CAPE TOWN, July 2 (JTA) “Vile, repugnant, racist rubbish” was how one Jewish leader reacted to an anti-Semitic article that appeared recently in a Zimbabwe newspaper. A Johannesburg-based journalist, Samu Zulu, prompted Jewish criticism with an Op-Ed piece he wrote for Zimbabwe’s Sunday Mail. In the article, Zulu wrote about 19th-century British colonialist Cecil Rhodes, for whom Rhodesia as Zimbabwe formerly was known was named. After describing Rhodes as “the most detestable two-legged white man ever to set foot in Zimbabwe,” Zulu went on to say that Rhodes was not a “Briton of Anglo-Saxon extraction, but a Jew whose surname is derived from an island in the Aegean Sea, where his forefathers lived until the 17th century.” Zulu also wrote: “Like other Jews in Israel, America, South Africa and even Zimbabwe itself, Rhodes also became a shameless oppressor in his search for wealth and absolute power.” The piece prompted Ivor Davis, a former journalist residing in Zimbabwe, to fire off a letter to the Sunday Mail. Davis, a past president of the Hebrew Congregation in Zimbabwe’s capital of Harare, refuted Zulu’s claim that Rhodes was Jewish and then demanded an apology and a retraction for Zulu’s “offensive and repulsive attack on the Jewish people.” Attacking Zulu’s reference to Jewish oppressors in the region, Davis then dashed off a list of prominent Jews who had fought against South Africa’s apartheid regime. Davis is one of about 800 Jews remaining in Zimbabwe 500 in Harare and 300 in Bulawayo. Two decades ago, the country had a population of 6,000 Jews. Zulu subsequently wrote a letter to the Sunday Mail in which he made no further anti-Semitic comments. But he persisted with his contention that Rhodes indeed was a Jew, quoting from “Rhodes of Africa” by Felix Gross and citing as proof the phrase “the prominent large Rhodes nose.” In the same letter, he took a swipe at Davis, referring to him as a “Rhodesian racist.” Davis in turn wrote a letter to another newspaper, the Harare Independent, under the headline “Cecil Rhodes a closet Jew?” In this letter, Davis wrote that he had seen “Jewish” noses on many non-Jews, including the present pope. Referring to Zulu’s swipe, Davis wrote, “I am ‘a Rhodesian racist’ like Cecil Rhodes was Jewish!” Davis, who hails from London’s East End, has lived in Africa for the past 45 years 33 in Kenya and the past dozen in Zimbabwe. He always has been a fervent letter-writer when he finds an injustice, he told JTA. “Had it been purely about Rhodes being Jewish, then all of us would have had a good laugh,” he said. “But the anti-Semitism aspect of it got me going. I feel that it is important to answer these kinds of attacks.” Commenting on Zulu’s anti-Semitic allegations, Mervyn Smith, chairman of the African Jewish Congress, said: “This is vile, repugnant, racist rubbish written with only one object and that is to portray Rhodes as an even bigger villain to the black people of Zimbabwe by labeling him a Jew as well. “One has to ask what causes this hate speech,” Smith said.
Moira Schneider is a JTA correspondent in South Africa. A law graduate and psychology major, she is the Cape Town correspondent for the South African Jewish Report. She contributes to London's Jewish Chronicle, is a reporter for the Cape Jewish Chronicle and has been published in the Cape Times and Cape Argus.