Zimbabwean Jews ‘cautiously optimistic’ following peaceful military takeover

Despite heavy military presence in Harare, life is continuing as normal.

Soldiers are seen next to and on the armoured vehicle on the street in central Harare, Zimbabwe, November 16, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS)
Soldiers are seen next to and on the armoured vehicle on the street in central Harare, Zimbabwe, November 16, 2017.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Zimbabwe’s Jews are hopeful that a positive change is on the horizon, following what many are calling a “bloodless” or “soft coup” that took place there on Tuesday night.
On Tuesday night, the country’s military staged what it has called a “National Democratic Project,” in a bid to topple 93-year-old dictator Robert Mugabe. After taking over the National Broadcaster, ZBC, Maj.-Gen. Sibusiso Moyo insisted that this was not a military coup.
Zimbabwean citizen Brian Brom, who lives in Johannesburg but travels almost weekly between there and Harare for work, told The Jerusalem Post that he was not surprised about the “coup.”
“It’s been tense since Emmerson [Mnangagwa] was removed last week,” said Brom, referring to Mugabe’s firing of Emmerson Mnangagwa as the country’s vice president.
“I’ve seen a lot of military personnel on the streets.
They’re everywhere. But the overall mood is relaxed and normal. Police are not around, and some roads [in the city] are still closed. The restaurants and coffee shops are busy, and life in the suburbs is continuing as normal, but the Harare Central Business District is empty – people are not going to work,” Brom said via phone from Harare.
Asked if he was nervous about the country’s future, Brom responded: “No, because things can’t get worse, and everyone wants change, regardless of what that change may be. There are concerns though that it will be more of the same [that another dictator may take Mugabe’s place] – but most people, including the Jewish community, are cautiously optimistic.”
He said that “Zimbabweans have always been a resourceful people and they make any situation work. That being said, it has been very hard and the people are struggling,” but “I’m happy to see the change.”
Brom said that “as a Zimbabwean, with an intimate knowledge of politics and the politicians at the top, I believe that there will be an interim government headed by Emmerson, who is a pragmatic man, successful in his own right and wants change.
Zimbabwe military seizes power targeting "criminals" (REUTERS)
He wants Zimbabwe to be brought back into the international fold.”
African Jewish Congress Rabbi Moshe Silberhaft said that the situation for the Jewish community was expected to return to normal by Friday.
“At this stage, Shabbat services will go ahead,” Silberhaft said. “The school [on the Jewish Community’s property] was closed on Wednesday, but it reopened today [Thursday].”
Silberhaft has said that if anyone from Zimbabwe’s Jewish community feels unsafe, they are encouraged to leave and come to South Africa, which shares a border with Zimbabwe.
“The South African Jewish community will assist if needed,” he added.
Paul Turtledove, who moved to Johannesburg in January, still commutes often to his hometown Harare, where he owns a clothing factory.
He was in Harare when the “coup” began on Tuesday, and said that despite army personnel being on the streets, it was peaceful and quiet.
“There’s an upbeat mood among the people,” he said.
“They are grateful that change is finally happening.”
Zimbabwean expats from across the Jewish world also expressed their concerns about who would take over.
Ashira Menashe, who left Zimbabwe for Israel in 2000 and still has family living in Harare, said there was an “initial feelings of excitement – finally some change. It’s the end of an era and so far no violence. I’m hoping there will be a peaceful transition. But to what, I’m not sure – will a fraction of Zanu PF continue? Or will the military? There’s a lot of uncertainty, especially as this coup isn’t ‘official’ but it seems that [my] friends and family in Zimbabwe are positive.”
Before she left, Menashe recalled how things were going downhill.
“There were queues for petrol, [at the time] US $1 was equal to I think ZIM $100, and there were also farm invasions.”
Karen Shear, an expat from Bulawayo, said that when it comes to thinking about the Zimbabwean diaspora, “The lives of ordinary Zimbabweans have been shattered by the necessity of moving across the border and across the globe just to survive and eke out a living.
“I hope will this be the start of peaceful and meaningful change, sane leadership and the rebuilding of what could be the stellar nation on the African continent,” she said.
Rebecca Johnstone, an expat now living in Modi’in said that “from our side, there’s hope.
But we also know what Mugabe is capable of if this [coup] should fail. He will be ruthless.
We’re cautiously pleased that there’s no bloodshed but wondering if we’re missing something… Africa does not do democracy well. There are too many factions and all whom are comfortable with violence – that’s what worries me. Are they Mugabe’s people or do the new ones want power?” she questioned.