10 years on, Orania fades away

2004-04-22 15:59
Orania - It is easy to drive past "whites-only" Orania without even noticing the forsaken little town is there, but once you get to know its strange mixture of residents, it becomes impossible to forget the curious place.

This is the heartland of the Afrikaner - or so the company which owns the town claims.

But 10 years after the first black government made room in the new constitution for the concept of a "Volkstaat" (people's state), the dream of an independent homeland for the Afrikaner is fading.

"If South Africa stays peaceful, if no conflict breaks out, then I do not think I will see the realisation of a Volkstaat in my lifetime," says Carel Boshoff, 76, founder of Orania and son-in-law of late prime minister Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid.

Orania is a small speck on the map in the scrubland Karoo region, situated on the dusty banks of the half-empty Orange River in Northern Cape province. It is surrounded by a rocky landscape dotted with creaky windmills and the occasional green of cultivation.

From one of the hilltops, an impressive statue of Verwoerd towers over the eerily quiet town, lined with flags of the old Boer Transvaal Republic.

A town for sale

A group of 40 Afrikaner families, headed by Boshoff, his wife Anna and three of their adult children, bought the dilapidated town for about $200 000 in December 1990, a few months after apartheid laws had been scrapped and Nelson Mandela released from jail.

Today it has been fixed up and between 500 and 600 white Afrikaners, including around 100 children, live in Orania under the slogan of "selfwerksaamheid" (self-reliance). Black or coloured (mixed-race) people are not allowed to live or work here - their presence would be deemed to go against the principle of self-reliance.

This means poor whites are employed as cleaners, gardeners and farm workers while an elite circle of "intellectuals" discuss the preservation of the Afrikaner culture.

Prinsloo Potgieter, chairperson of the Vluyteskraal Aandeleblok (Whistling Shareholders) company that owns Orania, explains the ideology with passion: "We do not want to be managed by people who are not Afrikaners. Our culture is being oppressed and our children are being brainwashed to speak English," the 60-something "mayor" says with a serious look in his pale-blue eyes.

The Afrikaner "intellectuals" are all quick to disown apartheid, however.

But, says the charismatic Boshoff, a professor of theology: "Afrikaners who live in the rest of South Africa must know they are doing it at their own risk. They should realise their cultural heritage is under serious threat."

But while the highly educated Boshoff family contemplate the fate of the Afrikaner, a large number of working class whites are moving into rickety matchbox houses in downtown "Kleingeluk" (small happiness), a neighbourhood its residents say is for "armgatte" (poor bums).

Not about Afrikaans

"Do you want to know the truth about Orania? It is not about Afrikaans. Fuck Afrikaans. The people in 'Grootdorp' (the upmarket neighbourhood) are living a pipe-dream," says Fanie Botha, 38, who arrived eight months ago to do "a black man's work" on a farm.

"This place is about old people running away from the blacks, and young people desperate to get jobs," says the tanned, dark-haired man wearing khaki shorts and a gold chain around his neck.

Botha says the only advantage is low crime levels, explaining that "The Company" usually deals with law-breakers by issuing fines.

Madelein de Beer, carrying a toddler on each hip, moved to Orania when she was 10. Today the chubby and chatty blonde is 23, married to Orania's street sweeper, living with their three children in a derelict house made out of particle board. She likes it here because it is safe.

Mara Coetsee is a frail but gutsy 75-year-old woman, by her own admission used to "the easy life", who came to farm with her husband in "crime-free" Orania after they lost all their pension money.

"I told my husband I would become the first woman to walk out of here. The people here are strange," she said.

She complained that they were not allowed to bring in black workers to build a house.

But a visiting black photographer was welcomed and treated decently, barring one person who refused to speak to him without permission from "The Company".

Its chairperson, Potgieter, had just one request for the photographer: "I want you to learn and remember two words. 'Volkstaat' and 'Afrikaner'."


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