Africa - a brief history
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
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
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
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
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
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
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:
Researched and presented by Manfred
East London July 2004