Zvishavane - formerly Shabani Community

Update January 2024 – ZJC was able to recruit a professional cemetery maintenance man by the name of  Mduduzi Oba Moyo and send him to Zvishavane from his home town of Masvingo where he founds several Jewish graves.  To view the graves and their stories – click here.

This was bylined by W.Rybko but the newspaper source of this article is not known - nor date of publication. It was provided amongst the biography of Adela Kamionsky (nee Aberman)

Update January 2024 – ZJC was able to recruit a professional cemetery maintenance man by the name of  Mduduzi Oba Moyo and send him to Zvishavane from his home town of Masvingo where he founds several Jewish graves.  To view the graves and their stories – click here.

There is not much information on the Jewish Community of this small mining town but here is what is available to date. See relevant newspaper articles on left :

  • Latitude 20° 16′ S
  • Longitude 30° 05′ E
  • Altitude 915 m
  • Rainfall 585 mm

The Shabani asbestos township and mine are situated 200 km east of Bulawayo by road and 90 km slightly south of west of Fort Victoria (today Masvingo). A railway line branching at Somabula also serves the area.

The earliest reference that has been traced to the name occurs in 1894 when Matabeleland was being pacified after the 1893 Matabele war. After the downfall of Lobengula, a number of headmen took to raiding their neighbours on their own account, and one of these was a petty chieftain by the name of Shabboni. A column under Johan Colenbrander was sent out to apprehend him. After his capture he was tried by Inspector Sykes of the British South Africa Company’s police, and found guilty. He was sentenced to death and summarily shot. Peace was then restored to the district.

F. D. Mennell who had been recruited by the B.S.A. COMPANY to establish a geological department for the Bulawayo museum noted the occurrence of asbestos in the Belingwe area in 1907, but it is probable that these early references do not relate to the deposits now being exploited at Shabani. In fact, it was not until 1916, that the original pegging in the Shabani area by the Bechuanaland Exploration Company took place. At this time the demand for asbestos was keen due to the requirements of the war, and consequently the commodity fetched keen prices on the world market. At about the same time the Birthday deposits were pegged by Moore and Odell, but the claims were subsequently acquired by Willoughby’s Consolidated Company, who operated the deposits for a number of years.

At first few white people settled in the area. It was only after 1916 when P. A. Wagner had described the possibilities of the mineral deposit, that the Shabani mine began its operations.

Life in the new mining settlement was at first very hard. Communications were poor and in 1916 a group of residents in Shabani signed a petition for a road to be built so that business might become easier and the existing harsh and expensive living conditions improved. Nevertheless more settlers came and these included not only men, but also women and children. By 1918 a small school was operating at the Shabani mine under the supervision of Miss Helm, who, a year later was looking after some 29 small children, including some babies.

Without communications, the settlement could not expand. Though a road was eventually built, its state was deplorable and it soon became quite incapable of coping with the demands made upon it. By 1921, an average of 400 oxen were constantly using the route hauling wagons loaded with asbestos or goods. It was difficult to find food for the oxen during the dry season, and traffic was always liable to come to a sudden stop by an outbreak of cattle disease or seasonable floods. From the economic point of view, this was extremely serious as by that time the average production of asbestos had reached some 1200 tons per month and there were five companies in production.

In 1921 an Ordinance was passed in the Legislative Assembly, authorising the construction of a railway, the project being backed by the local asbestos producers. The line was built by Pauling and Company, at an average cost of $10 000 per mile and on May 8, 1928, the line was formally opened to traffic by the Governor, Sir John Chancellor.

Several company reorganisations have taken place, with the final result that all the original holdings were amalgamated and brought under the control of Turner and Newall Ltd., with the result that the Shabani Mine is the largest producer of asbestos in the Southern Hemisphere.

Rates of production have been variable, due in large measure to the exigencies of world demand, over which the mines have no control. The latest effect on production has been the imposition of British sponsored United Nations mandatory sanctions against Rhodesia. In the mining of asbestos certain requirements not common to metal mining have to be met. Of these, one of paramount importance is that the fibre despatched must be free of any foreign matter such as chips of wood, sawdust, matches, fragments of drill steel, paper or other objectionable material, for in addition to their deleterious effect on the physical properties of the asbestos, their presence in raw fibres involves the manufacturers in serious fabricating difficulties and costly mechanical damage. Further, mining methods must be such that cognisance has to be taken of the physical characteristics of the deposits.

At one time there were three authorities responsible for the town- ships, which comprised the residential and mining complex. They were the Shabani Mine Township, the Shabani New Township, and the Railway Township.

The first steps to rationalise the situation were taken in October 1921, when an Assistant Native Commissioner, Mr. N. P. M. Nielson, (author of the book ‘The Matabele at Home’) was appointed and entrusted with the task of forming a Village Management Board, which consisted of himself and Messrs. W. J. Richards, T. Meredith and J. H. Krikler. In 1930, the Village Management Board was elevated to the status of a Town Management Board, which in turn became a Town Council in 1968.

Commercial development grew to justify the establishment of a branch of the Standard Bank in 1925. Twenty-three years later the bank built larger premises to cope with the increase in business. The original bank was a hut erected in the grounds of the Shabani hotel and a few yards from the bar. The teller was therefore never short of customers, even if they only popped in for a chat. The premises were so small that there was little room for the bank’s customers, and the manager-cum-teller had to jump over the counter to get in and out. When the Native Department officials deposited their collections of hut tax, the floor was literally stacked with specie bags, which incidentally formed a convenient means of stepping over the counter.

The first Post and Telegraph services at Shabani were provided in July, 1917.

Published in the Jewish Guild newspaper dated March 1938