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An African Trading Empire: The Story of Susman Brothers & Wulfson.

An African Trading Empire

The Story of Susman Brothers & Wulfson

By Hugh Macmillan

[pounds sterling]27.50 I B Tauris

ISBN 1-85043-853-6

Kinship and partnership united Elie and Harry Susman when they crossed the Zambezi from the south in 1901 and travelled north to buy cattle from King Lewanika in Barotseland. The brothers had recently travelled to Africa from their home in the Russian Empire.


Their trading expedition marked the beginning of a remarkable family business that has flourished for over a century in some of the most logistically difficult, physically challenging and politically problematic environments in the world.

Susman Brothers & Wulfson has operated in many different places, but its main focus has always been on the countries now known as Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe.

The Susman brothers developed an extensive trading, transport and ranching business, stretching from Botswana to the Congo, and formed a partnership in the 1940s with Henry Wulfson who shared their Jewish roots in the Russian Empire.

Beginning during the 'Scramble for Africa' and the heyday of imperialism, the business came through the colonial period, the ill-fated Federation of Rhodesia and Nyasaland, and the triumph of African nationalism to survive into the era of emerging markets and liberalisation.

Cattle trading and ranching have remained at the core of their business, but this book tells the story of many other activities: butcheries and bakeries, rural and urban trading networks, timber and textile mills, cinemas and garages, horticultural exports and London-based financial services.

An African Trading Empire is the unique story of a family business set against the backdrop of the great themes of European and African history.

It sheds light upon many aspects of the agricultural, commercial, industrial, social, religious and political history of Southern Africa--not least the anti-Semitic sentiments that permeated the early colonial power structure alongside other racist attitudes, most notably the concept of white superiority.

Author Hugh Macmillan is an established historian of Africa who taught at the University of Zambia for many years. Dealing with a largely unchartered field, in this book Macmillan draws upon exclusive material from the families' private archives and other sources to produce a scholarly and fascinatingly readable account of struggle, partnership and business success over three generations.
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Publication:African Business
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Aug 1, 2005
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