter Rubusana and Peter Kawa, and became the first chair of the Eagle Printing Company.

Xiniwe also had an active interest in sport, playing both cricket and tennis. The letterheads of his shop boldly proclaimed: ‘Impahla yonke ye Cricket ne Football – Itshipu mpela, itatshwa (sic) apa’ (Translation: Here you find very cheap cricket & football clothing).

The Xiniwes were also well-known as very capable musicians and formed part of the African Choir which toured Great Britain from 1891 to 1893. Back home, the Xiniwes were members of the Native Harmonic Society.

Paul Xiniwe died of consumption, aged 42 years, on 30 March 1902. After her husband’s death, Eleanor Xiniwe continued with their business affairs until her death, after which the children sold the Temperance Hotel.


Illustrated London News, July 1891.

Matthews, Z.K. 1961. Paul Xiniwe blazed new trail for Africans. IN: Imvo Zabantsundu, 7 October.

Odendaal, Andre, 1984. Vukani Bantu! The Beginnings of Black Protest Politics in South Africa to 1912. Cape Town: David Philip.

Skota, Mweli. 1930. The African Yearly Register: An Illustrated National Biographical Dictionary (Who’s Who) of Black Folks in Africa.

Webb, Denver. 1993. Paul Xiniwe – Pioneer Black Businessman in the Cape Colony. IN: The Coelacanth 31, 2: 44-51.

Stephanie Victor
Curator of History

Caption: Postcard depicting Temperance Hotel, the only double-storey building facing Market Square

Caption: Paul Xiniwe (© Museum Africa)

Caption: The Temperance Hotel as it looks today (© Google Earth)