Black Jews in the Northern Province: a study of ethnic identity in South Africa
The article examines ways in which the Lemba people of the Northern
Province of South Africa have used their oral history and traditional customs
associated with distant Semitic origins in Yemen, to claim a modern Jewish
identity in racially divided South Africa. While Lemba live in Mozambique
and Zimbabwe as well as in South Africa, it is only in the latter that belief in
a Jewish origin is found. The article seeks to show that early white
missionaries and colonial of Lemba and in their writings emphasized the differences between the Lemba and their African neighbours through comparisons of Lemba customs with Jewish communities in Europe. Such writings contributed to an ethos of a distinct identity, through which, via the establishment of the Lemba Cultural Association, middle-class Lemba intellectuals sought to promote the Lemba.
This was achieved in a situation where the apartheid regime in South
Africapursued a divide and rule policy which allowed the Bantustans to
discriminate against ethnic minorities under their control.