CAPE TOWN (Jul. 2)
“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.