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.