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Saturday, 16 December, 2000, 17:28 GMT
Rainbow nation at risk?
Orania refuses to recognise South African government control
By Jane Standley in Orania

South Africans have been commemorating Reconciliation Day - the public holiday which under a democratic government has replaced the old Afrikaner Day of the Vow.

The old holiday used to celebrate the Afrikaner victory over the Zulus at the Battle of Blood River.

But local elections earlier this month showed South Africans voting along ethnic and colour lines - a sign of the growing polarisation in the country.

A statue of the architect of apartheid, Hendrik Verwoed.
A statue of the architect of apartheid looks down on the town
In the Afrikaner-only town of Orania the 600 residents refused to take part in the polls - voting instead to elect their own rebel, white councillors.

Farmer Johan Ferreira has big plans for the small all-white settlement, or Volkstat.

"We have to start here - working with our own people and developing our own structures and then it'll get bigger and bigger and then we'll dominate the area," Mr Ferreira said.

The leaves of the farmer's pecan nut trees flutter in the hot, dry wind.

This is South Africa's inhospitable heartland - irrigation and the most modern farming techniques are the only way to get a crop from Orania's 3,000 hectares.

Orania was born as apartheid was dying - but separateness is still the key.

Desert bloom

Johan Ferreira has been here seven years - since just before the dawn of democracy.

"It's nice to work with your own people and stay in the community with your own people - and it's better than the mixed communities."

The intensive farming is making the desert bloom.

planters in Orania
The land is thriving with the use of intensive farming methods
To these Afrikaners Orania is like the promised land, and there is an almost Zionist mentality. Farmers have returned from Israel with the latest agricultural methods - but they do not yet have a state.

In South Africa's transition it was agreed that Afrikaner self-determination would be discussed.

But six years on Orania remains private property for only white residents who have now just refused to vote in South African elections.

The councillors they elected in their own, rebel poll have just secured a court ruling: central government cannot dissolve their local authority while the self-determination question is unresolved.


It leaves Orania in limbo - but Councillor Carel Boshoff is relieved. He believes there is still room for a fight.

"By this council being terminated it would mean that our recognition is actually ended - and we cannot accept that - we cannot give up the recognition of this community - as a particular community sharing a common language and cultural heritage," Councillor Boshoff said.

"It was a case of do or die, " he added.

The predominantly non-white Hopetown is half an hour's drive away
But it is difficult to believe that this isolated, windswept place will get any real recognition.

Black government ministers in Pretoria are not exactly impressed by its association with the architect of apartheid, Hendrik Verwoerd.

His descendants dominate the town - they are building a museum to him, his statue looms over Orania from a hillside.


In Hopetown, half an hour's drive away, there is little support for Orania.

It is a poor, largely non-white area with which Orania will be joined if the government has its way.

Some of Orania's taxes and rates would be spent here.

Hopetown's Mayor, Bok Myburg, is disappointed by what Orania's refusal to vote with South Africa.

Cropspraying in Orania
Orania is an extreme example of what is happening in South Africa
"The previous state President Mr Mandela likes to say the rainbow nation, we want to be a rainbow nation," the mayor said.

"You're not going to create a rainbow nation with this type of action."

But recent migrants to Orania - like John Huyser - do not believe in a rainbow nation.

He does not want to even work for the state. He has quit his job in the Cape as a meteorologist to make coffins for export from the town.

"I lost my language, I lost my culture and I don't like that," he said.

And we have an aim - to build another thing - similar to what we used to be - and I'm sure we're going to have it," he added.

Orania may be a more extreme part of this country of racial tension and division.

But across South Africa, people have just voted along ethnic and colour lines.

They describe their country as one of two nations - black and white.

The rainbow nation is in grave danger.

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See also:

24 Aug 00 | Africa
Racism 'pervasive' in SA media
26 Jan 00 | Africa
South Africa bans discrimination
28 Aug 00 | Africa
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29 Aug 00 | Africa
Apartheid 'still alive' in SA
29 Aug 00 | Africa
SA worker dragged to death
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