13 February 1946, Joseph van Praagh, Pioneer of Rhodesia dies.
JOSEPH VAN PRAAGH – A MASONIC LEGEND
Joseph Van Praagh (pictured) was born in the County of Middlesex, England on 15 July 1864 and died in Kimberley on 13 February 1946. He was a diamond merchant and a Rhodesian pioneer.
He first became associated with the Masonic movement in England, at the age of twenty-one, and before coming to South Africa served as Master of the Samson Lodge in London. In Salisbury (now Harare) he was first Senior Warden and then acting Master of the Rhodesian Lodge and in Sydney-on-Vaal he helped found and build up the Mendelssohn Lodge, of which he was an Honorary Past Master. Later he became a member of the Richard Giddy Lodge in Kimberley and played a prominent part in national Masonic affairs.
At the time of his death he held the British Empire record for service as a District Grand Master and was the world Senior District Grand Master of the English Constitution. He was South Africa’s ‘Grand Old Man of Freemasonry’, and his diamond jubilee as a freemason, celebrated in November 1945, was attended by freemasons from districts throughout the country as well as from Rhodesia.
Van Praagh went to Beira, Mocambique, in 1891 and walked 300 miles to Salisbury, Rhodesia (now Harare, Zimbabwe) with his cousin Julius Altman, where he became the manager of the Manica Trading Company.
Joseph organized Jewish life in Salisbury, the capital of Rhodesia (Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe since 1980). This dates from June 2 1895, when under the chairmanship of Joseph van Praagh (Salisbury’s first Jewish mayor), a meeting of twenty men and two women founded the Salisbury Hebrew Congregation. A synagogue was built in 1920. He was the Mayor of Salisbury from 1900 to 1901, and President of the Salisbury Chamber of Commerce 1899 to 1900.
He served in the military volunteers during the Matabele/Mashona uprising in 1896. Shortly after the Anglo-Boer war he went to Kimberley, where he became prominent as a diamond buyer and in his later years, in 1925, was one of those who opened up the famous coastal deposits at Kleinzee in Namaqualand.
He did not marry.
At some time he must have renounced his faith as he is buried in the Anglican section of the West End cemetery in Kimberley.
It was van Praagh who stayed for several decades in Room Number 5 in the Kimberley Club, paying for the bathroom extension to the bedroom so that he did not have to walk the distance to the communal bathroom facilities.