The Jews of Manicaland - the eastern highlands of Zimbabwe

by John Cinamon – contributed July 2004  

(corrections/additions sent by John and posted 15th July)

 The modern history of Manicaland, (the area between Macheke and Villa Peri), began with  the Portugese, after capturing the Port of Sofala from the Sultan of Muscat, sent explorations into the interior in 1870 to the Kingdom of the Mutasa and obtained a concession to mine and develop the area as far west as the Odzi River.

 In 1888, (2 years before the BSA Company Pioneer Column), Jeffries travelled inland from Sofala into the Valley of the Mutare River where he pegged two blocks of gold claims.  He named the one Penhalonga after Count Penhalonga, the chairman of the Mocambique Company in Lisbon .  The other he named Rezende after the resident director in Africa , Baron de Rezende.


In November 1893, Jacob Cinamon, a Miner and Trader, was trekking by ox-wagon from Johannesburg toward Fort Salisbury, when he got news of the two columns of BSA Company troops that had been sent into Matabeleland to attack Lobengula.   After Crossing the Sashi River he turned his wagons northwards and arrived at the site of the Royal Kraal, Gubulawayo to find it in flames.  He was one of the first civilians in the town which became Bulawayo .

In 1894, his wife Francis (Fanny) Victoria and their six children, Bertha, Clarice, Harry, Alec, David and Hyam, arrived in Bulawayo after a record breaking trek from Johannesburg,  of six weeks.  Jacob Cinamon had set up as a Trader, living in Rhodes Street near the Town Square .

In 1895 the Bulawayo Hebrew Cong was formed and the Synagogue was built at 201/202 Abercorn Street .  The President was Joseph Saber and the committee comprised of   T. Goldring, S Nathan, V WoolfJ Cinamon, M T Leven, C Joseph, and J Tobias.   Mr E Frank was the Secretary and Treasurer.   Other Jews in Bulawayo were Diamond, Blume, Salomon, L Godvis, Pollack, Aaron Jacobs, S Jacoby , Lazarus, Jacobson, Weil, Cohen, Rosenthal, Shif, Wallenstein, I Levy, Rabinowitz and J & E Tertis.

Bertha Cinamon, who married Lee Goudvis, was a journalist.  She wrote articles for the Daily Telegraph.   Her most famous article was ‘Bulawayo Under Seige’, during the Matebele Rebellion.  She later became a well known South African Play write and Authoress.  (Our daughter Sara, had to study one of her short stories when at school).   She was also a founder member of WIZO in South Africa . 

Before the outbreak of the Anglo Boer war, Bertha and Lee moved to Delagoa Bay , ( Lourenco Marques in Mocambique) where they ran a hotel .  When President Paul Kurger had to flee the Transvaal Republic , he and his entourage stayed with the Godvis’   Lee Godvis was a Dutch Jew.    The Cinamon family were split on both sides of the Anglo Boer War.

Alec and David were among the first 8 pupils at the School known as St George’s College in Bulawayo. The college started in Byo in the mid-1890’s and amoung the 11 starters were 3 Cinamon boys, Harry, Alec and David. I was also at Saint’s with Banet and my son Alfie was the third generation there.


In 1898, Jacob Cinamon moved to ‘Umtali’, the Administration and Commercial Centre for the gold-boom Penhalonga where the entire Valley was pegged by over 400 miners leaving no room for a town.  When the railway line from Beira was built, the town of Umtali was moved South over the Christmas Pass Range of mountains to its present site.  Jacob Cinamon moved to the new town.   He started a mineral –water factory making ginger beer and lemonade etc. in the main street.   In 1902, he sent for his son, David, who was living with Bertha, Lee and the rest of the family in Delagoa Bay .   David (13 years old) travelled by a small steamer to Beira, then by native canoe up the Pungwe River to Ponto de Pungwe, where the railway line started, and thence on to Umtali.  By now there were two large Mines, the Penhalonga and the Rezende Mines and about 250 small mines working in Penhalonga. In 1904  David  Cinamon (my father) ran away from his father in Umtali and started work as a Trammer, on the Penhalonga Mine.   David was sixteen and in addition to supervising the cocopans of ore coming out of the two large tunnels, he was also given the job of the building of the Penhalonga Dam higher up in the mountains.   He was frightened of being fired and being sent back to his father, so  he ran between his two sites.   The African men laughed at him because they had never seen a white man running at their work before, and they gave him the name of ‘Mfambanhandu) which means walk for nothing.    This name has stuck to him all his life and was passed down to his son and elder grandson.

In about 1910, B D Almelah, who later became the founder of the Sephardi Congregation and their Gabbah,  his brother and Gershon Grodenzik (from Palestine), started stores in Penhalonga.  

Marco Alhadeff, Behor Benator, Isaac and Raphael Hasson, Haim Hatchuel, Lessem, lived in Penhalonga from the 1914s.

In 1925, Jacob and Fanny Cinamon were now living with their son David in Penhalonga running a small mineral water factory . Maurice and Gina Juster, (from Romania ) stayed with them before  moving to Umtali where they started a wholesale business. Mr Cohen was working on the Rezende Mine as a carpenter.   His son Hymie was born Penhalonga.   He  moved to Salisbury and married his  Hilda.

The Pollacks had a store in the village.    Frankel’s, the large wholesalers from Salisbury , opened a branch in Penhalonga, managed by Mick Goldberg.   Mick Goldberg and Dave Cinamon became great friends and used to go tearing around the district on huge Indian motorcycles.

Mick Goldberg bought the business and moved his mother, Esther, two sisters Sarah and Rachel and four brothers, Hymie, Maurice, Bennie and Jack to Penhalonga.   Mick was granted the Mine Concession and the family built up a very successful trading store and butchery business called  Penhalonga Trading Company.  Because of the Concession, which meant that all the purchases by the African mine workers was deducted from their wages, the African name given to the Goldbergs was ‘Magaboza’ which literally means ‘Credit’.  For more about the Goldberg family and their extensive farming and community activities – click here.

In 1931 David Cinamon married Babs Starfield (ex Birmingham ) in Johannesburg. They had a son John.   At this time David had become the Underground Manager of the Lonrho Group of mines, (Rezende, Penhalonga, Liverpool , and Old West Mines).  Being a Rhodesian Pioneer, in 1928, he was granted a Pioner Farm and he chose 3000 acres of rich-farmland between the Odzi and Nyzruza Rivers .   He called it ‘The Wilderness’.     Later, when hunting on the Wilderness, the Goldberg brothers, Mick and Hymie decided to purchase the adjacent farm,  Nyamatzura.   When tobacco was introduced into Rhodesia , the Goldberg Brothers bought vast areas of land and developed Leigh Ranch, which became the largest single unit producing tobacco in the world.

 In the village of Odzi , were the Noars, Karpellus and Kapnek.   Mr Kapnek became a very successful investor in mining ventures and ultimately  became the chief financier and one of the Founders of the University College of Rhodesia.

 The Margolis Brothers owned the farm on which the railway siding of Inyazura was built.  They thus owned the village, had a very large trading store there and also had numerous trading stores in the remote areas, and the Hotel in the Village.  They also built a race course adjoining the village.

 Natie Ordman and Harry Goldwasser were two of their managers.  Harry and Bill Margolis later moved to Salisbury , while Max ran the interests in Inyazura.

 The other prominent families in the Inyazura district were Louis and David Buffenstein, who farmed at Little Kraal near the village and Shalom Buffenstein who farmed at Mt Shalom nearer Odzi.    All the brothers were very successful tobacco farmers and David and Louis also developed four farms of their own, and assisted (unbeknown to them) many others in the Inyati Block East of Headlands and North of Rusape.  In 1968 two of these farms were bought by John and Hedy Cinamon, who established Nofinyati Ranch.

At the turn of the 20th Century, Ike Cohen helped to build the railway from Beira to Salisbury .   He bought a farm on which the station of Rusape was built.    The township was laid out and he built a Hotel and many other buildings.   After the Balfour declaration, he renamed his hotel the Balfour Hotel.   It became a well known stop over for travelers from Umtali to Salisbury and from Inyanga to Salisbury .   This trip used to take two days by car.     During the rainy season it was very common for the road to be cut by flooded rivers .   Ike Cohen had a son David, who also ran the hotel. For more details on the Cohen family story – click here

In the 60’s there was also a Mr Erhardt in the Rusape Village .

The Village of Headlands was developed by the Baron family.   They lived there for many years before moving to Bulawayo and Salisbury .

Raul and Helen Codron had stores in Macheke and they also had farms in the Virginia tobacco farming area nearby.

In my youth, (1940’s) in Umtali there were, George and  Rose Juster and their daughter Gillian, Hersh Goldenberg (George’s cousin), Gerald Levy of Manica Cycle,  Dr Boetie Gershon, a dentist and his sons Alan and George.   Mrs Epstein, (Dr Gershon’s sister) had a dress shop Eppies.

Mr and Mrs Falk had a Dress shop called Jacqulines.   Mr and Mrs Seider had a Jewellery shop.   In those days, there were no shops on the opposite side to Meikles shop for at least two blocks up and two blocks down.

In 1941 Mabel and Rudi Cohen, who were refugees from Nazi Germany, came to Penhalonga and Rudi worked on the Rezende mine, starting as a storeman and eventually he became the mine Secretary.

David Grodenzik, Gershon’s son arrived from Palestine to join his father.  They ran a trading store in Penhalonga.

The Mine Manager of the Lonrho group of mines was Mr Nathan Landau, a graduate of the Witwatersrand University .

Dr Louis Sanders and his wife Anne, was the locum Mine Medical Officer in Penhalonga, before establishing a practice in Umtali.    In the 1950’s Dr Louis Sanders and his family moved to Salisbury and Dr E Sanders took over his medical practice in Umtali and was later joined by Dr Rube Levitt.     Rolton Summerfield had Goldsmiths and Silversmiths Jewellery and his brother had CT stores.

Myer Bloom ran a branch of Blooms Furnishers in Umtali in the 1950s.  

 Major Corder, I.A. Ret. lived in Umtali in the 50’s.

Two brothers and their families from Holland , Dick and Hans van den Bergh, started a large textile mill called ‘van den Bergh Black’ to weave sisal and jute, which was to be grown in the Sabie Valley .   However the sisal and jute crops were not successful and the factory manufactured cotton products.

Issy Udwin, who initially worked on the Rezende Mine, and his wife Bertha, (Louis Sanders’ sister),  moved to Umtali and had a series of electrical contractual businesses.  They had two children Olga ( who became headmistress of Sharon School ), and Martin.

The Polson family and Jeff Kalmeyer were also resident in Umtali.   Mr Polson was manager of Greatermans.

Captain Jaffe Retired Indian Army lived on a Small holding in Old Mutare.

In the 1960’s there was Maurice Hasson, Gents Hairdresser, Maurice Woolfe and his wife Agatha, who had a ladies Hair dressing Salon, Peter and Ora Maiten, who had a daughter Cookie and a son, Maurice Amato had a trading store and his two sons, Robert and David still live in Mutare, while their sister lives in Kadoma.   Mr Gent ran a bicycle shop. 

Max Fram moved to a farm in Penhalonga from Zambia .

 In the 1990’s a Mr Rosenfels ran a backpackers lodge in the Vumba.

The above are people who I remember, but I may have omitted some people

Jewish life in Umtali. Mid-40’s to Mid 50;s Services were held in Brown’s Hotel and conducted by Mr Gershon Grodenzik and his son, David, both of whom spoke Hebrew.

David taught me for my Barmitzvah. The Mine Medical Officer, Dr. Walter Alexander, was a devoted Catholic and attended Early Mass every Sunday, after which he would give me a lift to Penhalonga, (I was at boarding school in Umtali). After lessons, I would ride my Zanzibar donkey, home.

A lot of money was collected to build a shul in Umtali, but it was never built. Wonder if the funds were passed to Salisbury ?