I’ve been suprised by the amount of South Africans who have not even heard of Orania. A quick look at Wikipedia will give you the town history. Basically, in 1990 (about the time apartheid laws were being repealed and Madiba was released from prison), about 40 Afrikaner families bought a private piece of land. The aim of which was to create a stronghold for Afrikaans and the Afrikaner identity. This has translated to an entirely white and Afrikaner town with a helluva reputation. Not a lot of people (of colour) can claim to have been in Orania. I know Tata Madiba was there in 1995 when he had tea with Betsy Verwoed (the widow of Hendrik Verwoerd who is widely regarded as the architect of apartheid). I’ve also read that Zuma and Malema have visited the area.
For work purposes, Orania was one of the many places I had to go to. Naturally, hearing all the bad press, I was reluctant to go but I had little choice. At some point I tweeted “I have to go to Orania. Scary” and was shocked to find that some Orania organisation replied to my tweet saying something like “There is no need to be scared, we are friendly folk.” I was a bit freaked out that they were clearly monitoring tweets with the word Orania in it but I felt I should go there with an open mind. Maybe things aren’t as bad as they are made out to be.
My company (being the smart organisation they are) , sent an Afrikaner woman to help us facilitate entry into the area. We took the 2 hour drive from Kimberley to Orania. We stopped at the Spar and coffee shop opposite the entrance gate (yes, gate!). I was surprised when I saw “Rands / Ora” on items. Yes, Orania has their own currency that is more like vouchers than anything else. We paid in Rands without a problem. I noticed that children were staring at me.
We hopped into the car and drove through the gate. It is quite a massive gate and I wondered if the gate gets closed in the evening. There are also signs everywhere visually showing that no hard hats allowed there. One of the first things you notice when you drive in is the town symbol (basically a little boy looking like he might knock you out) and a big statue of Verwoerd – as they clearly still like him there.
We drove passed the school which had signs saying “ons praat en dink in Afrikaans” (we talk and think in Afrikaans). The town was extremely quiet. There was hardly anyone walking around but it was the middle of the day so it made sense.
We drove up to the radio station to find out if we could talk to the mayor/president. Firstly, my Afrikaner colleague went in to see if it was acceptable to have me come inside. She returned a while after saying it is probably best if I stay in the car as the woman she was talking to was being very difficult. This woman thought we were government spies coming to look at the failures of Orania so we can broadcast it.
Anyway, my colleague eventually spoke to someone else. I can’t remember who he was but he was friendly and much more open. He said that they had no problem with people of other races coming in – as long as they spoke fluent Afrikaans. He said it was about the language not the race. He made everything sound good.
While all this was happening, I was sitting in the car and being side-eyed by 2 skinheads in military uniform. Not comforting at all.
We drove around the area and when people saw an Afrikaner woman driving, they immediately waved. People are friendly (to their own). My colleague stopped by one man who seemed friendly. We had heard the official version about people coming into Orania, we wanted to hear the unofficial version too. The man invited us into his house and we met his wife. They seemed nice enough and offered me a glass of water. I couldn’t help but wonder if they would throw out that glass after I was done. At some point, my colleague went to the bathroom and the wife showed her where it was. I was left alone for about 2 seconds and I swear when the man came back he was looking at me suspiciously. (as if trying to check if I took anything).
He told us that he and his wife are fairly liberal but that Orania tends to attract extreme people. He said we shouldn’t even send white English speakers into Orania. He said he was okay but there were others that had family members killed (by blacks) and thus they will not be happy and might even do something violent. He also mentioned that it was dangerous for outsiders because there is no police station.( they practice mob / community policing).
At that point, I received a call from another colleague saying they were waiting for us at Spar but were told to leave. We drove back up to the radio station to the friendly man. He said he was happy we came to explain as he received two calls complaining about ‘characters’ by the Spar. So even though the place seemed so quiet, there were people watching.
We got the hell out of there.
One thing I found quite interesting is that Orania is seen as a holiday destination. There are guesthouses all over the place. I told the travel agent not to book us into accommodation there (I guess she probably never heard of Orania either). She had spoken about 10 guesthouses and every time she would give our names for the accommodation, the owner would immediately hang up or ask if we had gotten permission from the (Orania) president to stay there after dark.
We eventually got accommodation in the nearby Hope town. The owner there called the people of Orania “sad and crazy”.
My take on Orania is this – some people may really believe in preserving the Afrikaner culture but I am sure many others are there because they don’t want to live in a rainbow nation. I say, best to have them living separate from the rest of us. I am almost of the born-free generation and I have never really felt what true apartheid was like (i.e. that I’m not allowed somewhere). I now know what it must have felt like to be brown skinned and tanning in Camps Bay in the 1970’s.
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