The Lemba, wa-Remba, or Mwenye are a southern African ethnicity found in Zimbabwe and South Africa, with smaller, little-known branches in Mozambique and Malawi. According to Tudor Parfitt, Professor of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London, in 2002 they numbered an estimated 50,000. They speak the Bantu languages spoken by their geographic neighbours and resemble them physically, but they have some religious practices and beliefs similar to those in Judaism and Islam, which they claim were transmitted by oral tradition.
The name “Lemba” may originate in chilemba, a Swahili word for turbans worn by some Bantu peoples, or lembi, a Bantu word meaning “non-African” or “respected foreigner”. Magdel le Roux says that the name VaRemba may be translated as “the people who refuse” – probably in the context of “not eating with others” (according to one of her interviewees). In Zimbabwe and South Africa, the people prefer the name Mwenye.
Since the late twentieth century, there has been increased media and scholarly attention to the Lemba’s claim of common descent to the Jewish people. Genetic Y-DNA analyses in the 2000s have established a partially Middle-Eastern origin for a portion of the male Lemba population. Both Arabs and Jews share this DNA, but the Cohen Modal Haplotype, an indicator of Jewish ancestry, has been found among the males of one leadership clan at rates even higher than in the general Jewish population .