An iImage of the Eastern Cape farm, where Die Eden Projek wants to create a whites-only settlement.

Cape Town - A new whites-only settlement, modelled on the Afrikaners-only town of Orania, is being established on a farm near the small town of Willowmore, just over the Western Cape border.

Die Eden Projek, a non-profit company registered in July, aims to settle thousands of white families on a 2 300ha farm, where they can live “safely and independently”, far from urban areas.

Project leader Jaqui Gradwell is also one of the administrators of Die Eden Projek’s private Facebook page, which accepts only people without black friends and which has amassed more than 1 500 members.

His most recent address is listed as being in the Strand.

Ten days ago he posted on social media that he and colleagues had started laying out 371 plots on the Karoo farm in the Saartjie Baartman District of the Eastern Cape for the “people of the covenant”.

He has also held a number of farm viewings for “pioneers”.

The farm has a “great amount of water” but little infrastructure, he wrote. While Gradwell is appealing for people to join the project, which he estimated can house between 20 000 and 40 000 people (20-plus times the more than 1 200 residents of Orania), he has also been asking for contributions.

He wants donations of everything from solar panels, roof tiles and bedding, to water tanks, first aid kits and chickens.

The 55-year-old, who sports a long Voortrekker-style beard, said on Friday that he was fielding 30 to 40 calls a day from interested “pioneers” wanting to settle on the land.

Approached for comment, he told Weekend Argus on Friday that he had no further comment about any aspects of the development. Asked whether he wanted to give “his side of the story”, he replied: “And who is giving the other side?”.

Gradwell, who on social media refers to the farm as “verily, the garden of Eden”, also did not reply to 11 questions sent to him earlier in the week.

He said he would communicate with the media when he saw fit.

Frans Cronje, chief executive of the SA Institute for Race Relations, said whites-only communities such as Orania and Eden had “no effect” on wider race relations.

“Exciting as it all sounds, I just don’t think there is much of a story here. Certainly any suggestion that the whites are all trekking to a volkstaat has zero merit,” he said.

Cronje added that it was uncommon for white South Africans to go to the lengths of physically separating themselves from other South Africans. “Polling results show, for example, that eight out of 10 whites would be happy for their kids to be taught by someone of another race,” he said.

Asked whether Eden fell foul of any laws, Cronje said this was the same problem that organisations such as black business associations were struggling with.

“Denying access to any institution on the basis of race falls foul of the constitution. But the IRR thinks if people want to do their own thing and no one else is being harmed, then let them get on with it.”

In a social media post earlier this year, Gradwell said he had left South Africa after the country’s 1992 referendum on ending apartheid to live in the US. On his return in 2002, he wrote that he no longer recognised the country.

Often couching his statements with reference to the Bible and the destiny of Afrikaners, Gradwell has been keeping the 1 500 members of the Facebook page up to date with hundreds of posts about the project’s development. “It is everyone’s duty to contribute to the safety and protection of our nation, our values, our culture, our religion and our freedom,” he wrote (translated from the original Afrikaans).

The project seems to be in its early stages, and Weekend Argus could not confirm how many people have bought the plots Gradwell has been advertising. But images posted on Facebook show Gradwell and colleagues driving around the farm in a white bakkie, measuring out land.

Weekend Argus has also seen an aerial plan that shows 60 plots nearly laid out, as well space for rows of houses, two schools, a rugby field and an administration block.

“I don’t really understand the plan, but the layout looks very nice,” posted one user.

Many of the Facebook group’s members have asked Gradwell to send them information packs, or to reserve plots. “I am looking for five adjacent plots,” posted one user this week. “Won’t you reserve ‘* mooi klompie (a nice bunch) for me?”

Despite Gradwell occasionally appealing to members to refrain from racist language, his statements include repeated offensive posts: “I again ask humbly that members with friends who are volksvreemd (racially different) - including blacks, coloureds, Indians and Muslims, remove these (from your Facebook page),” he wrote. “(These people) causes confidentially risks to our project.”

He said they were busy checking out members, “and will have to remove you”.

In a YouTube video uploaded in August, which is not set to private, Gradwell speaks in the slow measured tone of a Sunday school preacher. He says Die Eden Projek will preserve Afrikaner and Boer culture.

“Project Eden is based on a principle that comes from the days of the old Boers, (and) I am going to call it the new colonialism’. You take your family, your possessions and you move to a new place.”

The Eastern Cape Rural Development Department had not replied to an inquiry about whether they were aware of the project by the time of going to press.

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Weekend Argus