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Benoni History, South Africa

Benoni started out in 1881 as an unclaimed property and was named by the surveyor general, John Risik, government farm Benoni. It got its name from the book of Genesis meaning “son of my sorrow”. Cornishmen found gold there in 1887 and founded mines there to harvest it. Because it was mostly Cornishmen who were there it became known for a little while as “Little Cornwall”

A lot of Jewish people who felt the effects of anti Semitism in Europe came and settled in Benoni which was already populated by the British. A number of trees were put in at the time and in 1906, it was declared the “Township of Benoni”. Rivers and dams were built for the use of the mines. Those dams are used today as fishing holes. The rivers are full of fish now, and a number of people go there for boating and fishing.

There was a strong religious feeling among the Jews. They built a synagogue that was finished in 1907. They wanted to pursue their religion here since they were not allowed to do it in Eastern Europe. In 1907, they also had the first horse race in the newly opened Benoni Race Track. It a was huge event compared to the city’s size.

John William Travis was one of the leading Jewish famers in the area. He was responsible for importing race horses from England for that race, and it was his pony Pusy that won the first race there.

The white miners went on strike in 1922 and were backed by the South African Communist Party, but were not well received by the South African Government following so close to the heels of the Russian Communist Revolution which was in 1917.

Finally, it broke into revolt and the miners used Benoni as a base to launch against the South African Government. They even shot down some of the planes sent over by the South African Air Force. They fought them also on the ground on the streets of Benoni trying to defend their views. The fighting lasted for about a year. The Museum in Benoni is full of artifacts from that time.

The rugby league in 1957 introduced itself to the area. France and Great Britain exhibited their skills in the sport when they played three exhibition matches there. During the apartheid, Benoni was designated to white people, but now anyone can live where they please.

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