Orania, and Afrikaners’ dream of a city of their own

A welcome billboard in Orania, South Africa. PETER DUBE | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

Just over a thousand men and women in Orania, a small town tucked away in the South African hinterlands, dream of a an independent Christian, Afrikaans-speaking city.

Their place of refuge is an Afrikaner-only enclave, which was established towards the end of apartheid in 1994.

Every single person in the town, which lies halfway between Cape Town and Pretoria, is a descendant of Dutch-speaking migrants who arrived in South Africa in 1652 with Jan van Riebeeck. The Afrikaner haven was the brainchild of Prof Carel Boshoff III in 1990.

Prof Boshoff III, without a doubt a visionary of note, was the son-in-law of HF Verwoerd — a man singled out as the architect of apartheid.

He and a number of families purchased an abandoned workers’ village with lofty ambitions that one day hundreds of thousands of Afrikaners would call it home.

“My father spent the bulk of his life as a missionary. The advice he got at that stage was that if you plant a church among people other than your own, you will not always be welcome, because once people take ownership they will say ‘Thank you but we want to take care of this now.’

"So he was aware that if you want to really add something to a group, it must become their own,” explained Mr Boshoff Jnr.

He added that, according to his father, the Afrikaner people, who make up only seven per cent of the South African population, were living thinly spread out all over the country without a concentration point.

“Every cultural or linguistic group has a centre. The Zulus are centred around Kwa-Zulu Natal, but Afrikaners ended up with nowhere because they trekked all over South Africa and they were nowhere in the majority,” he said, adding that Orania was not founded out of hatred.

“It was definitely out of an affirmation of our own identity and to look after our interests. But now people just assume that we are a group of white racists,” the Orania leader added.

Twenty-seven years later, the town, built on 8,000 hectares of private farmland along the Orange River in the desolate region of the Karoo, is home to 1,400 Afrikaners, has two schools, a museum and even its own currency, the Ora.

The town also boasts amenities such as shops, a hair salon, a library, a post office, a hotel, a cinema and three Christian churches.

South Africa has a large Afrikaans-speaking black and coloured population that identifies with the Afrikaner culture. However, Orania has no single Afrikaans-speaking black or coloured person in sight.

Prospective residents are screened by authorities using a criterion, which includes, either being an ethnic Afrikaner or genuinely wanting to integrate. It is not enough to simply speak Afrikaans.

Melisa Coetsee displaying the Ora, Orania’s currency. Oranians use the Ora instead of the South African rand. PETER DUBE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Pieter Kriger, the Orania Movement’s vice-executive head, said he gets 150 calls per week of people wanting to stay in Orania.

He insisted the criterion is “about the Afrikaner culture”.

“You either need to be an Afrikaner or a person willing to assimilate with the Afrikaans culture. We actually have first generation guys from Germany who want to assimilate,” added Mr Kriger.

The general message from locals in Orania is that they have set out on a journey to help create a generation of pure Afrikaners untouched by the “outside world”.

“It’s about knowing your culture, understanding it, accepting everything about it, the good and the bad. I moved to Orania because for the first time in my life as an Afrikaner, as a South African, I understood the place of Afrikaners in the broader spectrum of Africa,” said Sarel Roets, a businessman in the town.

Their own culture

Mr Kriger added: “We believe in diversity in that the Zulus must celebrate their own culture, because they are different from the Sothos.”

Understandably, the community has gained notoriety beyond its modest means as a parochial enclave within the rainbow nation that post-apartheid president Nelson Mandela dreamt of.

“From Orania the town, we are looking to build Orania the small city. We are also looking to make it more of a region than a town,” Mr Boshoff Jnr said.

Ironically, the town’s flag bears colours reminiscent of South Africa’s apartheid-era flag, featuring a blond boy rolling up his sleeves.

The enclave does not have an armed force and depends on a security company and its isolation for protection.

The modest and easy-going Oranians never miss an opportunity to flash a greeting smile to visitors.

Fear of violence

They also do their own work, from gardening to plumbing, bricklaying and waste-collection – jobs usually done by black labourers in the rest of the country. In fact, the town’s motto is “Working for freedom.”

Most of its residents argue that Orania offers a safe sanctuary from the crime-ridden neighbourhoods of South Africa.

Last year, South Africa was ranked third in the world’s top 10 countries with the highest crime rate.

“Women like Ester (a tour guide) can walk around town at 11pm without any fear of violence, or being robbed or killed. My house has no key. We went to Pretoria the other day and left my door open for my dogs to come in and out of the house. It’s a safe community,” Mr Kriger said with pride.

Interestingly, 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.”

Chairperson for the Commission for the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Cultural, Religious and Linguistic Communities Thoko Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said the Orania community also needed to participate in social cohesion and nation building.

“While we acknowledge the right to self-determination, we say the same constitution expects social cohesion and unity. We need to find mechanisms to build social cohesion, reduce whatsoever fears they have and get over our differences,” Ms Mkhwanazi-Xaluva said..

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