|Death of the last white supremacist in South Africa
By Peter Burdin, April 6 2010
The murder of white supremacist leader Eugene Terreblanche has reopened many old wounds in South Africa. As clips of his speeches are played and replayed on news channels, it is chilling to hear the fantasy world he inhabited and his vision of a racially-segregated South Africa destined to fight to its own death.
Seeing him on those TV screens again reminds me of how far South Africa has travelled since those days 20 years ago when he was threatening, in his own words, to take South Africa down into the bowels of hell if blacks were given equal rights. But let us not forget Mr Terreblanche lost his war.
He even failed to gain the majority support of his own Afrikaner people - he lost in the ballot when FW de Klerk gained majority backing to dismantle apartheid; and he lost in the bullet when his ramshackle army withdrew from Mafikeng in 1994, bewildered and disorientated. More...
Eugene Terreblanche, the white supremacist killed over the weekend.
Lost tribe of Israel found in Zimbabwe
Lemba tribesmen of Zimbabwe. Although the majority have embraced Christianity and Islam, they still observe Judaism rituals.
By Steve Vickers, Harare, March 8 2010
The Lemba people of Zimbabwe and South Africa may look like their compatriots, but they follow a very different set of customs and traditions.They do not eat pork, they practise male circumcision, they ritually slaughter their animals, some of their men wear skull caps and they put the Star of David on their gravestones. Their oral traditions claim that their ancestors were Jews who fled the Holy Land about 2,500 years ago.
It may sound like another myth of a lost tribe of Israel, but British scientists have carried out DNA tests which have confirmed their Semitic origin. These tests back up the group's belief that a group of perhaps seven men married African women and settled on the continent. The Lemba, who number perhaps 80,000, live in central Zimbabwe and the north of South Africa.
Lemba women do not have Jewish DNA
And they also have a prized religious artefact that they say connects them to their Jewish ancestry - a replica of the Biblical Ark of the Covenant known as the ngoma lungundu, meaning "the drum that thunders".
The object went on display recently at a Harare museum to much fanfare, and instilled pride in many of the Lemba. "For me it's the starting point," says religious singer Fungisai Zvakavapano-Mashavave.
"Very few people knew about us and this is the time to come out. I'm very proud to realise that we have a rich culture and I'm proud to be a Lemba. "We have been a very secretive people, because we believe we are a special people."
Religion vs culture
The Lemba have many customs and regulations that tally with Jewish tradition. They wear skull caps, practise circumcision, which is not a tradition for most Zimbabweans, avoid eating pork and food with animal blood, and have 12 tribes.
They slaughter animals in the same way as Jewish people, and they put the Jewish Star of David on their tombstones. Members of the priestly clan of the Lemba, known as the Buba, were even discovered to have a genetic element also found among the Jewish priestly line.
"This was amazing," said Prof Tudor Parfitt, from the University of London. "It looks as if the Jewish priesthood continued in the West by people called Cohen, and in same way it was continued by the priestly clan of the Lemba.
"They have a common ancestor who geneticists say lived about 3,000 years ago somewhere in north Arabia, which is the time of Moses and Aaron when the Jewish priesthood started."
Prof Parfitt is a world-renowned expert, having spent 20 years researching the Lemba, and living with them for six months. The Lemba have a sacred prayer language which is a mixture of Hebrew and Arabic, pointing to their roots in Israel and Yemen. Despite their ties to Judaism, many of the Lemba in Zimbabwe are Christians, while some are Muslims.
"Christianity is my religion, and Judaism is my culture," explains Perez Hamandishe, a pastor and member of parliament from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC).
Despite their centuries-old traditions, some younger Lemba are taking a more liberal view. "In the old days you didn't marry a non-Lemba, but these days we interact with others," says Alex Makotore, son of the late Chief Mposi from the Lemba "headquarters" in Mberengwa. "I feel special in my heart but not in front of others such that I'm separated from them. Culture is dynamic."
The oral traditions of the Lemba say that the ngoma lungundu is the Biblical wooden Ark made by Moses, and that centuries ago a small group of men began a long journey carrying it from Yemen to southern Africa.
The object went missing during the 1970s and was eventually rediscovered in Harare in 2007 by Prof Parfitt. "Many people say that the story is far-fetched, but the oral traditions of the Lemba have been backed up by science," he says.
Carbon dating shows the ngoma to be nearly 700 years old - pretty ancient, if not as old as Bible stories would suggest. But Prof Parfitt says this is because the ngoma was used in battles, and would explode and be rebuilt. The ngoma now on display was a replica, he says, possibly built from the remains of the original. "So it's the closest descendant of the Ark that we know of," Prof Parfitt says.
Large crowds came to see the unveiling of the ngoma and to attend lectures on the identity of the Lemba. For David Maramwidze, an elder in his village, the discovery of the ngoma has been a defining moment. "Hearing from those professors in Harare and seeing the ngoma makes it clear that we are a great people and I'm very proud," he says. "I heard about it all my life and it was hard for me to believe, because I had no idea of what it really is.
"I'm still seeing the picture of the ngoma in my mind and it will never come out from my brain. Now we want it to be given back to the Lemba people."
Source: BBC News
Burial societies making a comeback in Zimbabwe
Burial societies are making a comeback in Zimbabwe.
BULAWAYO, 19 August 2009 (IRIN) - On the last Sunday of every month, Zwodwa Mpika, 52, puts on her blue dress and matching brimless cap, the uniform of the burial society she belongs to, and sets off for the meeting.
She has rarely missed a gathering since her husband died in 2006, and her regular attendance has earned her the position of secretary of the Zibuthe Burial Society, located in Sizinda, a suburb of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe's second city.
"I don't want this association to collapse, which could easily happen if I do not attend and pay my dues, because without it my late husband's funeral would have been little more than that of pauper [burial]," she told IRIN.
Burial societies, to which most low-income families in urban centres belong as an alternative to buying conventional funeral insurance, are beginning to show signs of revival after tottering on the brink of collapse in the country's decade-long recession.
"A conventional funeral assurance policy does not bring mourners to your funeral to mitigate grief and provide a resounding send-off," Zibuthe Burial Society chairman Ntandazo Banda told IRIN.
Zimbabwe's economic malaise has witnessed hyperinflation, shortages of basics foodstuffs that saw nearly 7 million people requiring food assistance in the first quarter of 2009, and an unemployment rate of more than 90 percent.
Burial societies charge monthly subscriptions of as little as US$5 per family and pay the funeral costs of their members, whether they were born in the city or are rural migrants; some even pay if the member comes from a neighbouring country like Zambia or Malawi. Local Zimbabwean traditions dictate that whenever possible the dead should be buried in their ancestral burial grounds at their rural home.
Most burial societies in Bulawayo draw their membership from working-class Zimbabweans, unlike Zibuthe, whose membership consists of a small community of pensioners and a sprinkling of young families of Malawian origin.
"We are trying hard to breathe life into our society but people have little or no disposable income," Banda said. "We aim to preserve our unique burial traditions as Malawians, hence the small membership, but that does not bar other nationalities from joining us."
HIV/AIDS and hyperinflation
Before Zimbabwe's steep economic decline set in, most members could easily afford the monthly subscription of Z$20, but the society's problems really began when the official annual inflation rate began spiralling towards 230 million percent. "We had to battle to keep the society afloat," Banda said.
The Kusile Burial Society in the neighbouring Bulawayo suburb of Tshabalala also experienced dwindling contributions and the society of 250 members almost collapsed, but "Members are slowly coming forward to update their subscriptions, and that is a good sign," Admiral Ncube, treasurer of Kusile Burial Society, told IRIN.
|Members are slowly coming forward to update their subscriptions, and that is a good sign
Members defaulted on their dues because of financial hardships. "We barely had 30 fully subscribed members on our register at the end of last year , with the rest unable to pay. Now, less than five are in arrears," he said.
The attempts by the government to reign in rampant inflation also came at a cost. "Our other major setback [apart from HIV/AIDS] was the central bank's decision to set an arbitrary exchange rate that almost wiped out the society's savings," Ncube said. In January 2009 Zimbabwe's central bank set a rate of Z$3 trillion to US$1.
Hyperinflation was cured when the government ditched the local Zimbabwean dollar in favour of foreign currencies, which has seen the US dollar, South African rand and Botswana pula officially come into local use.
"We also lost a lot of our members, who died of HIV/AIDS-related diseases, but that does not put us off from fulfilling our obligation to a member, despite the pressure it exerts on our savings," Ncube said.
About 15 percent of sexually active Zimbabweans between the ages of 15 and 49 are HIV positive, but burial societies, in contrast to the more conventional forms of insurance, do not require prospective members to undergo a medical examination.
Back to the good times
|At the end of each year, municipal beer-gardens and council parks around the city used to host lively parties, thrown by different burial societies for their members ... I foresee those times returning
Ncube attributed the revival of burial societies to the rapidly increasing burial fees charged by the city's cemeteries, and the high cost of transporting a body to rural areas.
Pumulani Meko, chairman of the Kusile Burial Society, put it down to the greater financial stability being enjoyed since the adoption of multiple currencies, and was generally more optimistic.
"At the end of each year, municipal beer-gardens and council parks around the city used to host lively parties, thrown by different burial societies for their members to coincide with the annual shutdown by many firms and factories," Meko told IRIN. "I foresee those times returning.
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