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Zimbabwe Jewish community worried, but safe

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“We are anxious as we don’t know who is in control,” says president of the Harare Hebrew Congregation, Arnold Joffe, on Wednesday as a military takeover occurred in Zimbabwe.
by TALI FEINBERG | Nov 16, 2017

Joffe says that despite this dramatic series of events, which is now being called the “National Democratic Project”, life is returning to normal, despite parts of the city centre still being blocked off. Some people have gone to work, but most schools are closed, in accordance with the initial request to stay indoors.

Policy analyst Steven Gruzd, says that the takeover “does indeed look like a coup, although the first rule of a coup is not to call it that. It could also be described as a ‘soft coup’, which may give the Mugabes some kind of graceful exit.

“However, ultimately this is still an unconstitutional change of government and the military definitely has its own interests - this is not altruism. It was probably also planned as it was very quick. South Africa will be sending envoys to work diplomatically, containing the fallout.”

African Jewish Congress Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft concurred with Joffe, telling the SA Jewish Report that life is going on as normal, especially in Bulawayo. In Harare, the school on the Jewish community’s property (which only has three Jewish children) has been closed as a precautionary measure.

Shabbat services may also be cancelled so that community members are not walking in the streets if something chaotic were to occur. Most community members are elderly, but there are some families with children.

If any community member feels unsafe, Rabbi Silberhaft has encouraged them to leave, and says the South African Jewish community will assist if needed. Joffe explains that the airport has been surrounded by the military, but this is more to stop Mugabe’s cronies fleeing, and citizens are allowed to leave.

However, both men feel that whoever takes over the leadership, will not allow violence and anarchy. “Yes, there is uncertainty, but I don’t believe we need to get up and leave,” says Joffe.

“Zimbabweans are generally very calm and non-confrontational, which is why this is taking place so peacefully,” says Rabbi Silberhaft. Furthermore, there has never been any anti-Semitic sentiment, and any anxiety is not specifically because we are Jewish, explained Joffe.

Bulawayo resident Raymond Roth, describes the city as “dead quiet” and says its Jewish community are not overly concerned, but there is a worry that there is a division between the army and the police, which may create conflict.

Despite that, “we hope good will come out of it, and we don’t believe there will be direct harm to Jewish people,” he says.

Roth describes the Bulawayo community as elderly, although there is a five-year-old boy, a nine-month-old baby girl and a newly-married couple. There are only about 10 people who are  “able-bodied”, and they maintain a strong network between all community members, which will be utilised if things get difficult.

A member of the Johannesburg Jewish community, who preferred to remain anonymous as she is a Zimbabwean citizen, said her parents and brother live in Harare. Her father went to work, but returned home midday, and the Zanu-PF youth who usually frequent the area he worked in, were “all gone... as were the police”.

Her nephew had stayed home from school, but the suburbs where her family live are very quiet. “People are peaceful and even the army has done this peacefully. We are waiting in anticipation to see what will unfold.”

SA Jewish Board of Deputies National Director Wendy Kahn said: “Over the past couple of weeks, the SAJBD, together with our African Jewish Congress Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft and the CSO, has been closely monitoring the situation in Zimbabwe and offering the Jewish community support where needed. We will continue to keep a close eye on developments.”

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