Posted on May 9, 2013

Orania: The Remote Town in South Africa Where Afrikaners Dream of Building Their Own State

Nick Enoch, Daily Mail (London), May 8, 2013

‘Welkom in Orania’ proclaims a mural, painted in white, blue and orange.

But this South African town, in the remote Northern Cape province, does not extend its welcome to everyone.

The colour scheme on the wall – accompanied by the community emblem of a boy pulling up his sleeves – harks back to the old apartheid flag.

Orania, one of the last outposts of racial segregation, is a whites-only enclave.

Around 1,000 people live in the rural community, established in 1991 during the last years of apartheid.

Built on 8,000 hectares of private farmland along the Orange River in the desolate region of Karoo, it has schools, a museum and even its own currency, the Ora.

All the residents are Afrikaners – descendants of white migrants of Dutch and German heritage – who make up about 7 per cent of South Africa’s population.

Yet despite there being no black faces in sight, they insist the town is not racist.

‘When new people come to Orania, they are interviewed by a group of people to make sure that they have sufficient understanding of what the town is about,’ Carel Boshoff IV, the son of the late founder of the town, Carel Boshoff III, told Sowetan Live.

Carel is also the great son-in-law of former prime minister Henrik Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid.

Among those to have made Orania their home is Kobus Jonck, a sheep farmer who moved there with his family last year.

‘We are safe here. We do not worry about locking our cars at night, even the (house) doors… they are never locked,’ he said.

Orania’s motto is ‘Working for freedom’ – and many other inhabitants like him are self-sufficient farmers or traders.

Racial segregation in South Africa began in colonial times under Dutch and British rule but became official policy in 1948, enforced through legislation by the National Party – the majority of whom were Afrikaners.

Fast forward to the present day, and Orania’s town authorities believe what they’re doing is the best way to preserve Afrikaner culture and language.

They hope that, eventually, the town will become an independent state for the Afrikaner people, who total 3million.

Its officials claim the population is growing at a rate of 9 per cent a year.

Furthermore, Orania is protected under article 235 of South Africa’s Constitution which ensures the right to self-determination.

The legislation recognises ‘the notion of the right of self-determination of any community sharing a common cultural and language heritage within a territorial entity within the republic’.

But despite their optimism, some residents are uncomfortable about the future.

One waiter at a bar is convinced ‘black South Africans will kill all white people’ when anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela dies.

Mandela became South Africa’s first black president in 1994 after spending 27 years in prison for his fight against racist apartheid rule, and was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

In 1995, in a conciliatory gesture, he went to Orania to meet Betsie Verwoerd – the widow of the man who virtually invented white rule, and who sent Mandela to jail.

The town boasts a statue of her husband, Hendrik, who was assassinated in 1966.

She said she was happy the then 77-year-old president was able to visit her.

But Betsie’s granddaughter, Elizabeth van der Berg, was more guarded in her reaction, saying, ‘We wish he was the president of a neighboring country.’

After Mrs Verwoerd and Mandela shared a cup of coffee and some cakes, the apartheid architect’s widow read a speech in Afrikaans as she leaned on her cane.

‘I identify myself with the wishes of my people for a volkstaat [‘people’s state’], which I believe could be developed in this part of the country,’ she said, according to an English translation of her speech.

But Mandela said: ‘I want a united South Africa, where we can cease to think in terms of color.’

A desire that is shared by many.