INTRODUCTION

This section deals with the background of the Hellenic Community of Bloemfontein as an organic entity. Firstly, the reasons that made such an aim an imperative need are discussed at length, after which the endeavours to achieve that aim, as well as the persons who played a key role in this regard, are discussed.

In the next section, a description of the Community’s foundation and its objectives, as indicated in the original Constitution, is given. Attention is also given to the amendments made to the Constitution over the years.

The Committee’s work and achievements, as well as the problems faced by the Community, are dealt with in the following section. The emphasis is placed on the question whether the initial aims were accomplished. Finally, the author makes suggestions for ensuring that the Community continues to function smoothly in future.

 THE NEED FOR AN ORGANISED COMMUNITY

It was stressed in seminar 2 that the first generation of Greek immigrants were people who worked day and night in their shops. They had no time for themselves or their families. As the years passed and after the 1930s, these pioneers rose to wealth and distinguished themselves through their hard work, both socially and economically. Many of them had gone abroad with the hope that they would be able to return home after a few years, having secured a decent amount of capital. Before long, however, as they started families in their new homeland, they realised that this would not come about.

The children of the first immigrants grew up between two worlds: The family’s world and the other world of the school. They had to speak Greek in their homes, while at school and among their peers they used English or Afrikaans. Of course, English was the prevalent language, while they never learnt their home language, Greek, properly. Furthermore, the majority of their parents were illiterate people from poor agricultural regions of Greece, and the first Greek teacher only arrived in Bloemfontein in 1979.

The Greek Church was traditionally a powerful institution for Greek society. To be a Greek means to be an Orthodox Christian. The Greek Orthodox Church is seen as the strongest bond with the mother country, and a unifying factor among Greeks all over the world. Thus, the South African Greeks regarded the Church as the ultimate pillar of resistance against assimilation in the South African milieu right from the beginning.

The Greek language is the other strong factor that binds all the Greeks. The Greek language, which has managed to stay alive for thousands of years, is the Greek immigrant’s second link with his mother country. The Greeks of Bloemfontein thought that acquiring a church and a priest would enable them to teach their children the Greek language.

Consequently, what led the Greeks of Bloemfontein to attain a “collective conscience” was their need to practise their religious duties, as well as the desire that their children should learn Greek. In addition, the parents’ lack of time to spend with their families produced a sense of guilt – they were seeing their children grow up with an abundance of all the worldly goods, but lacking a strong sense of Greek culture.

Furthermore, there were certain other factors that should not be ignored, such as the fact that a sense of inferiority prevailed among the Greek immigrants, caused by the way they were treated by some English people, but mainly by Afrikaans-speaking people. Since the dawn of their arrival in their host country they felt like second-class citizens, even though they later attained great economic and social power (the third-class citizens being, of course, the black Africans).

This hostility on occasion even escalated into a real threat to their own lives. Quarrels often broke out between Greek and Afrikaans-speaking people, sometimes even escalating into physical attacks and threats of closing down their shops.  Even worse was the case of the Ossewa Brandwag (Ox-wagon Sentinels), which began as a cultural organisation officially founded under the leadership of Colonel J.C.C. Laas in Bloemfontein on 4 February 1939. However, within the context of a tense international situation marked by the rise of Nazi Germany, it underwent a fundamental change, becoming a paramilitary body with its own storm-troops. Members of this organisation planted bombs in several shops owned by immigrants during the wartime, including Mr Morfis’s shop.

Gathering around an organised community with a view to acquiring a church and a school looked like the only answer to the problem called “detachment from the Greek culture, assimilation”. These people, who worked every single day of the year – they only closed their shops on Christmas Day – would now have a common goal. They would have a place to turn to, to bind them together, to talk and to have a good time. Their lives would be revitalised by pursuing lofty aspirations.

 THE FOUNDING OF THE COMMUNITY

Approximately 50 Greeks were living in Bloemfontein at the end of the 1940s. Specifically, the following family names are mentioned on the basis of the present research (in brackets the birth-place in Greece):

Apostolou (Cyprus), Dimitriadis (Cyprus), Kasimatis (Kithira), Konstantinou (Cyprus), Loupos (Sparta), Manidis (Hios), Morfis (Cyprus), Nikolaou (Cyprus), Perivolaris (Ithaca), Repanis (Lesvos), Savas (Cyprus), Tarnanis (Asia Minor), Trissos (Sparta), Troupos (Sparta), Vogiatzis (Lesvos), and Vrahimis (Cyprus). The following family names are mentioned just for the record, since these families left Bloemfontein before the period under examination: Gianoutsos (Ithaca, left in 1938), Kolovos (Asia Minor, left in 1920), and Venduras (Ithaca, left in 1937).

Strong ties of friendship and support had developed between these few first-generation Greek emigrants in Bloemfontein. Furthermore, consensus and mutual assistance prevailed among them, which was shown on a professional level (the established shop-owner would help the newcomer to find his/her feet; see seminar 2), as well as on other levels, such as the Kolovos family’s case. Manolis Kolovos and his nephews, Georgios and Dimitrios, came to Bloemfontein from Vurla in Asia Minor, and were therefore citizens of the Ottoman Empire. As soon as Turkey entered World War I on the German side, the Bloemfontein police arrested them because they were now citizens of a hostile state. The Greek community then approached the Anglican bishop for help. He assured the authorities that, although those arrested were Ottoman citizens, they also were Christians who regularly attended services at his church. Thus, the family could avoid arrest and confinement in an internment camp.

Before World War II, the creation of a “collective consciousness” amongst the few Greek immigrants of Bloemfontein had already been initiated due to the aforementioned reasons. The first attempts by the community to get themselves organised were very amateurish. Frequently, when they got together at a Greek home on the occasion of a name day, a wedding or a christening, a bottle of whisky or other “prize” was raffled, and everyone had to put the money in a hat. The aim was to collect the necessary capital for the creation of an organised Community, and subsequently the acquisition of a church and a school.

The pioneers of the Hellenic Community of Bloemfontein

1. The visiting priests

The Reverends Athanasios Nikolopulos of the Hellenic Community of Pretoria and Elias Bertolis of the Hellenic Community of Johannesburg are two persons who played a key role in the creation of an organised body for the Greek immigrants in Bloemfontein.

Nikolopulos was the one who collected money from the Greeks all over South Africa in order to build a Greek Orthodox Church in Pretoria. By obtaining small donations from community members he enabled the community to survive the dire financial situation it was facing due to the harsh economic conditions that prevailed at the time, at the end of the nineteenth century.

Father Bertolis founded a Greek school in Johannesburg, and he was also the publisher of the first Greek newspaper in South Africa (Africanis). These two clergymen, as well as the Greek priest of the Hellenic Community of Cape Town, often visited the Greek communities that were mushrooming all over the country, and were not yet organised.

These priests “were not just Greek Orthodox priests. They were universal messengers of Hope”. When the first serious discussions regarding the impending social and educational assimilation patterns were held in the 1930s and 1940s, Archimandrite Nikolopulos – in a series of powerful articles – advocated the establishment of proper Greek schools under the auspices of the Communities and the Church as the only solution to the “social threat” of assimilation and absorption into the host society.

Considering that these two enlightened priests often visited Bloemfontein in order to officiate in churches of other doctrines, it was to be expected that they would influence the Greeks of the town. Their passion to maintain “Hellenism” in the host country was shared by the Greeks in Bloemfontein. After several debates, it became evident to them that the route towards achieving this aim was the acquisition of an orthodox church with a priest and a Greek school. To achieve this, they would first have to co-ordinate their efforts by electing a committee body accepted by everyone, which would launch a campaign to collect the necessary capital. Moreover, they could not expect any help – in any event, not from the suffering Greek state.

2. Ioannis Paraskevopoulos

Ioannis Paraskevopoulos, a famous astronomer of the time, settled in Bloemfontein in 1925. He initially served at an observatory in Peru and, when the Harvard University took on the responsibility for the installation of an observatory in the Free State area, Paraskevopoulos was sent to Bloemfontein as the man in charge of the whole project. He chose Naval Hill, where the observatory was erected and where it was in operation until the 1990’s. This site was chosen because of the clarity of the atmosphere due to minimum humidity. Today, a new observatory is situated in the Maselspoort area, and there is a memorial stone that refers to Paraskevopoulos.

Paraskevopoulos, who was also a Greek emigrant in the USA and was married to an American woman, together with the other Greeks of Bloemfontein, had initiated efforts to organise the community. Unfortunately, the outbreak of World War II postponed these activities, and he did not live to see the fruits of his efforts – he died in 1951.

The war awakened the democratic and humanitarian sentiments of Greeks all over the world. Many men voluntarily joined the antifascist struggle. Additionally, a considerable amount of money collected through several fund-raising projects was donated to the Red Cross. However, the time was not right to implement plans such as the setting up of a Community. There were other, more appropriate ways to show their loyalty to the mother country – the money that was collected was donated towards the war effort.

The older immigrants still remember a Greek boat that reached Cape Town, and the Greeks calling all the patriots to go and fight against the Italian invaders. Many Greeks responded to that call, either as Greek citizens who had emigrated abroad, or as South African citizens.  Georgios Manidis and the boys of the Troupos family were among these Greeks.

During the war years, a number of Greek Air Force officers found themselves in Bloemfontein as trainees in warplane communication systems. The Greeks of the city had the opportunity to show their hospitality by making them feel at home. Strong bonds were thus forged, and several Greeks still remember some of these “aviators” by name, although 65 years have since passed.

After the Axis forces invaded Greece and during the occupation of 1941-1945, many Greek families took refuge in the Red Cross refugee camps all over the African continent. A few of these persecuted Greeks reached Bloemfontein, where the local compatriots gave them assistance.

3. Hristos Tarnanis

Hristos Tarnanis can undoubtedly be regarded as the founder of the Hellenic Community of Bloemfontein. Born in 1899 in Vourla, he went to Athens after the disaster of Asia Minor (1922), and emigrated to Bloemfontein in 1924. As he liked to say, he inherited an interest for the community from a forefather of his, Konstantinos Tarnanis, who opened the Anaksagorios School in Izmir in 1750. When Constantinople fell in 1453, the Ottomans had closed down this Greek school, which, after unremitting efforts, finally reopened its doors after 300 years when the Sultan agreed to allow the teaching of the Greek language, as well as the Orthodox religion.

Hristos Tarnanis was an educated man, even though he had gone to school for only nine years. The Greeks of his time acknowledged his superiority in erudition, but mainly his leadership. As explained in the relevant seminars, he ran a private Greek school in the town centre during the war years. Additionally, he made the necessary arrangements for the visiting priests.

In his efforts to organise his fellow countrymen, Tarnanis firstly had to deal with an unexpected problem – dichotomy and a certain antagonism between Greeks and Greek Cypriots. This hostility – although inexplicable – was very much a reality and a source of embarrassment for the Greeks of Bloemfontein at the time, and for many years thereafter. With the passing of the years, these differences diminished due to marriages between Greek and Greek Cypriot families. Tarnanis, originating from Asia Minor, did not involve himself in this senseless dispute. His view was that “they were all Greeks, since they all spoke the same language. They had to co-operate”.

4. Georgios Manidis

In 1928, at the age of twelve, Georgios Manidis immigrated to Bloemfontein with his family from the Aegean island Hios. His father was an employee at Troupos’s shop. After his father’s death, Georgios went to the cinema in summer, selling sweets and trying to make a living with his mother. Nevertheless, he was a diligent pupil and was successful in his studies. From a very young age he worked as an employee at an agricultural machinery company and rose to the upper positions, but never acquired much wealth.

Georgios Manidis had deep social and also patriotic sentiments. During World War II, he voluntarily returned to Greece and fought against the fascists. He and his wife, Dorothy Troupos, were actively involved in various social and sport clubs of Bloemfontein. Manidis served the Hellenic Community of Bloemfontein for many decades. Furthermore, it seems that he was the person who inspired confidence in the members of the community.

5. Haralampos Savas

An important member who contributed towards the founding of the Community was Haralampos Savas. In 1936, as a twelve-year-old boy, he immigrated to Bloemfontein from the village of Inia, Cyprus, travelling all alone on that long journey. A self-made and very competent man, he served for 33 years as a Chairman of the Community’s Committee, mostly in the treasurer’s position. Savas ruled the Community with an iron hand, and believed that the Community’s aims must be carried out by any possible means. Everyone recognised his administrative abilities and his spirited obstinacy, but also the fact that he always tried to control any function of the Community. Thus, he made a major contribution to the development of the Community during his term of office. However, his keen temperament and the fact that he always spoke very directly and in no uncertain terms, never hesitating to express his opinion, repeatedly brought about “Homeric fights” at the Committee meetings, as well as considerable conflict with priests, teachers and other Community members. His alacrity and vitality remain amazing when he debates the Community’s issues, despite the fact that he is now (2004) already in his eighties.

Foundation of the Hellenic Community of Bloemfontein 

In 1955, the efforts of the preceding years finally culminated in success when the Greeks of Bloemfontein officially came together as a Community and elected their administrative council.

In these early stages the meetings took place in several Greek shops, with the first General Members’ Meeting being held at the Olympic Café of Stavros Vogiatzis. A number of meetings also convened at George’s Café, owned by Georgios Loupos.

The founding Committee consisted of:

Chairman: Tarnanis Hristos

Vice-Chairman: Savas Haralampos

Secretary: Manidis Georgios

Treasurer: Repanis Panayiotis

Members: Kasimatis Konstantinos, Troupos Konstantinos, Apostolellis Paraskevas

There is uncertainty regarding the treasurer, since other sources mention K. Kasimatis in this position. Additionally, it must be pointed out here that, although the foundation of the Community in practise took place in 1955, the official launching was considered to have taken place on 1 May 1956, when the Constitution of the Community was signed.

THE CONSTITUTION OF THE HELLENIC COMMUNITY OF BLOEMFONTEIN

On 1 May 1956, the Chairman, H. Tarnanis, and the Secretary, G. Manidis, signed the Constitution of the new Community. It consisted of 33 articles, and – since an authorised translator could not be found – it was written in English only, not in Greek.

In brief, the main points and objectives of the Constitution included the following (the numbers are those of the relevant articles):

1. The name of the Community shall be “THE HELLENIC COMMUNITY OF BLOEMFONTEIN.”

2. The main objectives of the Community are:

a) To erect a Greek Orthodox Church, Communal Hall and School.

b) To promote in general the cultural and moral activities of the Community.

c) To grant such aid as may be deemed necessary to any suffering, impoverished or underprivileged person.

3. The Community and its affairs shall be controlled, managed and administrated by a Committee of seven members, who shall be elected at the Annual General Meeting of the Community for one year.

4. Upon the final dissolution of the Community all its property shall be handed over to a Bloemfontein hospital and other institutions.

With regard to the Community’s aims, the Constitution was based on that of other Greek Communities that had been formed before the one in Bloemfontein, namely the Hellenic Community of Cape Town, the Greek Community of Pretoria and the Hellenic Community of Port Elizabeth.

Amendments made to the initial Constitution

As time went by, two changes were made to the original Constitution with a view to facilitating the functioning of the Community, with the first amendment being made on 1 September 1972. The most important change referred to the number of Committee members, which was increased from seven to nine. More Committee members would be in the interest of the Community. In addition, their term of office was increased from one to two years, providing them with more time to achieve their objectives. A number of changes were also made with regard to the majority during the General Meetings. The members adopted the new Constitution, which was signed by the then Chairman, Georgios Manidis, and the Secretary, Athanasios Spyropoulos.

The second alteration to the Constitution was made on 5 August 1998, and was signed by the then Chairman, Nikolaos Georgiou, and the Secretary, Haralampos Apostolidis. An important inclusion was now made, namely that people who were not of Greek origin were now welcome to become members of the Community. Just a few years previously, in 1986, the Committee members had decided to put up a sign reading “Only members allowed” at the Greek hall. Moreover, in 1988, the Committee indicated that it did not approve of socialising with other nationalities (they mentioned Portuguese as an example), stating as an excuse that they would like to keep their “Greekness”. Now, however, times had changed – many Greeks had married “foreigners” (in Greek: xenos), and the Community needed fresh blood – and thus, this groundbreaking alteration was made to the Constitution.

THE COMMITTEE’S WORK

In assessing the work of the various Community Committees from its foundation until today (2005), one should establish whether the original aims have been achieved. It is clearly stated in the Constitution that these goals were the erection of an Orthodox Greek church and communal hall, as well as a Greek school. Additional goals were to promote the cultural and moral activities of the members and to assist any person in need.

The 50 years from 1955 to 2005 will now be divided into three sub-periods, with a view to making the research more efficient and reaching relevant conclusions.

First period (1955-1962), or the creative years

When the Community was founded, the members paid an amount of £3 as a monthly subscription. Considerable amounts were also raised through numerous film shows at the town’s cinemas. The Committee regularly brought Greek movies from Johannesburg, rented a cinema and screened the films for Greek audiences. These film shows were indeed important social events for the hard-working Greeks of Bloemfontein, who were thirsty for anything relating to Greek culture. Everyone attended with their families, including Greeks from neighbouring towns. They enjoyed socialising and watching the film, and the Community collected money from the tickets, as well as from the lottery tickets that were sold to raffle prizes such as liquor or embroidered items. Some members of the Community still remember the treasurer, Haralampos Savas, standing in the foyer of the cinema collecting the tickets.

It was in the second year of the Community’s operation that the treasurer at the time presented a casually scribbled cashbook to the Committee. Savas, who was familiar with bookkeeping (he had gone to a technical night school) thereafter took the treasurer’s position, which he held for fourteen years.

In 1956, £1 722 had already been deposited in the Community’s account, while the balance of this account was as much as £2 839 by 1957. Unfortunately, many problems of a personal nature arose among the Committee members. In 1958, both the Chairman and the Secretary resigned, and the Treasurer stated at the General Annual Meeting that the financial situation of the Community was not good. At the same time, the Vice-Chairman moved to Port Elizabeth and another Committee member, Konstantinos Kasimatis, died.

Despite many difficulties, the Community continued to pursue its aims and in 1962, under the Chairmanship of Mr Aggelis Savvas, the buildings of both the church and the hall were acquired (see seminar 3 for more details).

A comparison with other Greek communities in South Africa 

The Greek Community of Bloemfontein managed to achieve its original goal within a relatively short period of time. This is evident from a very brief discussion of other Greek Communities that had previously been established in South Africa.

The Mutual Help Association in Cape Town, established in 1898, was the first collective entity of the Greeks in South Africa. Later, in 1900, it became the Hellenic Community of Cape Town. There were about 1 000 Greeks in Cape Town at the turn of the twentieth century. Through all their contributions, the Saint Georgios’s church as well as a priest’s house were completed in 1904, at a cost of £2 200. The Greeks in Cape Town had their own priest since 1901. Father Artemios played a key role in the mobilisation of people and financial resources for this purpose. They also received help from other Hellenic Communities in other parts of the world.

In 1906, the Greeks of Pretoria numbered 120 people. The Hellenic Community of Pretoria was inaugurated in 1908. In 1911, Archimandrite Athanasios Nikolopoulos arrived in Pretoria, and by 1914 the church dedicated to the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary was ready. Upon completion of the church building, the council of the Community proceeded to erect a building next to the church to house a Hellenic School, Community offices and a hall.

The Hellenic Community of Johannesburg was established in 1908. The members of the Community collected £3 500 within two years, and the foundation stone of the church, dedicated to Saints Konstantinos and Eleni, was laid in 1913.

In 1936, when there were about seventeen Greek families in Port Elizabeth, the Hellenic Community of Port Elizabeth and the Eastern Province was established. The war years (1939-1945) intervened, and fund-raising for the erection of a church was halted as energies were focused on assistance for the Red Cross and the war effort. A site was purchased in 1956, and in 1958 the church building, dedicated to the Dormition of God-Bearer (in Greek: Theotokos), was erected for the sum of £14 500. The bell tower was omitted due to financial constraints, and it was not completed until 1997. Nevertheless, the result is arguably the best example of a Byzantine cruciform church building in South Africa.

The Hellenic Association of Natal had become a legal entity in 1950, and the foundation stone of the Holy Triad church was laid on 1 September 1953. This followed an extensive and thorough fund-raising campaign all over the country.

The aforementioned Greek Communities – particularly the first three – had been established long before the one in Bloemfontein, and also had more members. It therefore seems that acquiring their own property without any assistance was, by comparison, a real feat for the small Greek Community in Bloemfontein. The truth is, of course, that the Greeks of Bloemfontein purchased a building that had no relevance to a traditional Orthodox church. However, this fact does not diminish the value of their achievement at all, but attests to both pragmatism and zeal in pursuing their aim.

The philanthropic work of the Community

On 9 July 1956, a devastating earthquake hit Santorini, a beautiful small island in the Aegean Sea where the only active Greek volcano is located. A global fundraising campaign was immediately organised to assist the victims of the disaster. It is remarkable how the Greeks of Bloemfontein responded to this plea to alleviate the suffering of their unfortunate compatriots.

Mr Spyros P. Skouras, president of the Twentieth Century Fox Corporation, was visiting Bloemfontein at the time as part of a transcontinental tour. Also a Greek emigrant to the USA, he reached an agreement with the Committee members and donated his company’s latest film, Footsteps in the Fog, to the Santorini Earthquake Fund.

The young Community arranged a truly exceptional function. A stylish brochure was published, advertisements in the local press (Die Volksblad and The Friend) invited the public to attend the show, and consequently more than 850 tickets were sold that night. The film was screened on 20 September 1956 under the patronage of the Mayor, Councillor C. H. de Wet. It is worth noting that the movie would otherwise only have been shown in South Africa in at least a year’s time.

Furthermore, the graceful Greek dances performed by six girls in traditional costumes who were members of the city’s Hellenic Community elicited a full house encore. Since the majority of the audience members were non-Greeks, they also had the opportunity to enjoy the novelty of delicious Greek food prepared by the Community’s women for this occasion.

It was an unforgettable evening, which is still remembered by the Greeks of Bloemfontein with great nostalgia and emotion. The money raised by that event was sent to Greece, and the Greek Government honoured the Hellenic Community of Bloemfontein for its contribution.

Second period (1962-1982), or the years of development 

Since the Community had acquired its own buildings for religious as well as social occasions, the first and most important step had been taken. All efforts with a view to equipping and improving these properties are described in seminar 3. From then on, all functions such as celebrations after a marriage or christening, national Greek feasts and church festivals, to mention only a few, took place at the Greek Hall. The Hellenic Community’s site was often filled with people and happy Greek music.

The Committee was the co-ordinator and administrator of all efforts made with a view to further the progress of the Community. In 1965, the then Chairman, Haralampos Dimitriou, initiated the Hellenic Annual Ball. This dance took place annually around September in the City Hall. It was an important cultural and social event, and organising it kept the Administrative Council occupied for the entire year. However, all this effort was definitely worth it, considering that this function was aimed mainly at non-Greeks, and was a gathering of the high society of Bloemfontein. More than 600 people attended each year, and the Community’s income from this single function was enough to defray an entire year’s operating costs. The Hellenic Annual Ball thus functioned as a “horn of plenty”, and this is proved by the fact that the Community members did not need to pay subscriptions for long periods.

Moreover, the whole event was enlivened by traditional Greek dance performances and Greek food, while local businesses offered prizes (such as a ticket to Greece or to other holiday destinations), which could be won by raffle. A booklet with advertisements was also published, which brought in extra income. The Hellenic Annual Ball was clearly the main activity of the Hellenic Community of Bloemfontein, regardless of who was in charge. Every member considered his/her participation in organising this event a sacred duty. Although this event now no longer takes place (the last one was held in 1990), everyone remembers the “good old days” with great nostalgia.

The philanthropic work of the Community

In July 1974, the Turkish army invaded Cyprus and occupied the northern part of the island, giving rise to streams of refugees who fled to the free areas in the south. In this case as well, the Greeks living abroad did their best to alleviate the pain of these wretched and homeless people.

The Community – having obtained the Department of Welfare’s permission-organised a fund-raising campaign that brought in about R10 000, and this amount was sent to the Cypriot government. The Hellenic Community of Bloemfontein was honoured for its contribution with a commemorative certificate, accompanied by a letter of thanks autographed by the legendary Cypriot leader Archbishop Makarios himself. In addition, quite a few Community members “adopted” orphans from the occupied North Cyprus, sending money with a view to assisting them in finding their feet, as well as studying.

Furthermore, when a devastating earthquake hit the Paphos area in Cyprus, the Greeks in Bloemfontein contributed financial aid to the amount of R22 000. A number of the city’s Greek families who lived in unfortunate circumstances also found solace in the Community.

The cultural activities of the Community

The period under research was richly rewarding with regard to the promotion of Greek culture. Numerous functions took place every year at the Greek hall on the occasion of national or religious celebrations. The carnival, as well as the 15th of August festival (in Greek: Apokries and Panigiri respectively) were always a huge success. A Greek traditional music band came at least twice a year from Johannesburg. It performed in the hall of the Pigeon Club, which the Committee regularly reserved for the Greeks to get together and have a good time in their own, unique way. In addition, Greek films were regularly screened at the Monte Carlo cinema and later at the Greek hall, which had now been properly equipped.

Facing problems

Naturally, problems were also encountered during this period. These problems mainly arose due to certain priests who came to serve the Community, but also among the Greeks themselves.

During this time, it was established that the Community was facing financial difficulties, and this gave rise to conflict among the members. There were two main underlying causes for this situation: On the one hand, the Community had to pay the priest and the teacher, and also maintain their cars and the buildings of the Community. The Community should always have the financial resources available to cover these essential expenses. On the other hand, certain members of the community desired the expansion and improvement of the Community by whatever means and at whatever cost. However, plans for the construction of new buildings on a site in the Langenhoven Park area, donated in 1979 by an old member, Ksenofon Perivolaris, never materialised.

Third period (1982-2005), or the “pursuit” years 

This period was dominated by the personality of Nikolaos Georgiou. He was (and in 2005 still is) the Chairman of the Community’s Committee throughout this 23-year period, except for two breaks of two years each (see appendix). Mr Georgiou is of Cyprian origin, and immigrated to Bloemfontein in the early 1960s. A very capable and creative man, he began with nothing and built up a financial empire.

During this phase, the administrative councils and the Greek Community as a whole focused on preserving the legacy of the previous generation. Functions at which the Greeks socialised with their friends continued at the Greek Hall, as well as the Annual Ball – although at a declining rate, with the last ball taking place in 1990. The organisation of new types of events such as volleyball, table tennis and soccer, chess, backgammon (in Greek: tavli) slightly renewed the members’ interest. The charity work of the Community was limited to a little aid for the victims of a flood in 1987, as well as assistance to certain compatriots.

Gradually, indifference became evident amongst the members of the Community, which led to the disintegration of almost all the functions. As a result, the Community faced a serious shortage of funds owing in part to the small number of socials organised, but chiefly due to the fact that the Committee, under Mr. Georgiou’s chairmanship, had discontinued the collection of membership fees for a long time.

Furthermore, this situation led to heated debates between the former leaders of the Community and the recent Committee members. This culminated in the litigation that commenced recently, and divided the Greek society in Bloemfontein. The latest administrative council (see appendix) consisted chiefly of young people who wanted to see the Community making progress. Having been at the centre of this awkward situation, they were disappointed and stated that they did not wish to deal with the Community’s affairs any more.

It seems that the electoral system (or rather the “electoral approach”) followed all these years for the election of Committee members is at the root of this problem. According to this system, the Chairman is elected, and he then chooses the members of “his” council (incidentally, no woman was ever elected as chairman, only once as a Committee member – see appendix). However, our chief concern here should not be “general elections”. Perhaps the following should be done: supposing that each Committee member wishes to see the Community making progress, the basic requirement should be that such members should have diverse financial and social standings, and should be free to express their personal opinions on matters. After their election, they should convene to determine among themselves each member’s duties (Chairman, Treasurer, etc.). It is not necessary for someone specifically to be Chairman. Moreover, serving the Community’s common good should be the chief concern of all Committee members, and not the positions they will hold.