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Sunday, 20 December 2015



In late November, early December 2015, I visited the southern Indian coastal city of Pondicherry (‘Pondi’). Until 1954, this small place on the coast of the Bay of Bengal was a French colony. Now, it is an Indian Union Territory. When the French left in 1954, the ethnically Indian (mainly Tamil) inhabitants of Pondy were offered the opportunity of becoming French citizens. Many accepted. So, at present many of the inhabitants of Pondi are still French subjects, and enjoy the benefits associated with this status. Apart from architecture, there are many left-overs from Pondi’s days as a French colony. For example, policemen wear red képis on their heads and street signs are bilingual: Tamil and French.

There is a church close to Pondy’s railway station, Basilique Sacre Coeur (Sacred Heart Basilica). This is an airy Gothic revival edifice, which was built between 1902 and 1907, when the first mass was held in its eastern wing. The church was completed by 1908[1]. While walking around the church, I noticed some particularly fine stained glass windows in the south wall of the nave. Each one of the windows depicted a saint, and below each saint was his or her name. To the right of each name was an inscription: “Strassburg 1908”, and to the left: “OTT Fres”.

My interest was immediately heightened. Strassburg was the German name for the now French city of Strasbourg. However in 1908, the city was under German administration. It had been since France was defeated in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71, and was to remain so until the end of the First World War (‘WW1). “OTT Fres” was, I assumed, an abbreviated form of OTT Frères, which I guessed (correctly) was the manufacturer of the stained glass.

On my return to the UK, I looked up ‘OTT Frères’ on the Internet, and was gratified to discover that such a company existed. OTT Frères (OTT brothers) was a company of stained glass painters based in in  Strasbourg/Strassburg. They furnished windows for a variety of buildings (churches and other public buildings) in Alsace, especially in the city of Strasbourg/Strassburg during the first two decades of the 20th century[2]. A set of postcards issued in about 1920 (see below) illustrates the interior of the OTT workshops[3]. The company was founded in the 1850s[4], and by 1900 its workshops opened onto the Cour du Corbeau. The company remained in existence until 1975[5]. Clearly, as I discovered, some of its creations travelled a long way from Alsace.

It is of interest to note that the (French) builder of the church in Pondy chose to commission windows from a company in enemy (German) occupied Alsace, but he did. However, not all of the windows in the church were made by Ott Brothers. Some, which seemed newer in design than those made by Ott and not nearly as finely executed, were manufactured by a company in Grenoble.

Strasbourg/Strassburg, like Pondicherry, changed hands. The city remained under German control for about 47 years, whereas Pondy remained under French control for far longer: from 1674 until 1954.

I have some French relatives living in present day Strasbourg. They have been there for several generations, having moved there from southern Germany at the end of the 19th century. When Alsace-Lorraine was occupied by the Prussians in 1870-71, another of my many ancestral relatives, quite unrelated to those of my family who live in Strasbourg today, was a soldier in the Prussian Army. This man was Leo Ginsberg (1845-1895), who was born in Prussia (Breslau) and was the half-brother of my great-grandfather the South African Senator Franz Ginsberg (1862-1936). Leo settled in the occupied Alsatian city. One of his grandchildren told me that when Leo married, he and his wife were required by law to purchase a set of china dishes from the royal Prussian porcelain factories.  Leo had 4 children, all of whom migrated to South Africa, where they lived in King Williams Town in which their uncle Franz had settled in 1880.

We would never have visited Sacre Coeur had I not wanted to see Pondy’s railway station, which turned out to be a bit of a disappointment visually. Since the church is across the road from the station, we felt that we should take a look at it, and I am glad that we did, as doing so revealed a tiny aspect of colonial history.





[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Basilica_of_the_Sacred_Heart_of_Jesus,_Pondicherry
[2] http://www.archi-wiki.org/personnalite-ott_fr%E3%A8res-494.html
[3] http://www.hoogeduinpostcards.com/webshop/lots/59239--lot_of_9_postcards_france,_strasbourg,_vitraux_d-art,_ott_freres_(67).html
[4] http://www.cc-porte-alsace.fr/tourisme/livret-jep-2011-nfb-v4.pdf & http://www.culture.gouv.fr/public/mistral/merimee_fr?ACTION=RETROUVER&FIELD_1=cmer1&VALUE_1=&FIELD_2=cmer4&VALUE_2=&FIELD_3=cmer5&VALUE_3=&FIELD_4=AUTR&VALUE_4=&FIELD_5=TOUT&VALUE_5=ott%20fr%e8res&FIELD_6=titre%20courant&VALUE_6=&FIELD_7=date%20protection&VALUE_7=&FIELD_8=DOSURLP&VALUE_8=%20&NUMBER=2&GRP=0&REQ=%28%28ott%20fr%e8res%29%20%3aTOUT%20%29&USRNAME=nobody&USRPWD=4%24%2534P&SPEC=9&SYN=1&IMLY=&MAX1=1&MAX2=100&MAX3=100&DOM=Tous
[5] https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.433426656788034.1073741843.366016053529095&type=3

Monday, 14 December 2015



I first visited the south Indian city of Bangalore, now called ‘Bengaluru’, in January 1994. About 30 years before that, one of London’s first ‘minicab’ companies, Meadway Cars, began carrying customers all over London. The minicabs were the first new addition to the existing modes of public carriage in London for many years. Prior to their introduction, the public could travel by bus, tube train, or in black taxis (‘Hackney Cabs’) – trams and trolleybuses had been phased out by 1964.

The options for public carriage in Bangalore in 1994 were: busses (often looking very battered), auto-rickshaws (three-wheeler ‘autos’), and private hire cars. The latter were operated by smallish private firms, and could be hired in advance for varying lengths of time and distance: for example for 4 hours and 60 Km; they were not metered. These cars were in general unmarked.

Gradually taxi companies such as ‘Easy Cabs’ hit the city’s crowded thoroughfares. Generally, they were uncomfortable Maruti vans, but they were metered. Unlike autos, they could not be hailed from the street; they had to be ordered by telephone.

The 21st century has seen not only the construction - albeit exceedingly slowly - of a metro system in Bangalore, but also the introduction of two new kinds of four-wheeler taxi. One of these is the so-called ‘Airport Taxis’ operated by companies such as Meru and KSTDC, and the other is the ‘computerised’ taxis such as are operated by the international company Uber, and the Indian company Ola. All of these new cabs may be ordered using ‘applications’ downloaded onto ‘smartphones’, and there the problems begin.

Before going any further, I must emphasise that I have not encountered any problems ordering Meru Taxis (by telephone.) However, this cannot be said of Ola and Uber, which I have attempted to order using their slick ‘apps’. On opening the Ola or Uber ‘app’, a GPS mechanism attempts to locate the potential passenger, and then displays a map showing where the nearest Uber or Ola vehicles are located, and also how long it is likely for each cab to reach the customer. Sadly, this is where things begin to go wrong. A cab which might be stated as being 5 minutes away might take as long as 30 minutes to reach you, or may not reach you at all! This is either because the GPS has not located the passenger accurately enough or because - and this is most likely - the driver is unable to comprehend the workings of the GPS system, or both. Whilst driver and passenger are attempting to meet, the former makes innumerable ‘phone calls to the latter, often adding to the confusion and frustration of the passenger.

If and when the cab (Ola or Uber) eventually arrives, the passenger should not begin to relax. Despite the fact that the cabs are fitted with devices to enable the driver to navigate from A to B, some drivers seem unable to benefit from them. And, as many of the drivers we encountered seemed to be ignorant of Bangalore’s geography, what should have been a relaxing trip becomes stressful because the passenger needs to navigate and issue instructions to the driver. So far, I have yet to be impressed by Ola and Uber. For long distances, I would recommend the slightly more expensive Meru cabs. For journeys within Bangalore, there is no substitute for the somewhat uncomfortable, yet remarkably nippy autos. On the whole, the auto drivers know their way around Bangalore, and if they don’t they sidle up to another auto and make enquiries.

It might be early days for Ola and Uber in Bangalore and that with the passage of time, they will live up to the optimistic expectations of so many Bangaloreans and others who have begun to make use of them and are currently putting up with their defects. 


to read more by Adam Yamey

Saturday, 31 October 2015



This is a sample chapter from a work in progress by Adam Yamey. It is from the life of his great-grandfather Franz Ginsberg.
Here is a brief ‘blurb’ or introductory note about the book. It was kindly suggested to me by Sandra Haven:

Franz Ginsberg left Germany in 1880. He settled in South Africa as an 18-year-old photographer, escaping the restrictions on Jews, only to adopt a homeland with escalating restrictions on ‘black’ and other non-European people. Franz flourished as a manufacturer of a large variety of domestic products, becoming well-known as an industrial pioneer. Soon, his concern for people’s welfare plunged him to politics. From 1927 onwards, as one of the 32 elected Senators of the Union of South Africa, he attempted to mitigate the racist policies that many of his fellow legislators promoted. During his progression from Town Councillor to Senator, Franz opposed the law-making processes that were to lead eventually, after his death in 1936, to the establishment of apartheid. Franz Ginsberg, the author’s great-grandfather, battled for a better world in a time not yet ready for that change—leaving a unique story and legacy on the blueprint of our modern world.

This is the sample chapter from the draft manuscript (with footnotes omitted):


Less than a year after the German trade treaty had been signed, the Senate discussed a Bill in March 1930, the Immigration Quota Bill, relating to another kind of ‘import’: human beings - immigrants wishing to enter South Africa. This was just over two years before Adolf Hitler became Chancellor of Germany, and not much longer before the Jews of Germany would begin fleeing from their homes in ever increasing numbers.

The Minister of the Interior, DF Malan, who was later, in the words of A Parker, to begin “… the apocalyptic legislative assault on black South Africans… ” during the apartheid era, explained to the Senate that the new Bill was in response to questions being asked all over the country about:
“…whether there was not a vast stream of immigrants coming to this country, immigrants who were undesirable.”
People wanted to know what the Government was going to do about them. Malan said that there had been a large number of complaints that the then existing Immigration Act was being applied in an unfair and unjust way.  He explained:
“That was one of the complaints of a large section of the population, and more especially of the Jewish community in this country.”
Next, Malan talked about the Immigration Act passed in 1913. He said:
“The problem which I have mentioned is that we have a great influx of people on the one hand, chiefly from Eastern Europe. A vast and growing stream of immigrants is coming into this country, and the vast majority of them belong to a class of persons who follow a calling in life which has enough adherents in the Union, with the result that reinforcements are not required.”
Now, DF Malan was a highly educated man (he achieved a Master in Philosophy at Victoria College [which is now Stellenbosch University] and a Doctorate of Divinity at University of Utrecht) and chose his words carefully. He knew that one meaning of ‘adherents’ was ‘followers’ of, for example, a religious belief.  He must have also known that ‘calling in life’ can have a religious connotation. He continued to speak about this ‘class of persons’:
“They belong to what was known as the middle classes the commercial classes, people … who belong to the commercial classes, and do not produce … The commercial community is too large for the country. This is one side of the matter.”
The other side of the problem, he explained, was emigration: too many (white) people were leaving South Africa. The solution that he favoured was adopting a quota system such was already in force in countries like the USA, Australia, and Canada. This would be incorporated in the new Bill, which proposed that on certain countries there would be no restriction, and on all other countries there would be a quota. Those admitted on the quota system would be carefully selected by the Immigration Control Board. Malan said that the Bill envisioned admitting about 1000 people per year from quota countries, and that the line which was to be drawn between countries that were unrestricted and those that were restricted would depend on the current composition of the population already in South Africa. Next, he said something that sounds very sinister in the light of what we now know about Malan’s country:
“The second principle, on which we base this discrimination, is that every country desires immigrants that will strengthen the race and that will be readily assimilated. A nation wants to be homogenous…”
Then, to drive his point further:
“There can be no doubt that there has been a certain amount of nervousness in the country during the last few years on account of the stream of immigration out of Eastern Europe.”
There was a third principle behind the new Bill, namely the safeguarding of Western Civilisation in South Africa. On this point, Malan said the following:
“South Africa has set its heart on maintaining the western form of civilisation in this country. … There is the eastern civilisation, the European civilisation and then there is the western civilisation and the civilisation of Eastern Europe. These two civilisations differ from one another, and when we draw a line between the different countries in the future, we must be very careful that we note countries belong to the western civilisation and which do not.”
According to the tree principles, Malan explained to the Senate, a line was to be drawn between Eastern and Western Europe, and no restrictions were to be placed on any of the following: USA, Western Europe, and the various parts of the British Empire. He did not state it, but I imagine that an immigrant’s skin colour was also an important factor determining whether he or she should be allowed to settle in South Africa. In any case, this was a Bill directed mainly at certain members of the world’s ‘white’ population, as Franz was to point out later in the debate.

Franz was against the new Bill, considering that it was unnecessary: most of what was being proposed was already in the Immigration Act of 1913. He knew that there was an overwhelming majority of people in favour of the Bill, and he regretted that. He had been told that the new Bill was a reaction to the country’s then poor economic condition (low wool prices and so on). Franz continued by saying that he had heard the Minister saying often that he wished to keep ‘undesirables’ out of the country. He too was in favour of this, but had difficulty understanding how an ‘undesirable’ was defined. He said:
“I think in a country like this, every decent man ought to be admitted.”

Franz had been very pleased to hear that the Minister of Labour (FHP Creswell), Mr Tielman Roos , and a number of other leaders, had praised the patriotism and usefulness of the Jewish population of South Africa. Who were these people, Franz asked. They were, he said answering his own question, the very same class of people that the minister of the Interior wished to exclude with his new Bill. To a very large extent, he added, these useful Jews had come from the east, very largely from Lithuania and other countries in Eastern Europe.  Then, he spoke subtly to the Senate:
“I would like to say here that I do not hold the opinion that many people have expressed, that this Bill is anti-Semitic legislation, because I have too many proofs of goodwill extended towards the Jewish population of this country, so much proof that I cannot for one moment, believe, unless someone is lying, that there is, so far as personal experience is concerned, anything but sympathy and friendship with the Jewish people. I do not think there is much in the way of anti-Semitism in South Africa. … I have heard very much about the capabilities, the loyalty, and the patriotism of the Jewish people. So much so that one gets a little suspicious about these expressions, and I should ask why, if they are such good citizens, they are to be kept out of this country? There is a difference in outlook … between the Jewish people who come from the eastern part of Europe and those who come from the western part, but … that outlook quickly disappears in this country; in fact, it has been remarked that in an incredibly short time these people have become assimilated to such an extent that … they could not be distinguished from any other people.”

Regarding the Minister’s statement that there were too many middle-men in the country, he agreed. However, he pointed out, that the situation was changing: people were moving from one kind of occupation to another; the country population was moving into towns, and people were moving into industry and the professions. Gradually, Franz undermined the reasons that D Makan had given to back up his promotion of the new Bill.

After a short interruption, Franz continued with an impassioned speech, some of which is quoted here:
“Considerable difficulties will arise in connection with this Bill… It has caused ridiculous anomalies. … There have been perfectly new boundaries created in Europe since the war, countries that formerly belonged to Germany have become, for instance, Polish … there is Silesia too. My birthplace is in Silesia and I am very glad to think I would not come under the ratio of prohibited countries, although that might have been the case if the boundary laid down in the Peace Treaty had been shifted a few miles.”
Beuthen, where Franz was born, remained in Germany until 1945 when it was transferred to Polish rule following the Potsdam Conference in that year. Franz continued:
“I was born in Germany and the boundary was about 20 to 25 miles from my town. Since the war, however, my native town has been cut in half, and the one part is in Poland, and the other part in Germany, and, therefore, I might well have become a Pole if I had lived on the other side of the boundary. Are we to look upon Kubelik, who charmed Cape Town with his violin when he was here, as a prohibited immigrant, or would Mr Paderewski, supposing he wanted to become a music teacher in Cape Town, be permitted to do so, unless the Minister was good enough to allow him? And what would be the position of a person like Professor Voronoff?...”
I am not sure that the city of Beuthen was actually divided in two after WW1; maybe Franz was really referring to the countryside surrounding it. Kubelik, the violinist was Jan Kubelik (1880-1940) who was born in Prague ; Jan Paderewski (1860-1941), born of Polish parents in Czarist Poland, was  the composer and one-time Prime Minister of Poland ; and Serge Voronoff (1866-1951)  was a celebrated (in Franz’s time, but not these days) surgeon born of Jewish parents in Czarist Russia .  Returning to Franz’s speech:
“Apart from these cases, I would like the Minister to explain what the position is of the man in Rhodesia … at least so far as I understand the Bill they would still come under the quota number.”
Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), which shared a long border with South Africa, refused to join the Union of South Africa when the chance was offered in 1922, and was annexed by the UK to become a colony in 1923 . The point that Franz raised was that under the new Bill, Rhodesia, which contained many people who would have been acceptable or ‘desirable’ immigrants in the eyes of the Nationalist dominated Government of South Africa, would have become subject to the rules that were designed to limit immigration from Eastern Europe.  Franz went on to say:
“… I do not agree with the arguments of so-called assimilation. How many people who are now in the country, people belonging to a variety of nationalities, do assimilate? Even between Scotch and English, Dutch and English, or German and English or Dutch. How many intermarry?  They all work hand in hand and there does not seem to be any difficulty. They hold their different views and have their different traditions, but presumably they are trying to work hard for the good of the country.”

With regard to the ‘desirability’ of people from Western Europe, Franz asked:
“… whether people from the south of France and from Portugal are to be considered Nordics. I do not know whether they are to be considered more desirable than the people from Lithuania.”
Later on, he told the House that there were 60-70,000 people in South Africa, whose feelings were hurt by the Bill. Then, he said:
“The objects of the Bill could have been attained otherwise, and the restrictions that are considered desirable could have been managed by some other means without making it so obvious that those concerned are not to be considered part and parcel of South Africa. I am referring to the Jewish people of South Africa who have settled here. I came here almost 50 years ago as a stranger. This country has given me a home and has made me welcome, and I have been able to get a comfortable position here … I have considered myself a South African. I have come to live in this country, but I now begin to be doubtful whether I am going to be permitted in future whether to consider myself wholly and solely South African. The Honourable minister has spoken about problems with which this country is faced, and to me it is an insult of the first water to compare the problems of the natives and the Indians with the problems of Jews in South Africa. I am sorry that such an insult should have been levelled at a people which is supposed to be held in high esteem from the Prime Minister downwards, and it makes me wonder whether I am permitted in future still to love this country.”

Senator GG Munnik  (Transvaal) followed Franz’s speech by saying that he felt strongly that just as everyone has a right to say who is his guest, the country had the right to say who could enter, and who could not. He agreed with the Minister of the Interior that the stream of immigrants from Eastern Europe was undesirable for three reasons. First, he said that South Africa has two industries - mining and agriculture - but the Eastern European immigrants engaged in neither of these ‘industries. Secondly, because they were poor, it seemed to Munnik that:
“…South Africa may now be called a Tom Tiddler’s land. Everyone who comes here to the Tom Tiddler’s land and desires to play the master.”
Tom Tiddler’s land (or ground), for those who are unfamiliar with this, is land or ground occupied by someone who is easily taken advantage of, or “…where pickings may be sought or had without effective interference ”. Munnik was implying that the South Africans (probably his fellow Afrikaners) were easy prey to the new arrivals. Thirdly, he said that the people from Eastern Europe knew neither Afrikaans nor English, and:
“…scarcely ever learn them; they only come here to make money by some means and such people are unnecessary in the country. They will remain a separate colony and we do not need them. Are we in need of people who are going to increase the problems of the country?”

Having just listened to Senator Munnik, Senator JA Neser (Transvaal) was amused by what his colleague had just said about the Eastern European immigrants. He said:
“Only a few days before he [i.e. Munnik] had brought forward a Bill for the encouragement of horse-breeding and horse-racing, and it is the people who he has now been denouncing who are the greatest supporters of horse-racing in this country.”
Then, a few moments later, he slipped into the disingenuousness so typical of racist policy-makers in South Africa:
“It is extremely unfortunate that our Jewish friends have taken it into their heads that the Bill is principally directed against them because there is not a word about the Jews or any other nationality in the Bill. It is just a coincidence that a large number of Jews come from that part of the world against which this bill is directed.”
Well, so it was! Franz was not the only Senator to defend the Jewish people in South Africa. Senator CJ Langenhoven  (Cape Province), an active promoter of the use of Afrikaans rather than Dutch in the Cape, refuted Munnik’s suggestion that Jews who came to South Africa did not learn English or Afrikaans; the opposite was true. He added:
“If there are any of our friends who maintain that the Jew is undesirable, then I want to repudiate it, and I speak on behalf of the Afrikaans-speaking section of the population.”
Just when I was beginning to guess how Langenhoven would vote, that is against the Bill, his words showed how wrong I was:
“The Jew is the biggest nationalist in the whole world and in the circumstances he succeeded in maintaining the purity of his race to a greater extent than any other race in the world. The result is that the Jews remain a separate group, they form one herd, and as such do not readily assimilate with the rest of the population.”
Langenhoven, like the other supporters of the Bill, was concerned that without new controls the Dutch- and English-speaking world would become dominated by the ‘Jewish race’, and this was a reason that he would be voting for the Bill. Having demonstrated his pro-Semitism, he gave his reason for voting in favour as being not that the Jews were ‘undesirable’, but in order to achieve the self-preservation of, in his words, “our race”.

On the following day, the 5th of March 1930, the Minister of the Interior, DF Malan, made another speech in which he referred to Franz’s speech made on the previous day. He said:
“… not only do we all want him [i.e Franz] to consider himself a South African but we want to make it possible in a much greater measure than he has done today… as I said in the other House, in introducing this Bill, I consider this measure to be even more in the interests of the Jewish community in this country in that they want to identify themselves with South African life, with the South African nation, they would like to be treated on a footing of equality with other sections of the community, and they want to take their share in the national life of South Africa. That is only possible if there is no feeling arising in this country, such as there exists, unfortunately, in other countries, against the Jew as a Jew. That feeling, today does not exist to a large extent, and there is no doubt about it that it is dormant, but if this great influx of people from oversea should continue that feeling should continue, and it will become increasingly difficult for the Jewish community to come into their own, and take their share in the life of South Africa on a footing of equality. I say, therefore that not only has the Honourable Senator [i.e. Franz] a right to consider himself South African, but what we want with to do this Bill is to make it easier for himself and others to consider himself in that light.”
This speech was made less than three years before the South African version of the German Nazis, the Greyshirts led by Weichardt, began to wake up the ‘dormant’ anti-Semitism in South Africa.

The Senate passed the Bill, but continued discussing it ‘in Committee’. The schedule of countries which were not subject to quotas for immigration to South Africa were: Territories within the British Commonwealth, Austria, Belgium, France, Germany, Holland, Italy, Norway, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the USA. Senator G Hartog (Transvaal), who was Jewish, could not understand why if Poland was excluded, why Austria was included. Also, he asked why Portugal, Italy, and Spain were included if the intention was, in his words, to:
“… replenish our stocks from the original Nordic stock.”
He felt that Latvia and Finland should be included in the schedule. He must have known that Latvia was the origin of quite a few Jewish immigrants to South Africa. To which Franz replied:
“I am going to vote against this [Bill] on principle. I am against restriction and therefore I am against deletion of any country from the schedule. I would certainly vote for the addition of a country to the schedule…”
The Minister of the Interior defended the inclusion of Spain, Portugal, and Italy because they had been included as being required for the maintenance of a “Western European Civilisation” in South Africa. He regarded Finland as being part of Eastern Europe, but not worth including as few Finns wanted to come to South Africa. Unlike Latvia, which Hartog wished to see included amongst the unrestricted countries, Finland had a negligible population of Jews. So, it could have been included on the schedule without risking much in regards to Jewish immigration to South Africa!

Fighting a losing battle, Franz, who was against the Bill, repeated that he had heard that the Minister of the Interior had wanted to secure immigrants of the ‘Nordic type’. He failed to see how people from Italy, Portugal, Spain, and some parts of France could be considered Nordic.

The so-called ‘Quota Act’ came into force on the 1st of May 1930, just over five years before Hitler and his government enacted the notorious Nuremberg Laws. This Act had the “immediate effect of reducing considerably the flow of Jewish immigrants, as of others from the restricted countries.” CP Robinson, a Jewish Member of the Union Parliament who recognised the anti-Semitic intent of the Bill, said of it (before it became an Act):
“… At present it is the poor Lithuanian, tomorrow it may be the Jew from Germany or France that will not be allowed to come in.”
Sadly, he was right. South Africa, like so many other countries with the notable exception of tiny Albania, ceased to be much of a safe haven for Jews trying to escape from the murderous intentions of the Nazis. Luckily for Franz, he did not live long enough to see the consequences of the Quota Act of 1930.


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Tuesday, 13 October 2015


Image source:

Currently, I am researching the life of my great-grandfather, Franz Ginsberg, who lived from 1862 until 1936. He migrated from Prussia to the Cape Colony in 1880, and by the early 1890s he was an important industrialist, making everyday essentials (such as matches, soap, and candles) in the Eastern Cape town of King Williams Town. In 1927, after many years in politics - both local and national, he was elected a member of the Senate of South Africa. To flesh out the biography that I am writing I have been reading the verbatim reports of the debates of the South African Senate. These are stored in the British Library. They contain what the Senators actually said, and therefore they are an ideal place to get some flavour of what my great-grandfather, who I never met, had to say.

One of the debates in which Franz Ginsberg was a participant was about the Entertainments (Censorship) Bill that was going through the South African Parliament in 1931. By this time, South Africa was ruled by a coalition Government that was dominated by the Nationalist Party under Prime Minister JBM Hertzog (1866-1942), which was elected into power in 1924. It would be somewhat of an understatement to say that even before South Africa became a Union in 1910, the non-European population of the country was very much the underdog. The Nationalist Party did very little to reverse the situation; it would be accurate to say that they made life for non-Europeans increasingly worse as time went on.

The Entertainments (Censorship) Bill, mentioned above was to establish a film censorship board whose role it was to examine:
“…films and film advertisements intended for public exhibition in any place in the Union.”
My great-grandfather was against this Bill because of the contents of some of the clauses defining what was unacceptable in films to be shown to the people of South Africa. Some of these reflect the prudishness of the Government of the times. For example: “the treatment of death”, “nude human figures”, “passionate love scenes”, & “scenes purporting to illustrate ‘night life’” -

Others were to protect the public from scenes relating to “controversial or international politics”, scenes relating to industrial relations, scenes “disparaging public characters,” and those liable to “create public alarm”: 

There are a few clauses that are particularly interesting, because they are harbingers of the apartheid regime that was to afflict South Africa between 1948 and the beginning of the 1990s. These relate depicting interactions between Europeans and non-Europeans. These clauses forbid the showing of films which:  contain “pugilistic encounters between Europeans and non-Europeans”; and “scenes of intermingling of Europeans and non-Europeans”:

My great-grandfather correctly pointed out that clause (o), which forbade showing “scenes of brutal fighting”, rendered clause (q), which forbade “pugilistic encounters between Europeans and non-Europeans”, redundant. If brutal fighting was to be banned, that would include ‘pugilistic encounters’ of any kind, be they between European and European or between European and non-European. So, logically, he was correct, but it was a different logic that was being employed by the Government in 1931 (and later on), the logic of racism.

[Illustrations from the published Debates of the South African Senate] 

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Saturday, 19 September 2015


When I was a child in the early 1960s, I loved chatting over the telephone. My father, whose childhood was spent in South Africa, did not share my enthusiasm for this; he kept his calls brief and to the point, and continues to do so today. I remember him telling me at least once that the telephone was designed to be used for giving short messages and for emergencies only, not for chatting. I often wondered why he had that idea.

Recently, as part of my research for a biography of my great-grandfather Senator Franz Ginsberg (1862-1936) I was leafing through some old issues of the Cape Mercury (published in King Williams Town in South Africa) dating back to 1924, when my father was a child. Almost every issue had a large advertisement giving the prices of three minute telephone calls from King Williams Town to other parts of South Africa. When I saw the prices, I began to understand my father’s feelings about telephone usage.

The same decaying newspapers that contained the telephone tariffs, also contained the daily market prices for foodstuffs and other commodities in the market at King Williams Town. These prices of everyday foodstuffs and so on put the prices of telephone calls into realistic perspective. For the same price as between 1 to 6 cabbages, sixpence, one could make a 3 minute call to nearby Peddie. The two shillings and sixpence that you might have spent on a three minute call to Port Elizabeth could have bought you any of the following: a dozen eggs; a live chicken (a good breed); a pound (454 grams) of butter; at least 33 pounds of forage for animals; or almost 100 pounds of tomatoes. In 1924, when my father was a child, telephone calls were really expensive. 

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Tuesday, 25 August 2015

An Albanian Affair

You might wonder why I am writing about Bashibazouks in Albania as reported in a newspaper published in Cape Town in 1911. The answer is easy. During my researches into the life of my great-grandfather the late Senator Franz Ginsberg (1862-1936) who migrated from Prussia to the Cape Colony in 1880, I needed to leaf through the pages of South African newspapers that are stored in London’s British Library. So it was that I happened by chance to spot a small item about the struggle between the Ottoman Turks and the Albanian independence fighters in a 1911 edition of the Cape Times Weekly.

The Bashibazouks[i] (the Turkish word başıbozuk, literally means ‘damaged head’) were Turkish irregular soldiers, who often lived off loot. Some of them were not Turkish. They included Circassians, Kurds, Arabs, and also Albanians. Incidentally, the word ‘bashibazouk’ appears often (as a term of abuse used by Captain Haddock) in the English language versions of the adventures of Tintin by the Belgian cartoonist George Hergé (1907-1983).

‘Tusi’ is a spelling of the town of Tuzi (‘Tuz’ in Albanian), which is now in the Republic of Montenegro and is close to the border of modern Albania. The news item that I found in the Cape Times Weekly refers to an incident during the events, which led eventually to the First Balkan War (1912-1913). In the last days of March 1911, the (Roman Catholic) mountain people residing in northern Albania were called to arms by one of their leaders Ded Gjo Luli (1840–1915), and revolted against the Turks[ii]. During this uprising, the flag of Albania bearing Skanderbeg’s two-headed eagle was raised on the summit of Mount Dečić (Deçiq). This is said to be the first time that the flag had been flown on Albanian soil since the death of George Castrioti Skanderbeg. This revolt was considered premature by various committees of Albanians which were planning a larger scale, coordinated effort against the Turks. It was considered to have damaged the plans of the other groups. Edith Durham wrote[iii] that in March 1911:
I left Egypt for Constantinople in March, and found on arriving that the revolt had broken out prematurely amongst the Maltsors of Maltsia e madhe only, and they were carrying all before them – had chased away the scanty Turkish garrison and taken Tuzi. This sudden commencement before due preparation was a fatal error, engineered possibly by folk who meant the revolt to fail.”

Maltsors in Tuzi (from Durham's book)

The ‘folk’ who might have ‘engineered’ this could well have been the Montenegrins, whose King Nikola might well have supplied the rebels with weapons[iv]. That Tuzi was not held for too long by the Albanian rebels is evident in the small article that I found in the South African newspaper.

Although Tuzi had been recaptured by the Turks, it was not free of trouble. In about July, after a rising in Djakova during which the Turkish Kaimmakan (an Ottoman official, a sort of ‘sub-Governor’) was killed, Albanian rebels:
… made a successful raid, and cut off the water-supply of Tuzi.[v]
Soon after this, according to Durham, the Turkish Government offered the rebels terms, which included that an Albanian-speaking Kaimmakan be appointed at Tuzi, and that he should be a Christian. Mihilaki Effendi was appointed[vi].

Tuzi figures in Durham’s book again, but after the events described above. She wrote that eleven political prisoners who had been involved in the Bomb Affair in 1907 had burrowed their way to freedom under the walls of the prison at Podgoritza, and:
“…taken refuge with Mihilaki Effendi, the Kaimmakam, who brought them at once by steamer to Scutari.[vii]
The ‘Bomb Affair’ was an attempt by pro-Serb radicals to assassinate the Montenegrin Prince Nikola in his capital Cetinje[viii].

Tuzi, which was on territory granted to Montenegro by the Treaty of Berlin (1878), was retaken by the Montenegrins from the Turks in October 1911. Their soldiers captured the nearby Fort of Shipchanik, and occupied the town. Edith Durham wrote[ix] soon after this:
The woe of the conquered land had already begun. The newly appointed Montenegrin Governor of Tuzi - Gjurashkovich – proceeded to “rub it in” by hanging a portrait of King Nikola in the hospital, and joyfully informing the Turkish staff that the Montenegrins had occupied Plava and Gusinje, and, of 2000 Moslems who had endeavoured to take Berani, (they) had slaughtered all but 250.”

Montenegrins near the Fort at Shipchanik after taking it from the Turks
(from Durham's book)

Edith Durham visited this hospital again in 1912. According to one of her biographers Marcus Tanner:
In a filthy hospital in Tuzi, a recently captured village on the Ottoman side of the border, Durham was horrified to discover why the bandaged faces of eight captives were curiously flat. Removing the bandages she found that their noses had been cut off.[x]
She tended to these unfortunates and many other similarly mutilated victims as part of the humanitarian work for which she is so well known in the Balkans.

So much for Tuzi, a place which I had not heard of until I chanced upon it in an old South African newspaper. The little article was written during a revolt of the Albanians, which had been encouraged not only by the Montenegrins but also by an Italian of Albanian ancestry, an Arbëresh man from the region of Cosenza in the South of Italy. Terenzio Tocci (1880-1945), who was eventually executed by Enver Hoxha, travelled to the Balkans in April 1911 to participate in the Albanian uprising. According to Robert Elsie:
On 26 April 1911, he gathered the chieftains of Mirdita near Orosh and proclaimed the independence of Albania, hoisting the Albanian flag for the first time since the death of Scanderbeg, and formed a provisional government, which had the support of much of northern Albania.[xi]
Tocci returned to Italy before becoming involved with the administration of first Zog’s, then later Mussolini’s, Albania. His collaboration with the Italian Fascists led to his death in Albania in the hands of the young Communist regime led by Enver Hoxha. When I visited the Arbëresh town of Piana degli Albanesi in Sicily in 2014, I was told that even when being led to be shot Tocci maintained his dignity, and was most concerned that his polished shoes would not be soiled[xii].

My ‘discovery’ of an item of long out-of-date news whilst researching a quite different topic, namely the biography of a Jewish immigrant in South Africa, led to the exploration of an aspect of Balkan history that is new to me. It is serendipitous revelations such as this that adds much enjoyment to researching historical topics and almost anything else.

Adam Yamey has written two books about Albania:

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[i] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bashi-bazouk, accessed 25th August 2015.
[ii] See: The History of Albania by S Pollo and A Puto, publ. by Routledge & Kegan Paul, London: 1981
[iii] See DURHAM: The Struggle for Scutari, by ME Durham, publ. by Edward Arnold, London: 1914
[iv] See: The Albanians, by M Vickers, publ. by IB Tauris, London: 1997
[v] See: DURHAM
[vi] See: DURHAM
[vii] See: DURHAM
[viii] See: Montenegro: A Modern History, by K Morrison, publ. by IB Tauris, London: 2009
[ix] See: DURHAM
[x] See: Albania’s Mountain Queen, by M Tanner, publ. by IB Tauris, London: 2014
[xi] See: Historical Dictionary of Albania (2nd. Ed.), by R Elsie, publ. by The Scarecrow Press, Plymouth (UK): 2010
[xii] See: From Albania to Sicily, by A Yamey, publ. by Adam Yamey, London: 2014