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    Family Biographies

    Family Biographies

    Prof Michael Gelfand

    (This initial material contributed by Bernard Unterhalter - July 2004  then updated with a few small corrections Sept. 2011 by Yury Smulansky and significant update by David Gelfand Feb 2021)

    Set out below are details of the family of Michael Gelfand and his brother Bennie Gelfand.  Among the honors bestowed upon Michael is that of Knight of the Order of St. Sylvester. This is a Knighthood bestowed by the Pope.  Michael was probably the only Jew to have been granted this Knighthood.

    (click on photo to enlarge)

    It was bestowed by the Pope in recognition of Michael's many years of work among the people in the back country connected with the mission stations.

    Michael was a devout Jew who always wore "tzitzit" . He was a prolific author of books about the Shona people of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe. His book "Tropical Medicine" was the accepted authority in this field. I will try to compile a list of his many published books. See below details of the Michael Gelfand Medical Research Foundation.

    Family Tree

    20. Michael GELFAND , born 26 Dec 1913 in Wynberg, Cape Town, South Africa; deceased 19 Jul 1985 in Harare, Zimbabwe. He married on 26 Jan 1937 in Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia, Esther KOLLENBERG , born 26 Nov 1913 in Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia; deceased 20 Jun 2001 in Harare, Zimbabwe.

    Children of Michael Gelfand and Esther Kollenberg were as follows:

    43 i Joy Phyliss  (now in New Jersey USA)

    44 ii Isobelle  (now in New York USA?)

    45 iii Anne  (now in Dallas USA)

    43. Joy Phyliss GELFAND , born 29 Oct 1939 in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia. She married on 31 Aug 1960 in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia, Tom PHILLIPS , born 15 Apr 1938 in Watford, England.

    Children of Joy Phyliss Gelfand and Tom Phillips were as follows:

    i Claire , born 18 Apr 1965 in Oxford, England. (now in Los Angeles USA)

    ii Stephen , born 15 Sep 1967 in Oxford, England. (now in California USA)

    (married in May 2004)

    44. Isobelle GELFAND , born 7 Jan 1942 in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia. She married on 5 May 1961 in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia, Simon WAPNICK , born 26 Oct 1938 in Pretoria, South Africa.

    Children of Isobelle Gelfand and Simon Wapnick were as follows:

    i Janette , born 12 Aug 1965 in Salisbury, Rhodesia. She married on 7 Feb 1993 in US.A., Scott ZEITLIN .

    ii Laura , born 28 Nov 1967 in Salisbury, Rhodesia.

    iii Jonathan , born 21 Jul 1969 in Salisbury, Rhodesia.

    45. Anne GELFAND , born 20 Mar 1944 in Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia. She married on 15 Oct 1969 in US.A., Henri PELOSOF , born 9 Apr 1934 in Marseilles, France.

    Children of Anne Gelfand and Henri Pelosof were as follows:

    i Serena , born 27 Nov 1971 in Texas, U.S.A.. married Yury Smulansky

    ii Lorraine , born 15 Apr 1974 in Arizona, U.S.A..

    Bennie Gelfand ,and his family were residents of Salisbury

    21. Bennie GELFAND , born 16 May 1915 in Wynberg, Cape Town, South Africa; deceased 25 Jul 1991 in Kenilworth, Cape Town, South Africa. He married on 29 Jun 1947 in Cape Town, South Africa, Marigold SINGER , born 20 Mar 1925 in Cape Town, South Africa.  


    1936               M.B. Ch.B.        (Cape Town)

    1938               M.R.C.P. (London)

    1939              D.M.R. (England)

    1948              M.D. (Cape Town) First Class Honours

    1950              D.P.H. (London) With Distinctions

    1952              F.R.C.P. (Fellow of Royal College of Physicians)

    1955              O.B.E. (Order of British Empire)

    1958              C.B.E. (Commander of British Empire)

    1969              The Order of Distinguished Auxiliary Service  (Salvation Army)

    1976              Elected to Hon. Fellowship of Rhodesia Scientific  Association


    The University of Cape Town has decided to confer upon Professor Michael Gelfand of Rhodesia the degree of Doctor of Literature (honoris causa) at the University’s mid-year graduation ceremony next year.

    Professor Gelfand has made far-reaching contributions to literature, history and medical education. He retires as Professor of Medicine and Head of the Department of Medicine of the University of Rhodesia at the end of this year.

    He was born in Wynberg (Cape) in December 1912, matriculated from the Wynberg Boys’ High School and took the degree of MB ChB at the University of Cape Town in 1936.

    Only two years later he obtained membership of the Royal College of Physicians while working as a house surgeon at Barnstable, North Devon, and a house physician at Salisbury, Wiltshire. He qualified as a specialist radiologist a year later and took up an appointment in the Southern Rhodesian Medical Service as physician, radiologist and pathologist.

    He returned to the University of Cape Town to take the degree of Doctor of Medicine with first class honours in 1948 and gained the Diploma of Public Health in London with distinction in 1950.

    He became specialist Physician in the Federal Health Service in 1953, founded the Central African Journal of Medicine (of which he is still editor) in 1954, was appointed Professor of Medicine with special reference to Africa at the University of Rhodesia’s new medical school in 1962 and became head of that university’s department of medicine in 1970.

    Professor Gelfand has written 34 books, been co-author of two others, contributed chapters to a further six and published more than 300 scientific papers in professional journals.

    His books reflect his deep knowledge of African Peoples and he has made important contributions to the understanding of Shona culture and traditions and the role of African witch doctors.

    He is co-author of a major medical history of South Africa and his book ‘The Sick African’, which ran to many editions, has been recommended reading for University of Cape Town medical students since 1943.

    Professor Gelfand became a Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians of London in 1952, was awarded the OBE in 1955 and the CBE in 1958 and was elected to Honorary Fellowship of the Rhodesian Scientific Association in 1976.

    The Salvation Army conferred on him the Order of Distinguished Auxiliary Services in 1959 and this year (1977) the Pope made him a Knight of the Order of Saint Sylvester.

    1977                    Papal Knighthood (Knight of the Order of Saint Sylvester)

    1978                     Honorary Doctorate of Laws (University of Birmingham

    1978                     Honorary Doctorate of Literature (University of Rhodesia

                                                           LIFE AND CAREER

    1936                      House Surgeon, Barnstable, North Devon, England

    1937                      House Physician, Salisbury Wiltshire, England

    1939 – 1953          Appointment in the Southern Rhodesia Medical Service,

                                   Practicing for some years as a physician, radiologist and

                                   Pathologist and later as a physician.

    1953                        Specialist Physician, Federal Health Service

    1954                        Founded Central African Journal of Medicine. Editor from 1954  until his death in 1985

    1959 – 1966           A member of World Health Organisation Sub-Committee on Bilharziasis

    1963                      Survey with H.M. Gilles on Bilharziasis in Nigeria for World  Health Organisation 

    1962                      Appointed Professor of Medicine with Special Reference to Afric  At new Medical School, University College of Rhodesia and  Nyasaland

    1970                     Head of Department of Medicine and Professor of Medicine University of Rhodesia


    1. The Sick African

               1st Edition, 1943. Postgraduate and Medical Association and Stewart Printing  Company, Cape Town

               2nd. Edition, 1947. Stewart Printing Co. Cape Town

               3rd. Edition, 1956. Juta and Co., Cape Town

     2. African Medical Handbook (1947) The African Bookman, Cape To9wn

     3. Schistosomiasis. (1950) The Postgraduate Press and Juta and Co., Cape Town

     4. Tropical Victory. (1953) An Account of the Influence of Medicine on the History of Southern Rhodesia 1890 – 1923. Juta and Co.

    5. Medicine and Magic of the Mashona (1955) Juta and Co., Cape Town

    6. Livingstone the Doctor. His Life and Travels (1957) Basil Blackwell, Oxford,  England

    7. Shona Ritual. (1959) Juta and Co. Cape Town

    8. The Fleming Letters 1894 – 1914. Edited by M. Gelfand (1959) published by  Central African Journal of Medicine, Salisbury.

     9. The Urological Aspects of Bilharziasis in Rhodesia (1960) R.M. Honey and  M. Gelfand. E & S Livingstone, London and Edinburgh

    10. Proud Record (1960) An Account of the Health Services Provided for Africans  in the Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland. Federal Information, Department, Salisbury.

    11. Doctor on Lake Nyasa. (1960) Being the Journals and Letters of Dr. Wordsworth  Poole (1895 – 1897). Edited by M. Gelfand. Published  Central African Journal of Medicine, Salisbury

    12. Northern Rhodesia in the Days of the Charter (1961) A Medical and Social Study  (1878-1924) Basil Blackwell

     13. Medicine in Tropical Africa- A Realistic Approach (1961) E & S Livingstone,

     14. Medical Precepts in Tropical Africa (1962) E & S Livingstone. Edinburgh

     15. Lakeside Pioneers- A Medico-social History of Nyasaland 1875-1920 (1963) Basil Blackwell, Oxford

     16. The Diary of Dr. Richard Watson Middleton (1963) 12-4-1901 – 18-7-1902. Edited by M. Gelfand. Supplement to the Central African Journal of Medicine, Salisbury

     17. Letters of Dr. Neil MacVicar (1963) Edited in three parts. Central African  Journal of Medicine, Salisbury

     18. Witchdoctor (1964) Harvill Press. London and Frederick A. Praeger, New York.

     19. Shona Religion with Special Reference to the Makorekore (1962) Juta and Co.

     20. Medicine and Custom in Africa. (1964) E & S Livingston, Edinburgh and  London

     21. Huggins of Rhodesia-The Man and His Country. (1964) George Allen

     22. Rivers of Death in Africa. (1964)  Association Copy- Inaugural Lecture at the University College of Rhodesia and Nyasaland about the role Of Malaria in the History of Africa. OUP   

     23. Mother Patrick and Her Nursing Sisters: (1964) Extracts of the Letters & Journals  In Rhodesia of the Dominican Sisterhood (1890-1901) Juta and Co. Cape Town

     24. African Background. (1965) The Traditional Culture of the Shona-Speaking  People. Juta and Co. Cape Town

     25. An African's Religion. (1966) The Spirit of Nyajena; Case History of a Karanga  People. Juta and Co., Cape Town

     26. A Clinical Study of Intestinal Bilharziasis in Africa. (1967) Aden Press, Oxford

     27. African Witch. (1967) E and S Livingston, Edinburgh and London

     28. African Crucible. (1968) An Ethico-Religious Study with Special Reference to  Shona-Speaking People. Juta and Co, Cape Town

     29. Philosophy and Ethics of Medicine. (1968) E and S Livingston, Edinburgh

     30. Guilbulawayo and Beyond. (1968) Letters and Journals of the Early Jesuit  Missionaries to Zambesia (1879-1888) Godfrey Chapman London, Dublin and Melbourne

     31. Diet and Tradition in an African Culture. (1971) E & S Livingston, Edinburgh

     32. Godfrey Martin Huggins, Viscount Malvern. (1971) 1883-1871 His Life and work  Central African Journal of Medicine

     33. The Genuine Shona. (1973) Survival Values of an African Culture. Mambo Press

     34. African Law and Custom in Rhodesia. (1975) Juta and Co., Cape Town

     35. A Service to the Sick. (1976) A History of the Health Services for Africans in  Southern Rhodesia (1890-1953) Mambo Press, Gwelo

     36. A Non-Racial Island of Learning. (1978) Mambo Press, Gwelo

     37. Growing Up in Shona Society. (1979) From Birth to Marriage. Mambo Press.

     38. Ukama. (1981) Mambo Press, Gwelo

     39. Christian Doctor and Nurse. (1984) The History of Medical Missions in South   Africa. Marionhill Mission Press.

     40. The Traditional Medical Practitioner in Zimbabwe. (1985) His Principles of  Practice and Pharmacopoeia. Mambo Press, Gwelo

     There were many articles published in Medical Journals worldwide, to many to put pen to paper so to speak.

     If there is anything else you feel that would be helpful, please don’t hesitate to let me know.


    It is an honour that not even the fondest Jewish mother of a good Jewish lad could ever believe would come her son’s way. But it happened recently to Prof. Michael Gelfand, a Wynberg Old Boy, who hails from a well-known Jewish family. He has been knighted by the Pope.

    Prof. Gelfand, head of the Department of Medicine at the University of Rhodesia and an authority on African diseases, has received the Order of the Knighthood of Saint Sylvester, an honour apparently, rarely given and normally only to Roman Catholics.

     This distinction he earned “in recognition for your devoted service for over 30 years to the Regional Major Seminary at Chishawasha”. This former medical graduate of the University of Cape Town has given 34 years of free medical service to the seminary and every seminarian – including the archbishop has been under his care.

    The parchment conferring the honour to Prof. Gelfand and signed by Cardinal Villot over the Papal seal is in Latin. It awards the knighthood to “Michaelem Gelfand e Republica Africae Australis” literally of the Republic of South Africa. He came to Rhodesia as a young doctor from Cape Town in 1936

     Many Wynberg old boys will remember him. He was a schoolboy rugby star in his day – an outstanding fly-half – as well as a first class cricketer and athlete. He was a brilliant scholar and a fine amateur actor, playing leading roles in Julius Caesar and The Merchant of Venice.

     In Rhodesia he has become a top medical man, and before the Ian Smith regime was private physician to Sir Godfrey Huggins, Prime Minister of Southern Rhodesia and the Federation.

     He received his O.B.E. then, and was heading for a knighthood at the time of U.D.I., and even though he has now received a different knighthood of great honour, perhaps the accolade that shows the type of man he is, best of all, is this tribute which appears in The Rhodesia Science News.

     “We believe that what is not so well-known is his tremendous kindness and consideration to medical students in his wish to help them; his ever-ready help to those in the profession both medical and nursing; his utter devotion to keep up the good name of the medical profession in the real sense of the word; and his concern that truth should not only be made known, but that it should be preserved and written down for all time”.

    The Michael Gelfand Medical Research Foundation

    The Foundation was established in 1986 in memory of the Late Professor Michael Gelfand OBE, CBE, Knight of the Order of St. Sylvester, MD (Cape Town), FRCP, DPH (London), DMR, Hon. LLD (Zimbabwe and Birmingham), Hon. DLitt (Cape Town).

    It is a charitable organisation, welfare number 15/86, with a Board of Trustees whose services are voluntary. Trustees include representatives of the University of Zimbabwe Medical School, of business and professional interests, and Specialists in general practice. Our present Chairman is Dr. Paul Neill, M.B.Ch.B (UZ) MRCP (UK).

    Professor Gelfand was essentially a practical man and the Foundation's objects are practical too; its main aim is to fund postgraduate training and research.

    Since the start of annual awards in 1993 a total of Z$1,477 million has been given to Zimbabwean doctors for postgraduate study: for 4 months, one year and three-year courses, in the following spheres: Ear, Nose & Throat, Clinical Biochemistry, Radiology, Pathology and Ophthalmology. In 1999 it is poposed to offer a grant for research and financial support towards short-term postgraduate medical training.

    The Late Professor Michael Gelfand:

    Professor Gelfand was born in Wynberg, Cape Province, South Africa, in 1912, of immigrant Lithuanian parents, and he died on the 12th July, 1985, while attending a patient in the Avenues Clinic in Harare, Zimbabwe.

    After qualifying in South Africa and working there and in England, in 1939 he joined the then-Southern Rhodesia Medical Service as Physician, Pathologist and Radiologist. He had married a Bulawayo girl, Esther Kollenberg, whom he had met at Cape Town University, and it was natural that, when their first child was due (they eventually had three girls), they decided to join Esther's parents in Rhodesia. Once in government service he quickly gained a reputation by being the only doctor to diagnose correctly the illness of the wife of the Head of the Medical Services!

    In 1962 he joined the then-University of Rhodesia as founding Professor of African Medicine. From 1970 until his retirement, in 1977, he was Professor and Head of Department of Medicine, and thereafter Emeritius Professor and Senior Clinical Research Fellow.

    In 1955 he founded the Central African Journal of Medicine with Joseph Ritchken, and remained its co-editor for many years.

    He was a prolific writer: 330 articles and monographs in various journals on topics ranging from medicine, ethics, philosophy, history and religion, to Shona custom, religion and culture. He wrote more than 30 books, amongst them "The Sick African" and "Livingstone, the Doctor".

    Michael is remembered in Zimbabwe with admiration and affection. Esther Gelfand, passed away in Harare - 30/06/2001 see Warren Hills Cemetery records

    The Appeal:

    Capital built up since 1986 now totals Z$2,4 million. Deloitte & Touche, Chartered Accountants, Harare, act as Hon. Treasurer. There is always a need to increase capital to meet increasing costs, particularly in the face of the current extreme depreciation of the Zimbabwe dollar. Donations in hard currency, of whatever value, would be greatly appreciated! The Foundation is a firmly established organisation carrying out a practical and worthwhile job, in commemoration of a man of renown.

    Any persons wishing to help should send their contribution to:-

    Admin. Secretary,
    Michael Gelfand Medical Research Foundation,
    P.O. Box CY230,


    Michael Gelfand Medical Research Foundation,
    Barclays Bank,
    Kurima House Branch,
    Account no: 2133 2584715.

    This appeal is an opportunity for Zimbabweans abroad (and all those interested in supporting sound development in Africa) to help in a very positive way!

    All donations will be acknowledged.

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