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  • Rosh Hashana 1974
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                           Central Africa - a brief history

    by Manfred  J  Schwartz 

                Immediately after the 1939-1945 World a great wave of immigrants flooded the region, and Southern and Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland beckoned many immigrants to its borders.

                But more than a half a century earlier in 1889, Cecil John Rhodes of De Beers Diamond fame,established, almost as his own fiefdom, the British South Africa Company (BSA) which wielded enormous influence in Africa,  

                In 1923 the Country was granted internal self-government and then in 1953 became the Federation of the two Rhodesias and Nyasaland.

                As the British Empire builder supreme, he advocated a string of British Possessions stretching from the Cape Colony to that of Egypt, thus on the Map, each adjacent entity, printed in Red, would form the Route of successs of British Imperialship. 

                Thus during the latter part of the 1800’s  many settlers including numbers of Jews of eastern European origin came to this Paradise, and were instrumental in the development of the country.

                Later many emigrated from the Boer Republics and the Cape Colony and Natal. One Zeederberg of Pietersberg maintained a Mail Coach Service. He was renowned for having teams of Zebras drawing the Coaches. Thus many who could afford it, used the Coach Service, from the South, while others via Mozambique were compelled to walk from Beira in the Portuguese Territory on the East Coast, far through Central Africa and inland. From the Zululand eastern coastal strip right up to East Africa and westwards to Equatorial Africa was ‘fly belt’ (tsetse) country, prevalent too was the feared Malaria Fever.

    Thus the intepid settlers faced hazards from wild animals as well as  all the debilitating diseases and shortages of adequate food.  

                Glossina (Tsetse-fly) which transmit Nagana in animals and sleeping sickness in man, precluded domestic animals from being utilised for transport. As the railways had not been laid, people had to WALK the several hundreds of miles, even so far as the Belgium Congo. One Issy Heimowitz actually told me that in the 1920’s, when he came to Africa he had travelled for almost 1000 miles from Beira as far as Elizabethville (Lumbasha) in the Belgium Congo.

                It was thus the area which became known as Southern Rhodesia also was targetted as a ‘promised land’ and many pioneers and settlers invaded the Territory and extended to Northern Rhodesia and Nyasaland.

                Many Sephardic Jews from the Greek Island of Rhodes (famous for one of the Ancient Wonders of the World, the statue of Helios, in the Aegean Sea) came, mainly, to Salisbury.         

                They established a Synagague in 1932, and kept to their own millinneum old customs and culture. Their prayer services are somewhat different from Ashkenazi ones, and the melodies are different too, as are their habits and traditional foods. They have a different pronunciation of a few Hebrew vowels and one Hebrew consonant. However, Ashkenazim are adopting Sephardic pronunciation because it is the that used in Israel.

                From ancient times Sephardic Jews have been more integrated into the local non-Jewish cultures. Whereas with Ashkenazic Jews, where Judiasm flourished, there was greater tension between Christians and Jews, and hence they tended to be isolated from their non-Jewish neighbours, either voluntarily or involuntarily.

                In the Islamic lands where Sephardic Judaism developed, no such segregation existed. Sephardic Jewish thought and culture was strongly influenced by Arabic and Greek philosophy and science.

                Even in the post-war period they were never really totally integrated with the Askenazi Jews. It is probable that the Sephardic dialect, Ladino, a mixture of Hebrew and Spanish, precluded their complete absorbtion. Since they had no common Jewish lingua franca such as Yiddish (of the Slavo-Turic Jews) they were a separate community, and there were few intermarriages.

                During the Spanish Inquisition, in 1492, it happened to be that the Ninth of Av was the date designated for all Jews of Spain to leave the country. The horrors which those Jews experienced is of such a magnitude, that one can hardly imagine that even the passing centuries can not diminish.

                Prior to 1956 there was no Progressive Jewish Congregation or Reform Movement in Southern Rhodesia. Due to declining numbers generally, in 1977 the Salisbury congregation of Reform Jews, merged with the Orthodox Congregation of other Ashkenazi Jews, who are the Jews of France, Germany, and Eastern Europe. The word "Ashkenazic" is derived from the Hebrew word for Germany.

                In 1935, with the general World Depression, Rhodesia too was affected. In order to gainfully employ the population and create and  find work and some income, the Government forced every unemployed White male into work gangs or teams and paid them five shillings per day, plus board and food.

                To absorb the larger number of unemployed, labour intensive Public Service projects were proposed. Thus manual labourers would be used to create and construct a viable system of roads and thus open up the Country for faster communication.

                The brilliant idea of Strip Roads came into vogue. These consisted of  ashphalt strips of 30 inches (750 mm) wide. Oncoming traffic would cause each driver to veer to their left, and thus use only the one strip in each direction. Thereafter each vehicle would return to the two strips, till the next oncoming vehicle.

                This system existed till just after the War, when slowly all the roads would be widened. The use of Strip Roads certainly opened up the entire country with relatively cheaper all weather roads. Shortly after their completion, the War broke out, and proved to be most useful when the S A Defence Force moved convoys of materials and men etc from The Union through Central and East Africa into Somalia, Eritrea, Egypt and onto the Western Desert.

                It was a strange irony that this was a fulfilment of Cecil John Rhodes’ dream of ‘Cape to Cairo’. With all British territories (the ‘all red route’ on every map), across the African Continent, was that dream realised.

                During the war the  Royal Air Force opened Air flying schools in various of the Commonwealth countries. With the ideal weather conditions prevailing for the most part of the year in Southern Africa scores of servicemen were trained in the two Rhodesias.

                The majority of Air Force personel were from over-populated cities, who now experienced a new freedom in the Wild Africa of novels.

                So, at the end of the War many ex-Airmen and other servicmen decided to settle mainly in Southern Rhodesia. Of these there were quite a number of young Jewish men and women.

                The influx of cosmopolitan talent and ideas added to the local communities’ cultural and artistic activities,thereby raising the standard of the Arts, Culture and entertainment and many other social activities.

                After the 1948 elections and the victory of the Nationalist Party many South Africans feared that the strict race laws and Apartheid policies of the Government augured ill for the future. Thus large numbers of South Africans decided to emigrate and choose mainly Southern  Rhodesia.

                This influx of new blood, mostly Jewish, helped augment the already existing Industries and other commercial enterprises as well as to modernise and bring a greater impetus to the economy.

                Added to this was the establishment of the State of Israel, which gave added interest to the Zionist fervour and support and bonding to the new young democracy. To economically assist the infant State, every affort at fund raising was a priority to exist, which the generous community knowing no bounds, enthusiastically encouraged.

                In 1949 the Jewish Communities of the Rhodesias celebrated the first anniversary of the Statehood of the Jewish Land of Israel, with elaborate functions and festivities, and this continued each year thereafter.

                The Zionist enthusiasm of the Rhodesians was akin to that of the other Southern African Jews, and was highlighted in all their fundraising activities. Their efforts at Aliyah too, swelled the English speaking numbers in Israel, here too contributing to economic and academic endeavours in Israel.

                The expectancy of the Brave New World after the Second World War, which promised an end to all other Wars, gave everyone a Brighter Future, and showed up in their euphoric outlook and attitudes in every aspect of their activities and lives.

                The vibrancy of life, though hard, allowed people to enjoy the freedom of a life of leisure in a Colonial Atmosphere with pleasant, willing and freely available ‘cheap labour’. Like the words of the old song ‘’Those were the Days’’, people really thought that ‘they would never end’.

                In the Commercial sphere factories were established to take advantage of the plentiful, eager labour force. This, together with the need to become a self-supporting economy, gave rise to the manufacture of goods formerly imported from the UK, Continent and The United States.

                The war effort had brought about the need for small factories to provide the goods and services required, for everyday Wartime life. Building on the expertise from already establshed industries in the Union of South Africa and the United Kingdom, many concerns opened branches or subsidiaries in Southern Rhodesia. The result was a spate of new and better factories mushrooming throughout the two Rhodesias.

                Prosperity was felt in the air and the entire Country experienced the effects of the rebirth of Rhodesian achievements - Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial, Constructional or Cultural. The fires of economic success were further fuelled by virtual full employment and immigrants entering the Country. People were gainfully employed with the chance to earn money, and were spending their wages and salaries to satisfy their yearings, aspirations, and newly discovered wants. 

                Many would claim that the Colonial days were not as bad as the post period, where Jack is as good, or even better than as his Master. Further, it may be considered erroneouos that the idea of Uhuru with its idiom of ‘majority rule’ is the panacea to remedy all historical evils. Despite the shackles of the Indigenous Peoples throughout the Colonies, there were certain degrees of education, health services, legal processes, law and order.

                In all these fields, there are specific examples of how Jewish endeavour and achievement has been influencial. Throughout their long History of migration, settlement and entrepreneurhip the Jews have always contributed adequately and sufficiently to every Country which has hosted them.

                Their ability to reach pinnacles of excellance in every field is so well recorded that one has at the back of ones mind the thought that no matter where or when they are, the Jews become achievers, leaders and prosperous citizens.

                The Central African scene was no different. Jews filled high positions in all spheres with their drive, enthusiasm, expertise, high ethic standards and achievements. From Agriculture to Zoology Jews make the grade and make their Home Land or Country of Adoption prosperous.

                For the lists of the names of many Jewish tradesmen, businessmen commercial and industrialists in the early 1950’s, can be accessed from the following websites:

     http://www.jewishgen.org/SAfrica/communities

     

    Bulawayo  and  Harare   Zimbabwe

    Researched and presented by Manfred  J  Schwartz  East London July 2004

     Copywrite      e-mail;-------manfschw@lantic.net

       


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