Where even street sweepers are white

Published Feb 11, 2015


Orania, Northern Cape - Two decades after the end of apartheid, a white enclave in South Africa wants to preserve its way of life and dreams of an independent homeland.

At a street corner decked with flowers, the South African village of Orania has a statue and museum dedicated to 1960s prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd, remembered as one of the architects of apartheid.

Not a single black person is to be seen on the orderly streets lined with upscale houses.

Waiters, gardeners and cleaning women - jobs usually done by black people in South Africa - are white in Orania.

Most South Africans regard the village of 1 100 residents as a last bastion of racial discrimination after it was abolished nationwide with the election of Nelson Mandela as the country's first black president in 1994.

But Oranians say they only want to preserve the unique way of life of a white African ethnic group, the Afrikaners.

“We don't want to melt” into the rest of South Africa - what Mandela called “the rainbow nation” - said Carel Boshoff, Verwoerd's grandson and president of the Orania Movement.

The movement that is informally linked to a small Afrikaner parliamentary party seeks self-determination for South Africa's 2.7 million Afrikaners, also known as Boers.

They descend from Dutch and other Western European 17th-century settlers and dominated politics during the 46-year apartheid era.

“We want to remain true to our culture and language,” Boshoff said.

Only people speaking Afrikaans - a language of mainly Dutch origin - and identifying themselves as Afrikaners may settle in Orania.

The village does not admit to discriminating against more than 4 million black, mixed-race or Indian South Africans who also speak Afrikaans at home.

But - representatives argue - non-whites would not feel at home in Orania, which celebrates events such as the Boer victory over a Zulu army at Blood River in 1838.

In private conversations, a racist remark is not hard to come by.

The idea of Afrikaner self-determination began to germinate in the 1970s, when it became obvious that “white minority rule was not sustainable and that the power shift would have far-reaching social implications” for Afrikaners, Boshoff explained.

Their once dominant language is now just one of South Africa's 11 official languages. It is constantly losing ground to English at universities and schools, said James Kemp from the Orania Movement.

The end of apartheid also affected South Africa's approximately 5 million whites economically. Many Afrikaners lost their jobs in the administration, and some even live in shantytowns, according to Orania officials.

Orania was established four years before the end of apartheid on land purchased by its founders.

The village housing small industries, shops and surrounded by agricultural fields stresses its independence by using its own currency, the ora, in local transactions.

The population has grown by 10 per cent annually over the past three years, according to representatives. Incomers include poor Afrikaners who are offered social housing and job opportunities.

Orania is so safe that no police station is needed - an important attraction in a country with a notoriously high crime rate.

Many Afrikaners also move to Orania because they are tired of other South Africans “heaping guilt” upon their group for having introduced apartheid, Kemp said.

“We live among our own people, and we don't need to lock doors for fear of criminals,” according to Gerd and Jeanette Erasmus, a retired couple.

Orania honours the values of the Voortrekkers - Boer farmers who trekked with ox wagons across South Africa to flee British rule in the 19th century.

Those values include the Bible - with eight different protestant denominations present in Orania - hard work, and independence.

“We are the new Voortrekkers,” said businessman Sarel Roets, who owns one of Orania's shopping centres.

The South African government has not meddled with Orania, which argues that its aspirations are in line with a clause in the constitution allowing for the “self-determination” of communities.

Mandela even visited Orania in 1995.

The founders of Orania created it in the large, sparsely populated Northern Cape province with the view of eventually expanding it into an autonomous or even independent Afrikaner volkstaat or homeland, Kemp said.

The ideal of independence dates back to the 19th and early 20th centuries, when independent Boer republics waged - and lost - wars against British attempts to annex them.

Verwoerd later tried to keep South African ethnic groups apart by creating bantustans - nominally independent black homelands which served as reservoirs of cheap labour.

On a hill in Orania, statues of Verwoerd and other apartheid-era leaders overlook green plains, after the new South Africa removed them from official buildings.

Oranians want to revive that vision - which most South Africans see as fading into the past - of ethnic groups living apart.

“The debate on independence is very theoretical for now,” Boshoff said.


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