Future of Orania may be obscured by Karoo dust

Posted On Monday, 31 December 2007 02:00 Published by eProp Commercial Property News
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The volkstaat halfway between Hopetown and Petrusville on the R369 in the Northern Cape, cannot be called a success by any stretch of the imagination.

Property-Housing-ResidentialAs an experiment in social engineering Orania, the volkstaat halfway between Hopetown and Petrusville on the R369 in the Northern Cape, cannot be called a success by any stretch of the imagination.

When the village celebrated its 10th anniversary in April 2004, the population was a little more than 1 000. Today, the total population is 618, with the normal dispersion of children, adults and elderly people.

Ornate and open concrete gates welcome visitors. Orania‘s flag flutters lightly in the breeze. The flag is in the former South African colours of orange, white and blue.

Superimposed is a figure of a boy rolling up his sleeves in white. The white figure overlaps the blue and orange.

Situated in the harsh Karoo scrubland on the dusty banks of the Orange River, Orania is the last outpost of Afrikanerdom.

As the midday sun sends out its blistering rays, it is unimaginable that anyone would choose to live there – however strong their beliefs.

Before the first democratic elections, die-hard Afrikaners – claiming their culture and history would be swallowed up in the new democratic state of South Africa – demanded their own white state.

The new ANC government found a loophole in the constitution and graciously conceded to their demands.

As we drive along the well-kept paved road, we see a large head-and-shoulders bronze statue of former prime minister HF Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid, festooned in flowers.

Of residents there is little sign. There is an emptiness that is quite surreal, although publicity spokesman Lida Strydom assures us that it is a “flourishing little town”.

Our targets are the Koeksister Monument honouring not just the modern women, but those of yesteryear who bore the trials and tribulations of lonely, primitive farms, the Great Trek and the two Boer Wars.

The 2m-high monument was unveiled in 2003 by koeksister expert Anna Boshoff, daughter of Verwoerd.

The brainchild of Orania‘s Kaalvoet Women‘s Organisation, it was named after Voortrekker Susanna Smit who said she would rather walk barefoot over the Drakensberg than suffer under British rule.

The other is the assembly of monuments on a koppie overlooking the town. On plinths are head and shoulders of former Afrikaner presidents and prime ministers including Paul Kruger. In front of the curved display is the little boy in the same pose as on the flag.

“Orania was developed after Pretoria-based Professor Carel Boshoff and other supporters realised that the Afrikaner was becoming a suppressed minority group and losing its unique way of life,” said Strydom.

“We needed land where we could be self-reliant. Our focus is on developing and retaining our own unique culture, but at the same time we are also keen to help other minority groups to rebuild and practise theirs.

“One of the cornerstones of Orania is ‘selfwerksaamheid‘, meaning that as a group we are able to do everything ourselves. We do not exploit other cultures to do our dirty work, but at the same time we are a sustainable community,” she said.

“The dream is slowly becoming a reality. Although not many people settled in Orania, we have a lot of supporters worldwide and more and more people are becoming interested in the idea of Orania as the solution to many problems.”

Orania was originally a camp for water affairs department labourers during the construction of the Vanderkloofdam – a vital link in the giant Orange River irrigation scheme.

“The department built the village from scratch using pre-fab housing on large plots framed by broad pavements.

A multi-purpose community hall, a large swimming pool, tennis courts and a squash court provided adequate sporting facilities.

Part of Orania‘s development included a post office, a guest house, a clinic and a shop. Later a church and a school were added.”

But when the work had been completed, the village slowly deteriorated.

In 1990 the former government decided to sell what remained of the village as a single entity. Members of Afstig (the Afrikaner Freedom Movement) saw the advertisement in Landbouweekblad and decided to tender.

They collected a group of shareholders and not long afterwards Orania was bought by the newly developed Orania Bestuursdienste for R1,5-million.

Developing the volkstaat began in April 1991 and houses were offered for sale at prices between R31 000 and R41 000.

In August 1991 the neighbouring farm Vluytjekraal 272 (approximately 2 300ha) was bought for a further R480 000, thus providing agricultural development.

The town council came into being and took over the management of the village, with the first mayor being Andre van den Berg.

An upbeat Strydom said: “The community has come alive again. There are now two schools with pupils from Grade 0 to matric.” Residents were employed internally “like any normal town” and a few worked outside the village.

“Our community lifestyle is very important. We support local business. We mostly have small businesses, where a few people are employed, but there are quite a lot of them – goldsmiths, farmers, teachers and technical workers.

“The basis of our strategy in Orania is the assumption that if ethnic minorities (such as ourselves here in South Africa) do not have some protected spaces, our culture and way of life will be unable to survive the pressures of globalisation, hostile governments and integration.

“It has become the responsibility of every group to preserve their own unique culture. The Afrikaners of Orania believe in the right to self-determination for all people irrespective of race, culture or creed.”

Of significance is that Orania has its own currency – the ora introduced in April 2004.

The currency, sponsored by a local optometrist – acts like a coupon system and according to Strysom has been very successful in stimulating the circulation of money and Orania‘s local economy.

“The profit from the first series was used to help sponsor broadband internet for the community,” she said.

“Another positive fact about Orania is our ecological conscience. We realise the importance of the ecology and aim to eventually produce at least 50% of our own food locally.

"We are one of few municipalities that separate our garbage at source in order to recycle.”

“Orania functions like any normal town, except for the fact that we have a common dream, and we live that dream,” she said.

From a ghost town to a dream is the story of this tiny boerestaat, but with dwindling numbers, for how long?.

Last modified on Monday, 19 May 2014 18:10

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