Lydenburg (Mpumalanga)


Lydenburg is situated in Mpumalanga (Transvaal- pre 1994) between the Drakensberg mountain range in the east and the Steenkampsberg in the northwest.

The town was founded in 1850 by the Voortrekkers, led by Andries Potgieter. The settlers named it Lydenburg meaning ‘town of suffering’ in memory of their previous trials and tribulations. On 6 February 1873, alluvial gold was discovered in the district and the Lydenburg gold-fields were formally proclaimed three months later.

Jews were associated with Lydenburg from the discovery of alluvial gold. Early prospectors and traders included Henry and William Adler, Sidney Adler, Salli Kahn and Isaac (Ikey) Sonnenberg.

There was no synagogue in Lydenburg but, services were held in a private home on the High Holy Days and minyanim (prayer groups) were made up by itinerant travellers. As there was no Jewish cemetery, Jews were buried in the local general cemetery or in the Jewish cemeteries of neighbouring towns. Lydenburg had a Zionist society that was affiliated to the SA Zionist Federation in 1935 and the Zionist Record was distributed to the Jewish residents in the town.

Economic activities of the resident Jewish community included a saddler and harness maker, a tailor, general dealers and businessmen, a lawyer, quarry owners, hoteliers and bottle-store owners, a doctor and farmers.

Dr. H Zwarenstein, who spent his youth in Lydenburg, helped develop the Frog (Xenopus) Test for human pregnancy. He was a professor in Physiology at the University of Cape Town for many years.

Official census figures reflect that there were 35 Jews living in Lydenburg in 1904. The Jewish population peaked in 1936 with 50 Jews. From that time, the number of Jews declined and by 1953 there were only 4 Jews living here. From 1976, there was only one Jew remaining in Lydenburg – Bryna Davis, a lawyer, who lived here until her death in 1998.