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Sonny Leon

TODAY IN KIMBERLEY’S HISTORY 31 JULY

UPDATED: 31/07/2019

31 July 1886, Railway Station opens.
31 July 1897, First competition for the Rhodes Challenge Cup at the Kimberley Golf Club.
31 July 1901, Foundation stone of the new Jewish Synagogue laid by Gustav Bonas.
31 July 1908, Mining of blue ground in the De Beers Mine suspended.
31 July 1990, Sonny Leon, pictured, prominent Coloured politician, dies.

DID YOU KNOW

Lionel Samuel (Sonny) Leon (29 November 1911- 31 July 1990) was born in Ferreirastown, Johannesburg to an Anglo-Asian father and a Javanese descendant mother. His father being a cabinet maker with his own business saw Sonny work in the furniture factory up until World War II when he signed up to fight against Germany, enlisting in South Africa’s oldest colonial regiment, the Cape Corps. He saw active service with the Cape Corps and the 6th Armoured Division in East Africa, North Africa and Italy and was frequently mentioned in dispatches, reaching the rank of Regimental Sergeant-Major, at the time the highest rank a soldier “of colour” could attain.

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Sonny Leon

While he was a Private in the Army Educational Services he applied to follow a NCO course at the Khartoum Military College but was turned down because only whites could attend the college. He was transferred to Kimberley as RSM at the Corps Training Depot and was there when the war ended in 1945, specialising in artillery and the training thereof. He was then seconded to the Demobilisation Corps.

The attitude of the white soldiers made him bitter because he felt it was his duty not to allow any system (like the Nazi system) to come near his country South Africa. Thus, after the war, he promised to himself, he would enter politics in order to fight injustice.

In 1945 he married Helene – the union producing seven children -and settled in Kimberley where he was to take an active part in politics, and in particular, fighting to better the life of the coloured people in the town. This he did and became a prominent and controversial politician.

In 1948 he became an organiser for the United Party in the election won by the Nationalists. The Nationalist government saw him as a dangerous subversive, but in his local community he was revered as someone standing up to apartheid. Despite this there were also many who saw him as a so-called “puppet” of the system. That he should not be classified as an anti-apartheid and struggle movement hero is inconceivable.

There are not many who spent their entire life fighting against the system.

He was a founder member of the Labour Party in 1965 and served as national leader from 1971 to 1979 when the Coloured Representative Council was disbanded. Leon served as a member of the President’s Council between 1981 and 1984 and during the entire period of apartheid was an outspoken critic of the government.

Was the local Chairman and National Vice President of the SA Coloured Ex-Servicemen’s Legion of the British Empire Service Legion (BESL), now the SA Legion.

Leon had joined De Beers as a brush hand in 1952 and progressed to being a painter in the Engineering Department by 1967.

31 July 1886, Railway Station opens.
31 July 1897, First competition for the Rhodes Challenge Cup at the Kimberley Golf Club.
31 July 1901, Foundation stone of the new Jewish Synagogue laid by Gustav Bonas.
31 July 1908, Mining of blue ground in the De Beers Mine suspended.
31 July 1990, Sonny Leon, prominent Coloured politician, dies.

DID YOU KNOW

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Gustav Henry Bonas

De Beers Consolidated Mines Director Gustav Henry Bonas (pictured) laid the foundation stone of the new Jewish synagogue (Shul) on Memorial Road on Wednesday 31 July 1901.

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The New Synagogue

The Jewish Synagogue (Shul) on Memorial Road was opened for services on 14 September 1902. It is generally considered the most attractive shul in the country and one of the finest synagogues, architecturally, in the world.

Designed by Daniel Westwood Greatbatch in Byzantine style, it is based on the synagogue in Florence, Italy. (Other sources state Venice and

De Beers Consolidated Mines Director Gustav Henry Bonas (pictured) laid the foundation stone of the new Jewish synagogue (Shul) on Memorial Road on Wednesday 31 July 1901.

The Jewish Synagogue (Shul) on Memorial Road was opened for services on 14 September 1902. It is generally considered the most attractive shul in the country and one of the finest synagogues, architecturally, in the world.

Designed by Daniel Westwood Greatbatch in Byzantine style, it is based on the synagogue in Florence, Italy. (Other sources state Venice and Pretoria), and was constructed by the well-known Kimberley firm Church and McLauchlin. Major benefactors to the erection of the Shul were Gustave Bonas, Sir David Harris and Cecil Rhodes, among many others. The De Beers mining company donated the land.

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The New Jewish Synagogue

Main features of the Shul include the stained glass windows, the magnificent domed ceiling rising 13 metres from ground to the top of the dome which is depicted as blue sky with shining stars. Marble steps lead to the Aron Kodesh. There are 613 seats – more than ample for the 1400 members of the faith in 1902.

The Kimberley congregation is reputed to be the only one in the world that has a diamond tipped scroll pointer. Although not in use – it is in safe keeping for obvious reasons – the pointer (yad) has a blue-white diamond set on the fore finger, the yad being donated to the congregation by I.R. Triebex.

Within the Shul is a memorial tablet listing 127 Jewish soldiers who died or were killed fighting for the British during the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902. Sir David Harris, a prominent Jewish citizen of the city, commanded the Kimberley Town Guard during the siege of 1899-1900.

Although sources vary there were undoubtedly members of the Jewish faith on the diamond fields by 1869, the Griqualand West Hebrew Congregation being founded in 1871, the third oldest congregation in South Africa behind Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.

By 1873 there were regular services being held in Kimberley.
Some of the ministers that served in the Shul were M Mendelsohn, A Ornstein, M L Harris, E Joffe, H Isaacs, J Matzner, S Kruglak and M Silberhaft, the latter being known as the Travelling Rabbi.

), and was constructed by the well-known Kimberley firm Church and McLauchlin. Major benefactors to the erection of the Shul were Gustav Bonas, Sir David Harris and Cecil Rhodes, among many others. The De Beers mining company donated the land.

PT-Jewish_Synagogue-1901

Jewish Synagogue

Main features of the Shul include the stained glass windows, the magnificent domed ceiling rising 13 metres from ground to the top of the dome which is depicted as blue sky with shining stars. Marble steps lead to the Aron Kodesh. There are 613 seats – more than ample for the 1400 members of the faith in 1902.

The Kimberley congregation is reputed to be the only one in the world that has a diamond tipped scroll pointer. Although not in use – it is in safe keeping for obvious reasons – the pointer (yad) has a blue-white diamond set on the fore finger, the yad being donated to the congregation by I.R. Triebex.

Within the Shul is a memorial tablet listing 127 Jewish soldiers who died or were killed fighting for the British during the Anglo-Boer War 1899-1902. Sir David Harris, a prominent Jewish citizen of the city, commanded the Kimberley Town Guard during the siege of 1899-1900.

Although sources vary there were undoubtedly members of the Jewish faith on the diamond fields by 1869, the Griqualand West Hebrew Congregation being founded in 1871, the third oldest congregation in South Africa behind Cape Town and Port Elizabeth.

By 1873 there were regular services being held in Kimberley.
Some of the ministers that served in the Shul were M Mendelsohn, A Ornstein, M L Harris, E Joffe, H Isaacs, J Matzner, S Kruglak and M Silberhaft, the latter being known as the Travelling Rabbi.

From Kimberley Calls and Recalls on Facebook By Steve Lunderstedt

Aeon Computer Kimberley

About Steve Lunderstedt

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