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Friday, 22 November, 2002, 10:36 GMT
South Africa's 'white homeland'
Artefacts in the museum
Orania's museum is a shrine to Afrikaner history

On a bleak hill in the midst of the vast Karoo desert stands a statue of Hendrik Verwoerd.

A former prime minister of South Africa, few people remember Mr Verwoerd kindly.

He was known as the "mastermind of apartheid", a determined exponent of the theory that South Africa's different races should live apart, and that the white minority should be in control.

But in the tiny community clustered below the hill, Mr Verwoerd's memory is cherished.

This is Orania, a town populated exclusively by white Afrikaners, who have withdrawn from the modern South Africa, and are now trying to build their own, racially pure homeland in this harsh landscape.

Unwelcome publicity

Orania's elders say they are trying to protect a language and a culture which are under threat.

At the forefront of the project is Carel Boshoff, a grandson of Hendrik Verwoerd and an eloquent spokesman.

Mr Boshoff argues that he and his fellow Oranians are not trying to re-create apartheid, they are seeking to protect Afrikaners' values.

Family in Orania
White Afrikaners in Orania are trying to build a racially pure homeland

Orania is built on private land, bought by Mr Boshoff and colleagues at the beginning of the 1990s.

During the past decade people here have done their best to stay out of the limelight.

But the recent announcement by the South African police that they had arrested about 20 Afrikaners allegedly involved in a plot to overthrow the ANC government has brought a wave of unwelcome publicity to Orania.

South Africans are once again curious about hard-line Afrikaner nationalism, and the potential threat it poses to the new, multi-racial democracy.

Escape

Mr Boshoff vehemently condemns the use of violence, but he says the government must address the concerns of anxious Afrikaners.

"By just ignoring them, the present ANC government would be doing exactly what the past National Party government did when it labelled ANC activists as extremists," he says.

Many of Orania's 600 residents say they have come here to escape the violence and crime which are so prevalent in modern day South Africa.

Amongst them is Ina Smit, a pensioner from Johannesburg, who is a firm believer that white and black people should not live together.

"I feel that they have to stay on their side, and we on our side, because we have a different culture," she says.

Statue of  Hendrik Verwoerd
A statue of the architect of apartheid looks down on the town

Orania's museum is a shrine to Afrikaner history - glass cabinets are full of old muskets and rifles, and pride of place is given to fading photos and maps depicting the battles of the Anglo-Boer war.

The museum curator, Kokkie de Kock, has lived in Orania for five years.

He told me that those Afrikaner leaders who negotiated with the ANC to transfer power to the black majority are "traitors".

When I asked him whether he considered President Thabo Mbeki to be the leader of South Africa, he paused, before saying "no comment".

Opposition

The South African parliament is now considering Orania's request that it would be granted its own municipality.

Township near Orania
Black South Africans live a stone's throw away

I drove 40 kilometres up the road to meet the black and coloured communities who live in the neighbouring dusty and poor townships, to try and gauge their attitude towards Orania.

One young black man said to me: "We think they are racists. It's true that some of them are trying to reach out to us, but most of them are racist."

Another man agreed. "I don't think they should have their own land. In South Africa today we are all trying to live together, and that's very important to us."

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See also:

16 Dec 00 | Africa
01 Jan 00 | Africa
24 Aug 00 | Africa
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