City boom for whites only in “Rainbow Nation” in South Africa

South African politician and writer Carel Boshoff (2nd R), son of Orania founder Carel Boshoff and grandson of former South African Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd reaches for a cup of tea after a service in a Dutch Reformed church in Orania on July 24, 2022. (Photo by MARCO LONGARI / AFP)

by Susan NJANJI
Agence France-Presse

ORANIA, South Africa (AFP) – From a distance, Orania looks like any other town in rural South Africa.

But once inside, the visitor is struck by an obvious difference.

Everyone here is white.

And in a country where humble work in affluent areas is typically done by blacks, whites here clean supermarket floors, brandish leaf blowers, and pick nuts on pecan farms.

Orania is a white-only city in a country that has declared an end to racial segregation.

The history of this inconsistency dates back to 1991, when apartheid was in agony.

White Afrikaners, descendants of 17th-century Dutch settlers, purchased 8,000 hectares (19,000 acres) of land on the banks of the Orange River in the sparsely populated Karoo region.

Using autonomous status under the post-apartheid constitution, they created a privately owned city that has so far only admitted whites.

Today, the population of Orania has increased nearly 10 times, reaching around 2,500 inhabitants, and the economy is booming.

Old Cape Dutch style houses are joined by modern terraced houses, separated by low or no walls, but maintained gardens. Children ride bicycles and adults jog freely on the clean streets.

Small orange, white and blue flags – the South African colors under apartheid – flutter in the afternoon wind in the construction sites.

– ‘Not racist’ –
Sensitive to accusations of racism, residents insist they are not nostalgic for the apartheid era, but a community that pursues “freedom with responsibility”.

This means, from their perspective, a community that runs its own business, away from the crime, power outages, dysfunctional local government and other problems plaguing South Africa today.

“People see Orania and maybe they see that there are no black workers … and their first idea is ‘wow these guys must be racists’, that’s not exactly the case,” said Wynand Boshoff, 52, a resident pioneer. .

In the affluent suburbs of other parts of South Africa, manual labor is done almost exclusively by blacks.

But Orania says she broke with the working practices of the colonial and apartheid era.

“We do our jobs, from gardening to cleaning our homes, from our bathrooms to construction, everything,” spokesman Joost Strydom said.

Orania, he said, is the only community that avoids “the system of low-cost illegal work”.

The faithful gather for a service in a Dutch Reformed church in Orania on July 24, 2022. (Photo by MARCO LONGARI / AFP)

– autonomy –
According to the constitution of South Africa, Orania has the right to self-determination and operates autonomously from the central government.

It has its own currency, the hour, pegged one to one to the rand.

The city is also seeking energy independence through solar, in a country largely fueled by coal and in a deep energy crisis.

Prospective residents are screened and must not have a criminal record.

“It’s like getting married,” said Strydom, a 28-year-old born in the southeastern province of KwaZulu-Natal.

Would-be residents must “share values ​​and adhere” to the city’s goals, he said, insisting that Orania was not “racist” or a “desperate take on apartheid.”

Boshoff said there was nothing to stop non-white Afrikaners from running, only no one ever did.

“We haven’t found anyone,” he said.

– boom –
Orania’s population has grown by up to 17 percent annually in recent years, and new business start-ups have increased by a quarter in 2021, Strydom said.

“Suddenly other communities are saying ‘how can we learn from you?'” He said.

When AFP reporters recently visited Orania, some traditional royal emissaries of the Xhosa and Tswana ethnic groups were in town on a “diplomatic” visit.

“It was important for me to go … Right or wrong, there’s a success story in there somewhere,” said Gaboilelwe Moroka, 40, head of Barolong Boo Seleka, part of the Tswana ethnic group in nearby. Free State Province.

“It’s a shame these things are overly politicized,” he said.

Boshoff, grandson of apartheid architect Hendrik Verwoerd, argued that Afrikaners created Orania because they needed a place to call home.

“Each African tribe or clan has its own place that it uses as a point of reference,” said Boshoff, who is also a right-wing MP in the national parliament.

Orania has “become part of the South African landscape,” he said, after delivering a sermon Sunday morning in a Dutch Reformed church.

– African world –
Private cities like Orania aren’t unusual, municipal governance expert Sandile Swana said.

“You’ll see more of these,” Swana said.

“The only difference with Orania is that they have chosen their own ethnic origin and their own culture” as a precondition.

Another Afrikaner-only city, Kleinfontein, is located about 30 kilometers (18 miles) outside the “Rainbow Nation” capital, Pretoria.

South Africa’s first black president, Nelson Mandela, has worked relentlessly to reconcile the deeply divided country.

He visited Orania in 1995 and had tea with Verwoerd’s widow. A white tea set they drank from is among the neatly arranged memorabilia in an unassuming white house where Betsie Verwoerd spent her final years.

Outside the church, Ranci Pizer, a 58-year-old former government employee who moved to Orania from Pretoria in December, said she enjoyed having more social interactions with neighbors on the streets.

“It’s a community where I can express myself in my culture,” he said.

A short drive up a hill is a collection of statues donated by people who no longer wanted to have anything to do with Afrikaner history after the fall of apartheid.

“African history is almost criminalized,” Joost said.

© Agence France-Presse