Jews have helped shape Mzansi

With my knowledge about Jews largely based on what I read about the Holocaust, I really don't know how I feel about South African Jewry. But then again, who am I?

With my knowledge about Jews largely based on what I read about the Holocaust, I really don't know how I feel about South African Jewry. But then again, who am I?

Some darkies hold very firm views on Jews.

Having grown up with the mistaken belief that the word smous was Afrikaans, I've just stumbled on the novelty that it actually has its origin deep in the history of Jews.

Being a smous, an informal trader, was a hip thing in my youth, especially on the trains.

So I guess I owe a lot more to these folk than their streetwise clothing labels - mooi Jewish, as tsotsi-taal used to refer to sartorial elegance in my day.

On page 194 the authors quote Bloke Modisane's passage from the 1960s saying that "there exists a bond, a kind of affection for the Jews on the part of the Africans".

His peer, another renowned scribe, Lewis Nkosi, reportedly had this to say: "If one was foolhardy to have girlfriends across the colour line, they were likely to be Jewish; if one had white friends of any sort they were most likely Jewish; almost 80 percent of white South Africans who belonged to the left wing and liberal organisations were Jewish..."

Nelson Mandela was equally complimentary: "I have found Jews to be more broad-minded than most whites on issues of race and politics, perhaps because they themselves have historically been victims of prejudice."

Itself a revered piece of historical writing, one wonders what would happen to this part of Madiba's Long Walk to Freedom, from which this line is lifted, if read out loud in the trenches of occupied Palestine.

This is not the first attempt at detailing the influence of Jews on South African society. While it is a good substitute for a boring Saturday afternoon match on the telly, it has its flaws too.

Almost akin to an autobiography, subjectivity is written in capital letters all over the book.

Like people of all race groups, there have been good Jews and bad ones, but this book is like watching Oprah - you'd swear America had only Los Angeles and no neighbouring eyesore like Watts, New York and no borough of the Bronx.

There have been good Jews - Helen Suzman, who rightfully deserves the acres of space allocated to her in the book.

It is noble to write - at that length - about a Lithuanian boy who arrived in South Africa in 1936, aged 10, and went on to become, at 16, a member of the Communist Party.

Why? Because Joe Slovo was a special kind of Jew.

Why mention the irreverent Percy Yutar in passing, as if he were an afterthought? Is it because he was the infamous Rivonia Trial prosecutor who asked for the death penalty for Mandela and his co-accused?

"Few South African Jewish families compare with the Kentridge dynasty in the extent of their sustained contribution to South African public life - in politics, law and art," the authors say.

I agree.

But why write about Tony Leon that flittingly, as if he had no father to brag of?

The late Judge Ramon Leon must be turning in his grave about this glaring omission. Or is it because the authors find the tag of "the hanging judge" too cumbersome to be associated with?

Judge Leon, who served on the Natal bench of old, sentenced Andrew Zondo to death in 1985 for his role in the Amanzimtoti shopping centre blast that killed five people.

A great book but only as effective as a mother telling her daughter not to play with boys, when the message is that the younger woman should not have sex with those boys.

Pissing against the rain!

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