An historic nostalgia

The tragedy of Zimbabwe (one time Southern Rhodesia) in the headlines of the world press, brings me to remember that once prosperous little country and its vibrant Jewish communities in the heart of Africa – and that historic occasion, the celebrations of Rhodesia’s centenary.

I was privileged, together with representatives of the Jewish community, to be present on the Matopas Hilltop when the King and Queen of Great Britain and the two princesses Elizabeth and Margaret came to celebrate the Rhodesian centenary, and to honor the memory of Cecil John Rhodes at his graveside atop the Matopas.

I remember the speeches praising the hundred years of development, in which Rhodes played so vital a role in the past, and foretelling a great future for all its citizens in the years to come.

There were great events organized for the celebrations.

Sir John Barbirolli and his world famous orchestra came to play in a beautiful outdoor “concert hall” specially set up for the event. It was a very exciting experience for those who had the honor of being present.

In the days that followed many performances of tribal dances took place in the same venue, both of the local tribes and from the surrounding countries.

Without a doubt the most prestigious event honoring the centenary was the holding of the Congress of International Women’s Organizations – what a tribute!

To this little country in far off Africa, women leaders from across the world assembled for the Congress, each presenting through speech and exhibition stands, the social welfare programs of their respective organizations. Among them was the president of the Rhodesian women’s Zionist council, Rachel Baron, representing World Wizo, with an exhibition stand entitled “The Ingathering of the Exiles.” illustrating the absorption of thousands of Jewish refugees from the political violence in the wake of the War of Liberation (from Egypt, Libya, Morocco and Algiers, Iraq and Iran), the establishment of the State of Israel and the last of the Holocaust survivors arriving in a boat from Cyprus on 10th February 1949. Wizo and its supporting organizations throughout the world played a significant role in these events.

The stand showed tiny dolls on a map each one standing on a country from which Jews were coming at that time. Each doll was attached to a string which passed through the “O” of a large W.I.Z.O sign, and then the strings fanned out to photographs of Wizo institutions. Below this was written the bible prophesy from Jeremiah.

On the right of the stand was a large painting by a South African artist depicting a woman and child symbolizing social welfare. On the left were photographs of pathetic looking children being received by youth aliya institutions and happy children having arrived in youth aliya institutions.

A brilliant and moving address was given by Dr. Anne Hyman, wife of the Israel ambassador to South Africa. There was an excited response of the delegates as they rushed forward to congratulate her on her address (some with tears in their eyes), and great interest was shown in the stand which illustrated so well the great historic events of which Dr. Hyman had spoken.

The chairman and the committee members of Wizo who were manning the stand received the handshakes and congratulations with considerable pride.

The World Women’s Congress was without doubt the highlight of the centenary celebrations, and Wizo’s contribution was the highlight of the Congress.

Those were great days – how sad to see this lovely country now destroyed. A starving people harassed, even murdered, by political violence – fleeing across its borders to the surrounding countries where they are not welcome. When the white farmers, among them many prominent Jews, are so brutally driven from their farms causing the collapse of agriculture, the mainstay of the economy, and starvation throughout the land.

I have lovely memories of this once happy land which I visited so many times between the years 1948 to 1959, during my service with the Women’s Zionist Council.

Salisbury, the capital, with its flower and tree lined streets, bustling Bulawayo, the busy headquarters of our Zionist Organization, all the small towns and farms across the country down to lovely Umtali on the border of Mozambique, each with its active and warmly responsive and supportive Jewish Communities.

Fortunately many Rhodesians came on aliya over the years to Israel’s benefit.

Will the glory ever return to this sad and broken land?

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