A sprawling ‘whites-only’ settlement dubbed ‘Project Eden’ is being set up on the edge of the South African desert by ‘pioneers’ who claim they are the victims of ‘apartheid in reverse’.
The controversial community will house up to 30,000 residents and is modelled on the ‘Orania’ enclave where Afrikaaners live apart from black people and even have their own currency.
Jacqui Gradwell, leader of the chilling new area under construction cites ‘the murder of 88,000 white people’ since the first free vote of 1994 as evidence of ‘a genocide against our people’.
A return to the old way–when whites and non-white South Africans lived apart–‘is the only way to preserve our culture’, he insists.
‘It is not a racist project, it is based on fact. We have the right to that.’
The married father-of-six, whose beard is styled on those worn by his early settler ancestors, claims to receive ‘multiple’ calls every day from white ‘pioneers’ seeking refuge from South Africa’s political volatility, endemic corruption and high rates of violent crime.
He is convinced that the current level of violence will soon bring the ‘Rainbow Nation’ to the brink of civil war.
In an unnerving example of how deep racial divisions remain in South Africa more than two decades after the end of apartheid, Gradwell is unapologetic that the qualification to be part of Die Eden Projek–the Eden Project in Afrikaans–is based on race.
‘They must be white because all the murders and all the violence in this country is perpetrated by black people,’ the 55-year-old farmer says firmly without apology.
‘They must also be Christians and we intend to stick to that principle, we want to bring safety back to our own people.’
Mr Gradwell left South Africa in 1992 ‘in a lot of anger’ after the momentous referendum that ended apartheid, but returned ten years later after struggling with visa issues.
‘By the time I came back to my homeland, everything had changed,’ he said.
Those who are unhappy about the creation of the new settlement are not able to block the sale of the land, but the authorities have said they will ensure that the usual strict requirements will be met including planning permission and the commissioning of an environmental impact survey.
The Eden leaders insist they ‘will do things by the book’.
Prospective residents told MailOnline they wanted to live in a whites-only community because they were victims of violence.
Barry Kieser, 56, has been robbed at gunpoint 12 times in the last two years in what he believes is a ‘rising tide of hatred against whites’ in South Africa.
Fearful for his safety, he is now planning a move to the controversial new community.
‘The onslaught against whites is coming, no doubt about it,’ the railway signalman told MailOnline. ‘The time has come when we need to live separately.
‘I am spat on all the time by the black passengers when I work next to the track, they throw rubbish at me and shout abuse.
‘Leaving our homes to be with our own people is the only way we can survive the growing tide of hatred against us.’
The vision of a new homeland for Afrikaaners–the descendants of the European settlers who landed in South Africa in the 17th century–was also a dream of white supremacist Eugene TerreBlanche, who himself became a murder statistic six years ago.
To date 167 families have already bought ‘havens’ in the deliberately remote 5,700 acre site on the edge of the unforgiving Karoo desert.
Pieter and Naomi van der Westhuizen hope that living miles from the nearest town–and non-white neighbour–will bring them respite from their ‘constant fear’.
Mrs van der Westhuizen, 48, is still suffering nightmares after being held up and robbed by gunmen, in her driveway, five years ago.
‘She now travels with every weapon imaginable,’ her husband said, ‘pepper spray, pangas [machetes], a gun. We are both trained in self-defence and go to the firing range regularly to practice our shooting.
‘But still we live in fear, our house is a fortress. If my wife sees some black guys walking down the street towards her she just starts shaking, she is scared for her life every day.
‘The life of a white South African is worth nothing now, we are being killed for a cell phone, our women–even the old and infirm–are being raped. I know there must be some black people who are good, but 99 per cent of them are flipping bad.’
Like many Eden pioneers, the couple closely monitor what they believe is the deliberate targeting of the white population, via a string of social media sites which report violent crimes in graphic detail under a #StopWhiteGenocideInSA hashtag.
This week, grandmother-of-13 Joey Groenewald will also visit Eden for the first time–370 housing plots, two schools, an administration block and a rugby pitch have been pegged out in the first phase of development.
She will be the first of what she hopes will be many family members to set up home among ‘people who share our culture and beliefs’.
Speaking from her home in Boksburg, a mining town to the east of Johannesburg, she said, ‘Apartheid never ended, it just reversed from what we had before. We cannot rely on the black government to provide for anyone in this country, and certainly not for the whites.
‘The black population don’t worry about tomorrow, about making plans for food and jobs, they can only think of today–that’s their culture.
‘Our culture and beliefs are different, and we need now to rely on ourselves. We just need a small piece of land where we can support ourselves.’
News of the Eden development has renewed debate in South Africa about the fragile state of race relations and how a new ‘whites-only’ enclave squares with the progressive constitution set up under the country’s first democratically-elected president, Nelson Mandela.
Paul Jay is likely to be one of the few at Eden who voted to end apartheid in an epoch-making referendum in 1992.
The fact that he is even considering a move, with his 25-year-old son Marcus, to such a contentious community is a reflection of the parlous state South Africa is now in, he said.
‘I have often been criticised by my white friends for being too liberal,’ the 53 year-old admitted, ‘I have quite a lot of black friends through the church and I visit the townships often in my line of work.
‘I always get a warm welcome and have never been a racist or a supremacist, I don’t subscribe to those views at all.’
He believes that his country’s majority black population have been ‘terribly let down’ by the government of President Zuma, whose leadership has been dogged by controversy and allegations of corruption.
High levels of youth unemployment, poor standards of education and housing and a lack of access to basic services are factors which ‘set the scene for a descent into complete lawlessness that now seems unavoidable,’ Mr Jay said.
Ongoing violent protests at South Africa’s university campuses, which began last year with the high profile movement to remove paraphernalia celebrating colonial-era figures such as Cecil John Rhodes–a protest that spread to, but was quashed at, Oxford University–are a sign of chaos to come, he believes.
‘The campuses have been burned and looted by a tiny group of who are bent on destruction and holding the authorities to ransom it seems the police and army can do nothing to stop them.
‘Just imagine, if a big crowd took to the streets, they could burn an entire town overnight. I foresee things can only get worse and I will only find safety with like-minded people who are capable and are prepared to work together in what I fear will be a fight for survival.’
The project will not be the first whites-only community in South Africa–the town of Orania, which was set up after the end of apartheid, has its own currency, flag and a population of 1100.
The chief executive of South Africa’s Institute for Race Relations said he had no issue with whites wanting to live apart.
‘If people want to do their own thing and no one else is being harmed, then let them get on with it,’ Frans Cronje said.
Although Mr Gradwell insists that non-whites would not be welcome to move to Eden, denying anybody access to any institution would be breaking the country’s laws–although it would be hard to imagine that the project would attract anyone but those who share the views of the founding partners.
He said: ‘Seventy per cent of black South Africans live exclusively together in their own communities, in townships and so on. They don’t want white people to live among them. Why can’t we have the same thing?
‘It doesn’t need to be set in law, although we all have rights of association, they won’t want to be part of our community, it will just be that way because that’s how we all actually prefer to be.’
The purchase of the £400,000 site is being met by the purchase of shares by interested ‘pioneers’ in a registered non-profit company. Those who move to Eden will have to construct their own homes, without relying on ‘black labour’.
Leading South African commentator R W Johnson said he understood why many Afrikaaners felt a ‘strong sense of betrayal’ since the end of apartheid.
‘There is provision in the constitution for their language and culture, but that has been eroded over time and there has been a certain amount of welching on the original deal, an element of ‘ethnic revenge’ about it.
‘But you cannot just write these Afrikaaners off as fantasists or conspiracy theorists.’
He went on: ‘They have genuine fear for their personal safety which appears to be the major driving factor for these initiatives. And these sorts of projects can work, Orania demonstrates that.’