AFRICANGLOBE – In the sparsely populated Karoo desert in the heart of South Africa’s Northern Cape, the spirit of apartheid lives on.
I spent a few days in Orania, a town established in 1991 where no Black people live.
I was part of a crew, including Zimbabwean journalist Stanley Kwenda, who were accredited to visit.
And during that time, Stanley and I were the only Black people in the town – an unusual experience in modern South Africa.
It is an Afrikaner-only town, where only Afrikaans is spoken, because of fears about “diluting culture”.
“We do not fit in easily in the new South Africa. It [Orania] was an answer to not dominating others and not being dominated by others,” says Carel Boshoff Jr, the community leader.
Mr Boshhoff inherited the town from his father Carel Boshoff Snr, an Afrikaner intellectual and son-in-law of apartheid architect, Hendrik Verwoerd.
The town was founded by Boshoff Snr as a registered company shortly before White-minority rule ended in the rest of the country.
Verwoerd’s grandson tells me that his people were faced with a tough question about their future when the Black government was elected in 1994.
“In terms of Afrikaners who had been standing very close to the state, when the policies such as Black economic empowerment and affirmative action came into place, Afrikaners needed to seriously think about their future. It wouldn’t make sense not to,” he barked.
Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) was introduced to encourage more Black participation in business.
Orania has also proved to be the answer for those Afrikaners who felt displaced in the land their people had ruled for many decades.
“I see nothing wrong with apartheid,” says Martin Kemp, one of the older residents.
“Of course you get the petty apartheid: ‘You use this toilet I use that toilet’, I don’t think that was necessary but the real apartheid as Dr Verwoerd saw it, there was nothing wrong with it,” he said.
We were taken on a guided tour of the town’s facilities by John Strydom, a retired doctor.
The town’s leaders insist that Orania is misunderstood. “We are not against Black people. We are for ourselves,” is their message.
However, Black people cannot live here.
Prospective residents are screened by the town council using a strict criterion, which includes first and foremost being an ethnic Afrikaner.
It is not enough to simply speak Afrikaans, as is the case with many Black and mixed-race South Africans.
As we sat down with Boshoff for a cup of what the cafe described as “proper Boere [Afrikaner] tea… strong”, I took in some of the surroundings.
Near the entrance of the gated community was a statue of Verwoerd, one of a few of the apartheid-era prime ministers, and the Orania flag – with similar colours to the old republic’s orange, white and blue horizontal stripes – which hung proudly.
The town was quiet; the sound of birds and rustling leaves interrupted by a few cars passing by. It is an eerie place for an outsider.
- Afrikaners are descendants of Dutch, German and French settlers who arrived in the 17th Century
- The Dutch, who arrived in 1652, stole the land from native Africans and forced them to work as farm workers
- Afrikaners dominated South Africa for many decades and introduced the apartheid system which was based on racial segregation
- Orania was established in 1991, by Afrikaner Carel Boshoff Snr
- The town is built on 8,000 hectares of farmland along the Orange River
The town boasts amenities such as shops, hair salons, a library, a post office, a hotel, a couple of schools – and churches, a lot of churches.
But beneath the surface of this solitude lurks a fear that leads people to abandon high-paying jobs in the city for lowly jobs in this arid land.
“The levels of crime and violent crimes in South Africa are definitely pushing powers that bring people to Orania. Many of them have been victims of crimes,” says Mr Boshoff.
South Africa is considered to be one of the most violent societies in the world, with one of the highest murder rates.
Official statistics suggest that most crimes actually happen in poor communities between people known to each other, but this has not stopped the fear of crime in other communities.
As a result, Orania officials say the town has had an annual growth rate of nearly 10% since its inception.
The Afrikaner community’s totem is the “the little giant”, a man with rolled-up sleeves who features in the flag and the local money, the Ora which is pegged to the South African rand.
The people do their own work from gardening to plumbing, bricklaying and waste-collection – jobs usually done by Black labourers in the rest of the country.
“It takes some adjusting to. It is more difficult for some people because they are used to how things were done in South Africa, they are not used to manual labour,” says Mr Strydom.
The locals explain that one of the goals in Orania is to help create a generation of pure Afrikaners untouched by the “outside world”.[/sociallocker]