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The signs in the city of Orania are in the colors of the old South African flag, before the fall of the racist apartheid regime. STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP
No secure access to enter this rural town in South Africa, similar to so many others. Very quickly, however, the singularity of Orania is obvious: here everyone is white.
Nestled in the Karoo, a semi-desert area lost in the middle of the country, its population of 2,500 Afrikaners, descendants of Dutch and French Huguenots who arrived in the 17th century, has increased almost tenfold since its foundation thirty years ago, after the collapse of the apartheid segregationist regime.
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But we assure that we are not racist: we want to live among ourselves, in safety, far from the decadence of the rest of the country which is experiencing power cuts, administrative failures, unprecedented violence and glaring inequalities.
“When people see that there are no black workers here”, that the gardeners, cleaning women, farm workers are all white, “their first reaction is to think ‘damn, these people are really racist”, but it is not that at all”, pleads Wynand Boshoff, one of the first residents of Orania.
On the contrary, the small town prides itself on having broken with colonial labor practices, “consisting of using cheap black labor for all arduous or menial work”, underlines its spokesperson Joost Strydom.
“A place of their own”
Meanwhile, on a daily basis, its inhabitants live in a parallel reality where black South Africans… do not exist. Or are at least invisible. On this chilly southern winter morning, a white man is mopping the floor in the convenience store, another is waving a blower to clear dead leaves from the sidewalks.
The 8,000 hectare land on the banks of the Orange River, where Orania was founded in 1991, had been bought by the son-in-law of Hendrik Verwoerd, former prime minister considered the architect of apartheid, and a few other Afrikaner families. The locality, tolerated by the State, is based on an article of the Constitution which defends the right to self-determination.
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Its autonomy, which relies heavily on solar energy to no longer depend on the whims of the national electricity grid, exhausted by decades of mismanagement and corruption, is very attractive, assures Mr. Strydom, a 28-year-old young man born in the country. Zulu, which evokes a population growth of 17% per year.
For Mr. Boshoff, 52, grandson of Verwoerd and himself a right-wing parliamentarian, the Afrikaners dreamed up and created Orania to have a place of their own. “Like the African tribes or clans. Here, everyone has a reference place of their own, ”he notes to AFP, after his Sunday morning sermon in one of the reformed churches of the small town.
Religious service at the Reformed Church of Orania on July 24, 2022. MARCO LONGARI / AFP
Orania operates in autarky. It has its own bank and currency, the ora, whose rate is equal to that of the South African rand. And it “is now part of the South African landscape,” plays down Mr. Boshoff. Small orange-white-sky blue flags, which are the colors of the old South African flag, are proudly hoisted on buildings under construction.
Old Dutch-style buildings with white walls stand alongside row houses with their neat gardens. Children race on bicycles, passing Sunday joggers.
Ranci Pizer, 58, left Pretoria a few months ago to settle here. “I can express my own culture. I have more social interactions in the street, with the neighbours, ”explains this former tax employee. Annatjie Joubert, 66, a pecan producer, also left the political capital in 2007 and enjoys the “much more relaxed lifestyle”.
Residency in Orania is granted following a verification process, including criminal records. “It’s like a marriage, both parties have to be willing to support each other,” notes Strydom.
Nothing to do, according to him, with a “re-creation or a desperate return to apartheid”. Moreover, nothing theoretically prevents non-whites whose mother tongue is Afrikaans (like many “Coloured”, the category of mixed race identified under apartheid) from applying. “To date, we have not received any request,” notes Mr. Boshoff with the utmost seriousness. “Orania is intended for Afrikaners who share the same values”, insists Joost Strydom.
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For Sandile Swana, an expert in municipal governance, the creation of private cities like Orania is nothing unusual. “You will see others,” he says. But the specificity here is that they chose their ethnic origin and their own culture as a prerequisite. »
A small, unassuming house was visited in 1995 by Nelson Mandela, the country’s first black president. He had come to drink tea with the widow of Hendrick Verwoerd, tirelessly seeking to reconcile a bruised and divided South Africa.
Carel Boshoff IV, photographed on July 25, 2022. This politician and writer is the son of the founder of Orania who bears the same name and had married the daughter of former Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd, architect of the apartheid regime. MARCO LONGARI / AFP
At the top of a hill is a collection of statues abandoned after the end of apartheid by many municipalities. “Afrikaner history is almost criminalized,” laments Mr. Strydom, proud that Orania can preserve them.