Rafi Salinger, a pioneer dedicated to the development of Southern Africa’s leather industry, died recently after a long illness. He was 78.

Rafi was born and raised in pre-World War II Hamburg, Germany. In the aftermath of ‘Kristallnacht’, the sanctioned rioting against Jewish homes and businesses in 1938, his father was sent to a concentration camp. Rafi, then just 11 years old, was one of a small group of children rescued from the Holocaust by the Jewish Agency and sent to England. After the war, he was reunited with his parents in what was then Palestine. As a young man, he took an active part in the Israeli War of Independence.

Rafi’s business career began with his employment at Hollander in 1950. He worked first in the company’s Stockholm office and later in Rhodesia, where he opened and operated the company branch, A J Hollander.

It was in Rhodesia where he settled to raise a family and conduct what would become a worldwide business. In the wake of the turmoil ushered in by the Zimbabwe civil war of the 1980s, he relocated yet again, briefly to New York before returning to Zimbabwe once again.

Rafi’s unique traits of inquisitiveness, innovation, thoroughness and perseverance, together with his innate spirit of adventure, made him a natural for his work in the vast African continent. Above all, it was his love of and devotion to Africa and to its people that account for his individual success and for his contributions to the Hollander organisation – and even, one would say – to the overall industry of hides and skins.

Conversant in several languages, and always well-read and well-spoken on subjects from current events to culture and the arts, Rafi was a popular figure. His integrity was respected equally by colleagues, clients and competitors.

He was an influential figure in the trade in Rhodesia and throughout southern Africa and his extensive travels and contacts were integral in bringing attention and new commerce to these origins of the trade. He was, as well, a force for the growth and development of markets for African crocodile and ostrich skins.

The Hollander organisation utilised Rafi’s extensive knowledge and experience throughout their worldwide-based branches and companies in marketing and innovating new products and concepts.

Upon arriving in the US in 1981, he was asked to assume management responsibility. However, he had a nomadic, peripatetic spirit; his passion for travel and human contact precluded him from assuming an office job, and he opted instead to stay ‘on the road’, using his cherished Bulawayo residence as his base of operations for much of the time.

In the last few years of his life, Rafi’s illness confined him to the US. His health declined, but his generous spirit and passion for life and love for his family and friends never waned. Rafi is now home again in Israel for his final rest.