Jewish Community History
There is not much information on the Jewish Community of this small
mining town but here is what is available to date. See relevant
newspaper articles on left :
- Latitude 20° 16' S
- Longitude 30° 05' E
- Altitude 915 m
- Rainfall 585 mm
The Shabani asbestos township and mine are situated 200 km east of
Bulawayo by road and 90 km slightly south of west of Fort Victoria
(today Masvingo). A
railway line branching at Somabula also serves the area.
The earliest reference that has been traced to the name occurs in
1894 when Matabeleland was being pacified after the 1893 Matabele war.
After the downfall of Lobengula, a number of headmen took to raiding
their neighbours on their own account, and one of these was a petty
chieftain by the name of Shabboni. A column under Johan Colenbrander was
sent out to apprehend him. After his capture he was tried by Inspector
Sykes of the British South Africa Company's police, and found guilty. He
was sentenced to death and summarily shot. Peace was then restored to
F. D. Mennell who had been recruited by the B.S.A. COMPANY to
establish a geological department for the Bulawayo museum noted the
occurrence of asbestos in the Belingwe area in 1907, but it is probable
that these early references do not relate to the deposits now being
exploited at Shabani. In fact, it was not until 1916, that the original
pegging in the Shabani area by the Bechuanaland Exploration Company took
place. At this time the demand for asbestos was keen due to the
requirements of the war, and consequently the commodity fetched keen
prices on the world market. At about the same time the Birthday deposits
were pegged by Moore and Odell, but the claims were subsequently
acquired by Willoughby's Consolidated Company, who operated the deposits
for a number of years.
At first few white people settled in the area. It was only after 1916
when P. A. Wagner had described the possibilities of the mineral
deposit, that the Shabani mine began its operations.
Life in the new mining settlement was at first very hard.
Communications were poor and in 1916 a group of residents in Shabani
signed a petition for a road to be built so that business might become
easier and the existing harsh and expensive living conditions improved.
Nevertheless more settlers came and these included not only men, but
also women and children. By 1918 a small school was operating at the
Shabani mine under the supervision of Miss Helm, who, a year later was
looking after some 29 small children, including some babies.
Without communications, the settlement could not expand. Though a
road was eventually built, its state was deplorable and it soon became
quite incapable of coping with the demands made upon it. By 1921, an
average of 400 oxen were constantly using the route hauling wagons
loaded with asbestos or goods. It was difficult to find food for the
oxen during the dry season, and traffic was always liable to come to a
sudden stop by an outbreak of cattle disease or seasonable floods. From
the economic point of view, this was extremely serious as by that time
the average production of asbestos had reached some 1200 tons per month
and there were five companies in production.
In 1921 an Ordinance was passed in the Legislative Assembly,
authorising the construction of a railway, the project being backed by
the local asbestos producers. The line was built by Pauling and Company,
at an average cost of $10 000 per mile and on May 8, 1928, the line was
formally opened to traffic by the Governor, Sir John Chancellor.
Several company reorganisations have taken place, with the final
result that all the original holdings were amalgamated and brought under
the control of Turner and Newall Ltd., with the result that the Shabani
Mine is the largest producer of asbestos in the Southern Hemisphere.
Rates of production have been variable, due in large measure to the
exigencies of world demand, over which the mines have no control. The
latest effect on production has been the imposition of British sponsored
United Nations mandatory sanctions against Rhodesia. In the mining of
asbestos certain requirements not common to metal mining have to be met.
Of these, one of paramount importance is that the fibre despatched must
be free of any foreign matter such as chips of wood, sawdust, matches,
fragments of drill steel, paper or other objectionable material, for in
addition to their deleterious effect on the physical properties of the
asbestos, their presence in raw fibres involves the manufacturers in
serious fabricating difficulties and costly mechanical damage. Further,
mining methods must be such that cognisance has to be taken of the
physical characteristics of the deposits.
At one time there were three authorities responsible for the town-
ships, which comprised the residential and mining complex. They were the
Shabani Mine Township, the Shabani New Township, and the Railway
The first steps to rationalise the situation were taken in October
1921, when an Assistant Native Commissioner, Mr. N. P. M. Nielson,
(author of the book 'The Matabele at Home') was appointed and entrusted
with the task of forming a Village Management Board, which consisted of
himself and Messrs. W. J. Richards, T. Meredith and J. H. Krikler. In
1930, the Village Management Board was elevated to the status of a Town
Management Board, which in turn became a Town Council in 1968.
Commercial development grew to justify the establishment of a branch
of the Standard Bank in 1925. Twenty-three years later the bank built
larger premises to cope with the increase in business. The original bank
was a hut erected in the grounds of the Shabani hotel and a few yards
from the bar. The teller was therefore never short of customers, even if
they only popped in for a chat. The premises were so small that there
was little room for the bank's customers, and the manager-cum-teller had
to jump over the counter to get in and out. When the Native Department
officials deposited their collections of hut tax, the floor was
literally stacked with specie bags, which incidentally formed a
convenient means of stepping over the counter.
The first Post and Telegraph services at Shabani were provided in