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A Greek ‘tribe’ in Africa – www.ekathimerini.com

It sounds like fiction but it isn’t. It includes a Greek “independent state” deep in Africa, a Greek “tribe” living in the vast forests, a Cretan revolutionary – dubbed “Jungle Zorbas” – who fought with beasts and killed a crocodile with a bat, and a Greek Orthodox cleric who is today struggling to save the remnants of the Greek presence in Zambia.

So, in the 1890s, in the town of Malia on the island of Crete lived a young man named Nikolaos Vlahakis, known for his revolutionary action against the Ottomans.

As the yearning on the island to be united with liberated Greece swelled, Vlahakis, refusing to put up with the oppression and sick of being a target for the Turks, left his homeland in 1894. He fled to Asia Minor with a Greek flag, an icon of the Virgin Mary and a copy of the Bible in his backpack, and from there he managed to travel over 11,500 kilometers until he reached Mozambique.

After walking more than 2,000 kilometers of near-impenetrable jungle and other tough terrain, Vlahakis finally settled in the town of Chirundu, in what was then called Northern Rhodesia, on the border with Zimbabwe.

“With the arrival of Vlahakis and his brother, Orthodoxy arrived in the region,” Metropolitan Ioannis of Zambia told Kathimerini. “[They were] humble and simple people who, perhaps without realizing it, became the ‘good land’ on which the Gospel bore fruit and then Hellenism took root,” he added.

After settling in his new homeland in the jungle, Vlahakis started hunting wild animals, worked in mines and engaged in livestock raising to survive. Such was his physical prowess that he is said to have killed crocodiles with a bat and saved many natives from animal attacks.

Rumors of his exploits swept the jungle and made him famous among the local tribes, who made him their informal “leader.” As a true Cretan, however, Vlahakis felt an unbearable loneliness without his own people by his side, and so he returned to his homeland in the early 1900s to fetch his younger brother, Dimitris.

According to information that has come into the possession of the local Greek Orthodox Church, upon their return to Rhodesia, the Vlahakis brothers settled on a small island called Kanima in the vast Zambezi River, where they founded an “independent Greek state” in Africa, and raised a Greek flag.

“Their good reputation, excellent relations with the natives and hard work did not go unnoticed by the founder of the territory of Rhodesia, Cecil John Rhodes, who gave them a large enough area of land to cultivate,” Metropolitan Ioannis said. “There, the two brothers started their farm, named Demetra, and engaged in the cultivation of tobacco. At the same time, they both continued to hunt with great success. That made them famous all over the region. The two brothers from Crete were the only example of Europeans living together with the natives in the same conditions.”

The two brothers started their own families, marrying local women and living happily and in harmony with the tribes that lived around them until April 13, 1913, when Nikolaos died after being injured by a lion in the forest. The local tribes mourned his death and buried him with the honors reserved for a leader, at the top of a hill, overlooking the “independent Greek state” he had created years earlier.

But the seed planted by Nikolaos Vlahakis had sprouted in the jungle. His brother continued to live on the farm, adhering to the Orthodox faith and traditions, making sure that his children grew up with Orthodoxy and a proper education and upbringing.

“His 32 descendants – Nikolaos left behind a daughter – all bore Greek names, such as Nikolaos, Stefanos, Athena, Xenophon, Thekla, Cleopatra, Kalliopi, Konstantinos, Anna etc, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren, most of whom bear the names of the first two brothers.”

With Dimitris’ death on September 17, 1939, the era of the two pioneer Cretans ended, but their legacy remains. Their descendants, who are members of the “Vlahakis tribe” and proudly bear the surname, total about 3,500 people, scattered not only across Africa, but around the world. They maintain relations with each other, with the graves of their ancestors and the Greek Orthodox mission in Zambia as a common point of reference.

Kenneth Kaunda, the first president of the Republic of Zambia, who is considered the father of all independence movements on the African continent, awarded the Vlahakis family the honorary title of the 64th tribe of Zambia during a public speech.

Upon his arrival in Zambia, Metropolitan Ioannis considered it his duty not to neglect the traces of the Vlahakis brothers, the first Greeks who took refuge in the depths of sub-Saharan Africa, and who, “by bringing with them the holy of holies of the nation, became one with the natives and created a new, separate tribe, without ever forgetting their homeland.”

Thus, he proceeded to plan a “village” in the area where the two Vlahakis brothers first settled, with the establishment of a missionary center, which will initially included a church, a spiritual center, a clinic, a school and a trade school.

“So far, the legal process for the purchase of land from a descendant of the historical Vlahakis family, Harris Vlahakis, to the Holy Metropolis of Zambia has been completed, and the boundaries of the plot have been drawn. Also, an architectural plan of the missionary center has been prepared and an indicative estimation of the labor expenses.”

Last year, Patriarch Theodore II of Alexandria laid the foundation stone of the project and now Metropolitan Ioannis has embarked on a mission to find funding.

“It will be a contribution of historical importance for the place and its people, not only for the descendants of the Vlahakis brothers, but also for every person who wants to get to know Christ,” the metropolitan said.

“To this day, people worship in a covered open space, which with the help and love of the Lord has withstood the intense rainfall of the tropical climate,” he added, while appealing to all those who are financially able to help the mission to complete the work “in memory of the flag bearers of the Greek spirit and the Orthodox brothers from Crete.”

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Scientist Says Omicron Was a Group Find – Voice of America

The Botswana scientist who may well have discovered the omicron variant of the coronavirus says he has been on a “roller coaster of emotions,” with the pride of accomplishment followed by dismay over the travel bans immediately slapped on southern African countries.

“Is that how you reward science? By blacklisting countries?” Dr. Sikhulile Moyo, a virologist at the Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership, said in an interview Thursday with The Associated Press.

“The virus does not know passports, it does not know borders,” he added. “We should not do geopolitics about the virus. … We should be collaborating and understanding.”

Moyo was doing genomic sequencing of COVID-19 samples at his lab in Botswana two weeks ago and noticed three cases that seemed dramatically different, with an unusual pattern showing multiple mutations. He continued studying the results and by early last week, decided to publicly release the data on the internet.

Soon scientists in South Africa said they had made the same findings. And an identical case in Hong Kong was also identified.

A new coronavirus variant had been discovered, and soon the World Health Organization named it omicron. It has now been identified in 38 countries and counting, including much of Western Europe and the United States. And the U.S. and many other nations have imposed flight restrictions to try to contain the emerging threat.

Speaking from his lab in Gaborone, Botswana’s capital, Moyo bristled at being described as the man who first identified omicron.

“Scientists should work together and the ‘who first did that’ syndrome should go. We should all be able to be proud that we all contributed in one way or the other,” said the 48-year-old scientist.

In fact, he noted that the variant was found to be something entirely new only by comparing it to other viruses online in a public database shared by scientists.

“The only way you can really see that you see something new is when you compare with millions of sequences. That’s why you deposit it online,” he said.

The Zimbabwe-born Moyo — who is also a research associate at Harvard’s school of public health, a married father of three, and a gospel singer — expressed pride in the way he and his international colleagues were transparent about their findings and sounded the alarm to the rest of the world.

“We’re excited that we probably gave a warning signal that may have averted many deaths and many infections,” he said.

A visitor wears plastic gloves to help curb the spread of the coronavirus upon arrival at an exhibition hall in Goyang, South Korea, Dec. 4, 2021.


A visitor wears plastic gloves to help curb the spread of the coronavirus upon arrival at an exhibition hall in Goyang, South Korea, Dec. 4, 2021.

Omicron startled scientists because it had more than 50 mutations.

“It is a big jump in the evolution of the virus and has many more mutations that we expected,” said Tulio de Oliveira, director of the Center for Epidemic Response and Innovation in South Africa, who taught Moyo when he was earning his Ph.D. in virology from South Africa’s Stellenbosch University.

Little is known about the variant, and the world is watching nervously. It’s not clear if it makes people more seriously ill or can evade the vaccine. But early evidence suggests it might be more contagious and more efficient at re-infecting people who have had a bout with COVID-19.

In the coming weeks, labs around the world will be working to find out what to expect from omicron and just how dangerous it is.

“What is important is collaboration and contribution,” Moyo said. “I think we should value that kind of collaboration because it will generate great science and great contributions. We need each other, and that’s the most important.”

South Africa is seeing a dramatic surge in infections that may be driven by omicron. The country reported more than 16,000 new COVID-19 cases Friday, up from about 200 per day in mid-November.

The number of omicron cases confirmed by genetic sequencing in Botswana has grown to 19, while South Africa has recorded more than 200. So far, most of the cases are in people who did not get vaccinated.

“I have a lot of hope from the data that we see, that those vaccinated should be able to have a lot of protection,” Moyo said. “We should try to encourage as many people to get vaccinated as possible.”

Moyo warned that the world “must go to a mirror and look at themselves” and make sure Africa’s 1.3 billion people are not left behind in the vaccination drive.

He credited earlier research and investment into fighting HIV and AIDS with building Botswana’s capacity for doing genetic sequencing. That made it easier for researchers to switch to working on the coronavirus, he said.

Amid the COVID-19 crisis, Moyo finds some cause for optimism.

“What gives me hope is that the world is now speaking the same language,” said Moyo, explaining that the pandemic has seen a new global commitment to scientific research and surveillance.

He added that the pandemic has also been a wake-up call for Africa.

“I think our policymakers have realized the importance of science, the importance of research,” Moyo said. “I think COVID has magnified, has made us realize that we need to focus on things that are important and invest in our health systems, invest in our primary health care.”

He added: “I think it’s a great lesson for humanity.”

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Zim Born Scientist Who Helped Identify Omicron Slams Travel Bans – New Zimbabwe.com

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AP


THE Botswana scientist who may well have discovered the omicron variant of the coronavirus says he has been on a roller-coaster of emotions, with the pride of accomplishment followed by dismay over the travel bans immediately slapped on southern African countries.

“Is that how you reward science? By blacklisting countries?” Sikhulile Moyo, a virologist at the Botswana Harvard AIDS Institute Partnership, said in an interview Thursday night with The Associated Press.

“The virus does not know passports, it does not know borders,” he added.

“We should be collaborating and understanding.”

Moyo was doing genomic sequencing of Covid-19 samples at his lab in Botswana two weeks ago and noticed three cases that seemed dramatically different, with an unusual pattern showing multiple mutations.

He continued studying the results and by early last week, decided to publicly release the data on the internet.

Soon scientists in South Africa said they had made the same findings and an identical case in Hong Kong was also identified.

A new coronavirus variant had been discovered, and soon the World Health Organization (WHO) named it omicron.

It has now been identified in 38 countries and counting, including much of Western Europe and the United States.

And the U.S. and many other nations have imposed flight restrictions to try to contain the emerging threat.

Speaking from his lab in Gaborone, Botswana’s capital, Moyo bristled at being described as the man who first identified omicron.

In fact, he noted that the variant was found to be something entirely new only by comparing it to other viruses online in a public database shared by scientists.

“The only way you can really see that you see something new is when you compare with millions of sequences. That’s why you deposit it online,” he said.

The Zimbabwe-born Moyo – who is also a research associate at Harvard’s school of public health, a married father of three, and a gospel singer – expressed pride in the way he and his international colleagues were transparent about their findings and sounded the alarm to the rest of the world.

Omicron startled scientists because it had more than 50 mutations.

Little is known about the variant, and the world is watching nervously.

It’s not clear if it makes people more seriously ill or can evade the vaccine.

But early evidence suggests it might be more contagious and more efficient at re-infecting people who have had a bout with Covid-19.

In the coming weeks, labs around the world will be working to find out what to expect from omicron and just how dangerous it is.

South Africa is seeing a dramatic surge in infections that may be driven by omicron.

The country reported more than 16,000 new Covid-19 cases Friday, up from about 200 per day in mid-November.

The number of omicron cases confirmed by genetic sequencing in Botswana has grown to 19, while South Africa has recorded more than 200.

So far, most of the cases are in people who did not get vaccinated.

He credited earlier research and investment into fighting HIV/AIDS with building Botswana’s capacity for doing genetic sequencing.

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gospel

Jaw-dropping – a show promoter’s experience – Chronicle

The Chronicle

Tongai Mbirimi
There are people who when you meet, have a huge impact on your life in so many ways. You start to see things from a different angle altogether.

There are influential people that I have met because of being in the entertainment space. One such person is none other than multimillionaire businessman and philanthropist Justice Maphosa.

I met Maphosa in Johannesburg in 2015 when he was planning and putting together his Gwanda International Gospel Festival first edition. It was a new gospel festival in Zimbabwe in the mining town of Gwanda.

This was going to be a spectacular and prestigious gospel extravaganza in Zimbabwe for the next four years, little did I know at that point.

Our first meeting, I remember it vividly. He had big plans for the festival, the stage, artistes, format of the event and logistics, everything he was planning was big.

I had just met a man with big plans which were, for me, very frightening to even think of. That was to be my first lesson on my encounter with Justice Maphosa.

Think and plan big, you will do big. We clicked and he then put me in charge of hotel accommodation and meals for all the visiting artistes and guests who were to attend the festival, both local and foreign.

I looked at the guest and artiste list and was in shock as there were so many high-profile artistes from South Africa and Zimbabwe including royal family members from some kingdoms in South Africa.

Planning took a rigorous four months, attention to detail was breath-taking.

Things became real when I was dispatched to Bulawayo and Gwanda a week before the event. To my amazement, the stage, sound system and VIP hosting tents were set up already right in the heart of Phelandaba Stadium a week before the event.

Everything was on point at the stadium and everything was big and proper. Logistics were seamless.

A day before the festival started, our guests arrived in style. A chartered Boeing 747 aircraft for the 140 artistes and guests who came from South Africa, and two private jets for the VIPs landed at Joshua Nkomo Airport in Bulawayo.

It was like watching a movie, the glitz and glamour, it was showtime!

In terms of setup and preparations, Maphosa’s setup in the heart of Gwanda was world-class. He went all out in his execution as he is a man of excellence and I remember him telling me that “excellence inspires people”. I was inspired I can confirm.

He had decided to host this praise and worship festival where he was born and raised as also his way of giving back to his community and praising God.

Single-handedly, Maphosa and his team would for the next four years, annually put the town of Gwanda into a standstill, gospel entertainment lockdown as over 15 000 people would throng Phelandaba Stadium to attend the three-day praise and worship extravaganza.

When something new comes to town, locals usually adopt a wait and see attitude. It was different in this case, the preparations were too appetising and the locals were keen to know what the festival was going to be about.

The festival indeed lived up to its billing. A tradition at the festival every year was the 30-minute firework display explosion just before midnight. This literally woke up everyone in Gwanda and the surrounding rural areas including those who had tried to ignore the festival, it was a spectacle.

The economic spillover effect of this Gwanda gospel festival was huge. All lodges/hotels in Gwanda would be fully booked, there was brisk business for supermarkets, bars and restaurants and the empowerment of the ladies in the community to do the catering for the artistes and selling foodstuff to festival-goers. Entertainment and arts is an industry after all.

Some of the amazing acts that graced the festival over the four years were Zimpraise, Rebecca Malope, Hlengiwe Mahlaba, Takesure Zamar Ncube, Dr Tumi, Oliver Mtukudzi and Mathias Mhere. This festival proved and showed me that any corner of Zimbabwe is full of possibilities. The people of Gwanda were blessed.

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