Table of Contents

ETHNOCULTURE  (Vol.1, 2007 pp. 45-58)


F.C. de Beer

University of South Africa

[email protected]


In the modern world ethnic diversity is a conspicuous characteristic of virtually all nation states. Due to industrialisation, wars, colonial expansion, boundary redefinition, voluntary or forced migration of foreigners to a host territory, and currently also globalising forces, nation states, as complex political entities, have become increasingly heterogeneous (Toland 1993:2). The fact that the world’s 200 independent states accommodate 5000 ethnic groups that speak 600 languages, and that in only 10% of these states does about 90% of the population speak the same language, demonstrate the extent of the diversity of these states (De Beer 2001:107).

Most contemporary African states are multi-ethnic political entities as a result of the artificial and involuntary accommodation by the colonial rulers of several, and in some cases a multitude of ethnic and language units in the same state (Nigeria has 250 such ethnic and language entities and Tanzania 120). South Africa also has a heterogeneous population composition consisting of Bantu-speaking ethnic groups who constitute the majority, people of European extraction (ie Afrikaners, English-speakers, Portuguese and Germans), Coloureds, Khoe-khoen, Bushmen and Asians such as Indians, Chinese and Japanese (see De Beer 2001:108). To unite their heterogeneous populations, governments of nation states have used various methods and strategies including political engineering in their nation-building programs. Nonetheless, where national boundaries are not coterminous with ethnic and tribal boundaries, national integration of heterogeneous populations in the process of nation-building is an exacting and sometimes even painful undertaking (Young 2002: 3-4; 78-86).

Studies of nation-states, including African states, show that nation-building programs seldom ensured equal respect for and equal representation by all ethnic groups within the state. What actually happens is the ongoing legitimation of the moral authority of the dominant group through an ongoing reification of their values and beliefs and expectations for behavior over those of other groups (Toland 1993:4). This means that the governments of nation states usually fail to take into account the interests of all their citizens. Despite the UN Charter which explicitly recognises the right of ‘peoples’ to self-determination, the adoption of Charters of Human Rights by states and even attempts by the International Labour Organization, in accordance with Convention 169 of 1989, to promote the rights of indigenous or aboriginal groups in states (see Jooste 2002:16-17; 27-28), experience has shown that minority groups do not enjoy equal rights as regards their cultures, access to the resources of the state or legal and other protection by the organs of the state (Khatami 1993:25).

Because of forced assimilation of the constituent ethnic groups in nation-states (often one of the aims of nation-building programs), deprivation of their liberty and access to the resources of their country, minority groups often have no choice but to mobilise themselves to enforce a better deal. Such mobilisation frequently results in tension, conflict, even bloodshed, and always uncertainty about the future. Horowitz (1985:xii) pointed out that about one third of the world’s nation states encountered some form of ethnic conflict. He also indicated that ethnic conflict and hostilities had claimed more than 10 million lives in the period between the Second World War and the middle of 1980s, approximately the same number of people who lost their lives in the First World War (Ensiklopedie van die Wêreld, Part 10, 1977: 535).

In South Africa, funding for the Forum of the Indigenous Peoples of Africa Co-ordinating Committee (IPACC) and the Volkstaatraad by the newly-elected ANC government, gave rise to expectations of some measure of self-determination. However, these expectations are increasingly being countered by provisions in the Constitution and by policy and statutory measures to enforce equality and to prohibit discrimination. Because of this dualistic policy of the government and the uncertainty that the application of its policy has created among minority groups in South Africa, people such as those in Orania and Kleinfontein near Pretoria in the Gauteng Province of South Africa see no alternative but to establish their own form of autonomy, however rudimentary, in an area which they purchased themselves.

The reality of the renewed interest in and the revival of ethnicity have been explained variously by scientists. What became apparent from the studies of ethnicity is that its roots lie deeper than for instance in class stratification or membership of a biological population. Instead they are grounded in culture. Hence anthropological explanations for the resurgence of ethnicity are often explained from a cultural perspective (Jenkins 1997:168). Three theoretical orientations or approaches have developed in which the phenomenon of ethnicity is explained, namely the primordial, the instrumental or situational and the oppositional approaches. Various scholars (see De Beer 1998; Epstein 1987; Van den Berghe 1983; Van Vuuren 1992) have conducted in-depth analyses of ethnicity, which involve the abovementioned approaches. Suffice it to say that the primordial or affective dimension of ethnicity is embedded in the cultural values as well as the historical and geopolitical consciousness of an ethnic group. The instrumental or situational dimension shows that ethnicity is an extremely dynamic phenomenon that is used by the members of an ethnic group as a means to an end, ie to serve whatever immediate interests they wish to pursue. With the increasing contact between people in a globalised world and an emphasis on human rights for the recognition of the equality of all people in nation states, ethnicity is increasingly being used as a resource to be manipulated in the interest of people. Ethnicity therefore is often aimed at the maximisation of own interests at the expense of those of other people. The third approach, the oppositional, strives to develop a synthesis between the primordial and instrumental dimensions of ethnicity. It is in interaction between the members of different ethnic groups in the same state, fuelled by people’s primordial values, that the instrumental or situational dimension is explicitly manifested (De Beer 1998:35; 2001:108).

Another feature of ethnicity linked to its dynamic nature is its fluidity and adaptability. Boundaries between self/we and the other/they may fluctuate and change, depending on ‘the context and on the positioning that people adopt in particular situations’ (Fong & Chuang 2004:19). This is also noted by Toland when she says: It is imperative therefore that we recognize the importance of ‘interlocking, overlapping, and multiple collective identities’ that may be present in the interaction of self and other, and we with they (Toland 1993:14).

Lastly, a community or ethnic group may feel that its sociocultural system, specifically its identity and values, might be threatened by the dominant ruling group with whom it co-exists in a nation state. Such stress is usually also associated with ‘modes of alienation, social and economic deprivation or political oppression’ (Barfield 1997:324). Through a leader, prophet or prominent individual, an ethnic entity may then react to the threat in a process that includes a number of stages, one of which is a mental process called mazeway reformulation which leads to organized changes and adjustments in the form of what Anthony FC Wallace called revitalisation movements (Wallace 1956:266; see Els & Coertze 1990:69-71).

Against the background of this theoretical contextualisation, the ethnic identity, management structure, political affiliations, viability of Orania as well as the views of fellow Afrikaners in South Africa about the people of Orania are explored and discussed. Viability can be explored along two avenues. One is an in-depth study of the economic potential of a region. This was not the primary aim of this study, and is only superficially touched on. The other is to ascertain whether the ongoing stimulus of the ideological conviction of the key role players is maintained. This element is dealt with more fully in this paper, although its central theme, namely whether Orania is a viable and sustainable undertaking with the potential of representing the dawn of Afrikaner self-determination and the realisation of the freedom ideals of identity conscious Afrikaners, remains uppermost. First, however, the methodology employed for the research project upon which this paper is based and relevant aspects of the history and vicissitudes of the Afrikaner people are given to gain an idea of the nature, identity and ideals of the people of Orania.

Research methodology

The study is contextualised in terms of my own involvement in the Afrikaner’s recent struggle for self-determination and my association with the founding father of the Orania settlement, Prof Carel Boshoff. I was, for instance, co-ordinator of SABRA’s youth movement when professor Carel Boshoff was the chairman of that organisation, a member of the executive of the Afrikaner Volkswag (Afrikaner Peoples’ Guard) during his chairmanship of the movement, a founding member of Aksie Eie Toekoms (Action Own Future), and a member of the committee that investigated the viability of a volkstaat for Afrikaners in the northern part of South Africa.

Members of the Orania community, former members who had left Orania for various reasons, a number of residents of Van der Kloof, a town adjacent to Orania, and various individuals in Pretoria, including members of the Orania Movement, were interviewed to determine their perceptions and views of Orania. The principle of falsification was applied in virtually all structured and unstructured interviews, and also during informal discussions.

Much of the documentation on Orania is contained in pamphlets, booklets and brochures issued and distributed by the Orania Movement. Papers presented by prominent academics, politicians and philosophers at the Article 235 Conference in October 2005 in Orania and unpublished material by scholars from the University of the Free State (see Steyn 2004 and Winterbach 1999) in particular, were scrutinised. They provided invaluable material in preparation for the fieldwork and interpretation of the research data.

The fieldwork was undertaken in two phases during May and August 2006. Apart from structured and unstructured interviews and informal discussions, a panel discussion was arranged to include senior members of Orania Bestuursdienste (Orania Management Services). Participant observation formed an integral part of the methodological approach. An NG church service was attended during Ascension Day on 26 May and later the hospitality of some of the leaders of Orania during a social occasion was enjoyed, where various topics relevant to the study were discussed and during which the body language of people when certain questions were asked, were conspicuous. Conversations were also held with people when going about their shopping, shopkeepers themselves, individuals who were encountered casually and with labourers and artisans while they were busy with their tasks. Insight was also gained about what people of Orania had on their minds when we were privy to conversations after the church service, at the flour mill, wine shop, coffee shop and supermarket. We were also taken on, and undertook orientation visits to orchards, agricultural fields, a dam and water installations and other key development nodes, inter alia by Professor Carel Boshoff. The validity of the information was tested, cross-checked and verified and during various interviews tested for possible falsification.1

Ethnic roots of the people of Orania

Insight into the ethnic roots and identity of the people of Orania as revealed in their symbols, national holidays and yearning for self-determination can only be gained by highlighting relevant aspects in the history of the Afrikaner people in general. This will also provide an inkling of why a group of Afrikaners are prepared to establish an undertaking such as Orania next to the Orange River in the Northern Cape Province.

The Afrikaner people in South Africa have their roots in Europe. On April 6, 1652 Commander Jan van Riebeeck, accompanied by fellow Dutch and German settlers and their families, established a refreshment station at the Cape for the Dutch East Indian Company. From 1688 onwards they were joined by French Huguenots who, like the Dutch and Germans, had fought drawn-out wars in protection of their Protestant faith against Roman Catholic rulers in Europe. These three colonists groups placed a high premium on their religious convictions and the expression of their love of freedom that became possible in South Africa (Fisher 1969:8-9; 22-30).

For the next approximately 150 years, until 1806, the three European colonist components struggled to tame the unexplored interior and to maintain themselves against hostile Dutch governments in the Cape. However, in their struggle for survival they coalesced into a new ethnic unit with a consciousness of an own identity based on Calvinistic cultural values and a sense of freedom to determine their own destiny as Afrikaners, the name they adopted for themselves during this period. Their language, Afrikaans, developed out of Dutch in the early 18th century. Their revolt against Dutch East India Company rule of the Cape at Swellendam and Graaf-Reinet in 1795 was an expression of their new-found consciousness as Afrikaners to pursue their own interests (Bruwer 1988:33-118; Van Jaarsveld 1969:49-50).

Another feature that developed some time after the settlement by the colonists at the Cape was an unwillingness to intermarry with the indigenous Khoe-Khoen or with their liberated slaves or to assimilate them in the emerging Afrikaner society. According to Omer-Cooper (1989:30): “As early as 1685 Commander van Rheede prohibited marriages between Europeans and freed slaves without European blood even if they were Christians”. This can be ascribed mainly to the physical and deep-seated cultural differentiation based on the different norms that were discernible between the colonists and the indigenous Khoe-Khoen, and later also the Bantu-speakers (see Van Jaarsveld 1969: 44-45). Physical differences, therefore, became a label for cultural differentiation. In the process, colour-consciousness and later racial prejudice developed among Afrikaners and other Whites in South Africa towards Blacks and Coloured people (Coertze 1983:95-107; Jooste 1979:318-324; Van Jaarsveld 1969:30-31).

Their consciousness of an own identity based on Protestant Calvinistic values, their strong sense of freedom and unwillingness to assimilate indigenous people into their ranks, became determining factors in Afrikaners’ resistance against forced Anglicisation after the British colonised the Cape for the second time in 1806. These three factors were apparent during the Great Trek, which constituted a mass exodus of some 10 000 Afrikaner men, women and children from the Cape with ox-wagons north- and eastwards into the interior, and subsequently, culminated in the establishment of Boer republics in 1838, 1852 and 1854 in Natal, the Transvaal and the Orange Free State respectively (Jooste 1994:47). The Protestant-Calvinistic beliefs of Afrikaners were strongly evident during the Great Trek when on the eve of the final battle at Blood River in Northern Natal on December 16, 1838, when the Voortrekkers solemnly vowed that if God would give them victory over the Zulu forces of King Dingane, they would observe the day as an anniversary in His Honour ever after.

The resistance against British interference in the internal affairs of the Orange Free State and the Zuid-Afrikaansche Republiek, and particularly the two wars of independence that were fought against Britain, also demonstrated the strong sense of freedom of the Afrikaner. In the First War of Independence (1880-1881) and after the Battle of Majuba Hill during which British forces were decisively defeated, the sovereignty of the ZAR was partially restored. Since 1881, Majuba Day has been marked as an important day on the calendar of the Afrikaner people. In the Second War of Independence (1899-1902), the two republics were defeated after more than 27 000 women, old men and children lost their lives in concentration camps (Bruwer 1988:445). Afrikaners surrendered their independence after the Treaty of Vereniging was signed on May 31, 1902 (Fisher 1969:177-196).

In 1910 the four colonies, the Cape Province, Natal, the Orange Free State and the Transvaal, were combined to form the Union of South Africa to be ruled by a white minority. The majority of Afrikaners, particularly in the Transvaal and Orange Free State, still desired freedom and self-determination, and tried virtually everything to wrest themselves from British domination. In 1948 a predominantly Afrikaner government came into power and tried to find a political solution for South Africa. Initially the policy of separate development or apartheid was introduced. When the ruling National Party realised that the policy of apartheid would not have the desired results, power-sharing with Coloured and Indians was sought in 1984 to solve South Africa’s mounting political problems. This also came to nought. After negotiations involving virtually all South African role players, democratic elections were held in April 1994 which saw the ANC come to power and the end of Afrikaner control of South Africa. Jooste (2002: 51) comes to the conclusion that: “Afrikaners realized that freedom of South Africa’s whole population in one state would end up once again leaving them under foreign domination, but in the end they proceeded to give up control of the state voluntarily and peacefully”.

Orania as an Afrikaner ethnic community

Historical background
While the ANC was waging its war of liberation against minority white rule in South Africa, and particularly when it was intensified after the school uprisings in June 1976, many Afrikaners and also some English-speakers who had experiences of black majority rule elsewhere in Africa, attempted to seek an extra-parliamentary solution for South Africa. Freedom for them in a unitary state with a majority of black people was unacceptable and would ultimately leave them under black domination.

During the 1970s and 1980s political parties and various cultural movements (eg Die Herstigte Nasionale Party (HNP), The Conservative Party (KP), Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB), Aksie Eie Toekoms (AET), Die Boerestaat Party (BP), Blanke Bevrydingsbeweging (BBB), Die Afrikaner Volkswag(AVW), Boere-Vryheids Beweging (BVB), Die Verkenner Beweging (VB), Die Oranje Werkers (OW), Suiderland Aksie (SA), Afrikaner Vryheidstigting (AVSTIG) and many more (see Du Toit 1991:653 who indicated that one of his Afrikaner sources identified no fewer than 60-80 of such political movements) emerged amongst the Afrikaner people in South Africa. All of them aimed to regain the political liberation of Afrikaners in their own ethnic state (see Du Toit 1991:637-653). Many of the leaders of these groups often made emotional appeals to their supporters based on the primordial values of the Afrikaner. However, when the opportunity arose and leaders emphasised that the interests of the volk (Afrikaners) would not be served by black majority rule the instrumentalist nature of ethnicity also became apparent.

With the exception of the Conservative Party and the Herstigte Nasionale Party which were political parties, all the aforementioned cultural movements can be regarded as cultural adjustment movements (eg Aksie Eie Toekoms and Afrikanervryheidsbeweging) and even nativistic movements (eg Die Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging and Boerestaat Party), which had as their aim either the creation of more favourable conditions during stressful times of rapid culture change or were deliberate attempts to retain or restore aspects of their sociocultural system which were under threat. With the exception of the two political parties (the Conservative Party and the Herstigte Nasionale Party), all the other movements wanted self-determination in an ethnic state in some region of South Africa.

While these movements and political parties were contesting the size and location of the future Afrikaner ethnic state, AVSTIG (The Afrikaner Freedom Foundation) was instrumental in the purchasing of Orania in the Northern Cape Province by a private company of shareholders, Orania Bestuurdienste (Orania Management Services) for the amount of R1.5 million (approximately $200 000). Orania – with houses, shops, a hall, hospital, workshop and church, with streets, water, electricity, sewerage and sport facilities – had been established as a construction town for the employees of the Department of Water Affairs involved in building of channels for a water scheme in the Orange River. With the purchase of another farm in 1992, Orania covered an area of 3000 hectares. Recently two additional farms, Biesiesbult of 1700 hectares and Nooitgedacht of 4000 hectares, were purchased as part of a comprehensive plan to establish a volkstaat in the Northern Cape Province.

The purchasing of Orania and the establishment of the Orania Afrikaner community was the initiative of Prof Carel Boshoff, one of the most influential Afrikaners involved in extra-parliamentary politics in the 1980s. Du Toit provides the following brief profile of this man:

Married to the daughter of the late Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid, Boshoff was once at the centre of Afrikaner cultural affairs. He was professor of theology at the University of Pretoria from 1968 to 1988, and has been chairman of the Suid-Afrikaanse Buro vir Rasse-aangeleenthede or South African Bureau of Racial Affairs (S.A.B.R.A.), the Afrikaner ‘think-tank’ which… parted ways with a number of right-wing politicians. He was chairman of the Broederbond during1980-3, leader since 1981 of the Voortrekkers, an organisation founded to serve as the Afrikaner equivalent to the Boy Scout movement, and has also been a member of the executive committee of the Federasie van Afrikaanse Kultuurverenigings (Federation of Afrikaans Cultural Societies) (Du Toit 1991:643).

Besides these credentials, Carel Boshoff is also a respected person not only among identity conscious Afrikaners but also among South Africans who do not necessarily subscribe to his political views and ideals. Dr Frederick Van Zyl Slabbert, the leader of the official opposition in parliament in the 1980s and a prominent member of a delegation who had talks with the banned ANC in 1987 in Dakar (Senegal) about a political solution for South Africa, depicts his relationship with Carel Boshoff as follows: “Over the years we have had many public debates. Although we have differed fundamentally, our relationship has always been one of mutual respect” (Van Zyl Slabbert 2006:111).

Carel Boshoff became the leader of the Afrikaner Volkswag when it was established in May 1984. One of the objectives of the Afrikaner Volkswag was to strive for the right of Afrikaners to be free in Africa, and to rule themselves in their own country. In 1990 two years before the purchasing of Orania and four years before the ANC government came to power, Boshoff pointed out that: “The aim of the Afrikaner Vryheidstigting is to achieve by peaceful means Afrikaner freedom in a volkstaat. This includes research and planning by study groups aimed at the demarcation of an area for the Afrikaner volkstaat ….” (Du Toit 1991:664).

Just before the General Election of 1994, the leaders of black political movements and The Freedom Front, the only political party that stands for self-determination for the Afrikaner in a volkstaat, reached an agreement on “the right of the South African people as a whole... of self-determination of any community sharing a common cultural and language heritage, within a territorial entity in the Republic or in any other way, determined by national legislation” (see Provision 235 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa). On the basis of this provision a Volkstaatraad was establish after the ANC came to power in 1994, to investigate the viability of an ethnic state for Afrikaners. Sound research was conducted by politicians and academics from relevant disciplines, including Prof. Boshoff and some of his relatives. However, the work came to nought, as a result of irreconcilable differences amongst Afrikaner movements even though they pursued the ideal of self-determination.

The defunct Volkstaatraad and the disappointment of a lack of common ground among Afrikaners regarding self-determination, did not dampen the enthusiasm and ideals of Carel Boshoff and his supporters to achieve their aims and dreams. For them Orania had become virtually the only possibility of achieving Afrikaner self-determination in a demarcated area.

Many South Africans cannot understand why Carel Boshoff and his supporters were prepared to undertake a pioneering enterprise such as Orania. A succinct reflection on the identity of the people of Orania with due consideration of their ethnic roots will probably put their zeal for self-determination in an own area into perspective.

The nature and identity of the people of Orania
The nature and identity of the people of Orania are closely related to the history and vicissitudes of the Afrikaner which were highlighted earlier.

The majority of the approximately 500 people of Orania regard themselves as Afrikaners, Boere or Boere-Afrikaner. Some also identify strongly with Orania itself and prefer to be known as ‘Oranians’ as a designation of their distinctive identity within Afrikanerdom.

Originally though, settlers in Orania came from different walks of life. Some, including qualified and skilled people, had strong idealistic intentions and saw Orania as a means to ultimately establish a volkstaat for identity conscious Afrikaners. Others came to Orania to escape the crime and insecure life in the rest of South Africa. The lower cost of living than in South Africa also attracted many pensioners to the settlement. Also unemployed people, some with few earthly possessions, came to Orania believing that it is an Afrikaner haven or sanctuary where one would be protected and cared for by fellow Afrikaners. From the interviews and discussions, it was evident that there are those, particularly among the workers, who are rather sceptical about the volkstaat ideals of the majority of the people of Orania and the symbols that they value. The investigation also showed that people have left Orania because they were no longer prepared to observe ‘the people’s own labour’ principle and moved back to a South Africa where they are not required to do manual work.

Virtually all the people are practising Christians and belong to seven church denominations. Generally such differences are tolerated. However, the Israel Visie Church regards themselves as God’s chosen Covenant people, superior to other races and therefore should separate themselves from Blacks in South Africa. Christian religious days such as Good Friday, the Day of Ascension and Christmas are commemorated in Orania. This is done on an organised basis in the community and in the schools.

Most of the children of Orania are educated in two schools, the Volkskool (People’s School) and the Chrislike Volkseie Onderwys Skool (Christian People’s Own Education School). The latter is strongly grounded in Christian principles and therefore differs from public schools in the rest of South Africa and the more secular approach that they follow. In both schools the history and identity of the Afrikaner are emphasised and children are encouraged to participate in the commemoration of Christian religious days and in events related to the Afrikaners’ struggle for political freedom in South Africa. The Kenweb computerised self guided Afrikaans medium education system, which is also used in a number of South African private schools and hundreds of home schools in various countries forms an integral part of the tuition of the children of Orania (see Steyn 2004:13).

Where the Orania Volkskool follows a more open scientific approach and also exposes learners to the theory of evolution and the influence of globalised forces, the syllabi of the CVO School are strongly based on Calvinistic doctrines. These doctrines are absolutised in the tuition of CVO learners and the theory of evolutionism is rejected.

As is to be expected, a strong feature of the identity of the majority of the people of Orania is the premium that they place on their freedom and self-determination in an own volkstaat. Events in Afrikaner history, particularly during their struggle for survival and striving for freedom and independence from Britain, are commemorated. These days are Majuba Day (27 February) when British forces were defeated at the end of the First Anglo-Boer War on 27 February 1881, Van Riebeeck or Founders Day (6 April) when Commander Jan van Riebeeck and European colonists established a refreshment station for the Dutch East India Company at the Cape – a day that is regarded by the majority of Afrikaners as their origin in South Africa – Bittereinder Dag (Bitter-ender or Hardliner Day) (31 May) when the Treaty of Vereeniging which ended the Second Anglo-Boer War in 1902 is commemorated, Language Day (14 August) when the founding of the Vereniging Van Regte Afrikaners (Association of True Afrikaners) – a movement which fought for the language rights of Afrikaners during British rule in the Cape and Natal – is commemorated, Heroes Day (10 October), the birthday of the last President of the ZAR, Paul Kruger, and the Day of the Covenant (16 December) when God is thanked for what are believed by many Afrikaners to be His intervention during the Battle of Blood River in 1838 during the Great Trek. On these days of remembrance, the people of Orania hoist their Freedom Flag (Vryheidsvlag) and wear dresses and costumes with orange colours as an expression of their distinctive Orania identity.

Although Orania is currently nothing more than an ethnic settlement or growth point next to the Orange River in the Northern Cape Province, the ultimate aim is to develop it into a more comprehensive volkstaat that will extend from the present Orania westward to the Atlantic Ocean to have access to the sea and an own harbour. The support for the volkstaat idea even among young people, mostly school children, was significant when Winterbach conducted her research in 1999. She found that 68% of the young people supported the ideal of a volkstaat in the Northern Cape (see Winterbach 1999:102-103).

The Afrikaans language is the medium of communication in churches, schools, meetings and official correspondence. During Language Day the struggle for the use and recognition of Afrikaans is commemorated in an organised and festive manner.

Although not explicitly stated during the interviews, another marker of the identity of the people of Orania is a consciousness of their biological and specifically their Caucasoid heritage. Only white people live in Orania. One of the ethnic markers of Afrikaners in general which was also explicitly highlighted when the ethnic roots of Afrikaners were discussed, is their Caucasoid heritage on which they have always placed a high premium in a continent where the overwhelming majority of people are black. The fact that the people of Orania are conscious of their racial identity was confirmed by the mayor of Orania, Dr. Manie Opperman, in a paper which he presented at the annual conference of Anthropology Southern Africa in Bloemfontein in 2004. In the paper he stated that: “Race is not included in the Constitution of Orania although it is part of the ethnic identity that is reflected by Afrikaners elsewhere” (Opperman 2004:3). In his investigation he found that the attitudes of the people of Orania towards other populations (ie Blacks and Coloureds) who live near Orania or with whom they have contact vary from positive (45%), to neutral (40%), to negative (15%). From discussions with some of the workers, who represent the lowest socio-economic class in Orania, it is evident that there are also people who do not place a high premium on their biological identity and would not be concerned if Coloured people settled in Orania. A prominent member of the Orania establishment shares the same views (see Van Zyl Slabbert 2006:111).

Volkseie arbeid which requires that people should do their own work or should only make use of fellow Afrikaners as workers, is not only recommended but is applied in practice without exception. The Bo Karoo Training Centre aims to recruit Afrikaner people as workers in Orania. Recruited workers are accommodated and their social needs, health and recreation are looked after by a committee of the Training Centre. The Reformed churches in Orania look after the workers’ spiritual needs.

Anyone who applies for citizenship in Orania must observe the ‘people’s own’ labour rule. Non-compliance means disqualification to stay in Orania. The symbol of the town council of a young man who turns up his sleeves and which also appears on the local currency, the Ora, symbolises the own labour principle in Orania. This ideal is explained as follows by Jooste (2002:72-73):

The most critical issue is Afrikaners’ historical inability, since 1658, to do things on their own, without a predominance of foreign labour. That resulted in foreign political domination. As long as dependence in economic and other spheres continues, the degree of self-determination that can be achieved will be too limited to be of any significance… State formation depends on the will of Afrikaners to free themselves from entwinement through sacrifice, not by moving to another developed country, but by moving to their own land where development has to be brought about through their own labour.

Because of the rigid and consistent application of the labour rule, even staunch believers in a volkstaat have left Orania.

Some employers in Orania are accused of exploiting their Afrikaner labourers by not paying decent wages or failing to provide acceptable working conditions. One prominent figure in Orania commented that some employers do not treat their workers with dignity and have replaced their black labourers in the old South Africa with white labourers in Orania. However, scarcity of skilled labourers in Orania, compelled some employers to employ untrained young Afrikaners who come to Orania literally with only a bundle of clothes and with the expectation that Orania is an Afrikaner paradise where one can survive without doing anything. Some of these labourers are from the ranks of the lower socio-economic class Afrikaners in the rest of South Africa who do not conform with the ideological principles of the people of Orania. Amongst them were dagga and cocaine addicts who tried to smuggle the drugs into Orania. Many of them left Orania after a short while. Following these painful lessons, one of the aims of the newly established Bo Karoo Training Centre, in co-operation with the Orania Maatskaplike Raad (Orania Welfare Council) is to recruit a higher quality of labourer with the assistance of the Orania Movement and other supporters of Orania in the rest of South Africa.

Orania has its own medium of exchange or buying voucher, the ORA, which is complementary to the South African Rand. The issuing of the ORA is an initiative to differentiate Orania financially from the rest of South Africa. Various symbols appear on ORA notes, which amongst other issues reflect an event in Afrikaner history. An example is a pioneering Voortrekker woman with a young son in her arms wearing a traditional sun-bonnet and a pecan-nut tree that grows in Orania.

The ORA is an initiative of and was launched by the Orania Chamber of Commerce to stimulate trade within Orania. It is managed by the Orania Spaar en Krediet Koöperatief Bpk which is a community bank that operates legally as a member of the Savings and Credit Co-operative League of South Africa Ltd (SACCOL).

The Orania Movement
The origin of the Movement was an initiative of the Afrikaner Vryheidstigting (AFSTIG). The aim of the Movement is the ultimate establishment of an Afrikaner state in the western part of the Northern Cape Province. The present Orania can be regarded as the first growth point in the process. The Movement has a membership of approximately 1000 who are regarded as the ‘Friends of Orania’.

The Movement has a recruitment team that aims to convince people in South Africa and also Afrikaners abroad to become adherents of the volkstaat idea. They also approach people in South Africa to invest in Orania and are responsible for fundraising for the ideal of an ethnic state in the western part of the Northern Cape Province.

The Orania Movement has a research unit, EPOG, which is responsible for researching the viability of the establishment of an ethnic state in the North West Cape and also for compiling scientific and other material to publicise and promote Orania. EPOG also organises the annual HF Verwoerd Memorial Lecture, the aim of which is the recognition of the intellectual heritage of Dr HF Verwoerd and the development of South Africa. Annually the members of the Orania Movement gather at Orania to reflect on the progress in realising their dream of establishing an Afrikaner ethnic state in the Northern Cape Province.

The management of Orania
Orania Bestuursdienste (Edms.) Bpk, the mother company that is a private company, owns and maintains all the property in Orania. This incorporates a share holder’s company, Vluytjeskraal Aandeleblok Bpk. The latter company has a Constitution which states in Article 7.1 that once a person (and his/her family members) has been approved as a member of Orania by a selection committee, s/he, including family members, onderwerp ons… aan die jurisdiksie van die direksie van Vluytjeskraal Aandeleblok Bpk of hulle volmagtigdes (subject ourselves to the jurisdiction of the Board of Directors of Vluytjeskraal Aandeleblok Bpk or its authorised representatives). All residential property in Orania is shared and no title deeds are available. Full title deed, however, is available on agricultural land. One becomes a shareholder through the selection process. Any dispute between shareholders or between a shareholder and the company is referred to mediation, and ultimately to arbitration if the dispute is not solved during the mediation process.

A Board of Directors and a manager administer the Orania settlement. The manager is assisted by an administrative staff of seven people and a technical staff of six. Some of them are employed in a temporary capacity. The Board of Directors or Town Council annually elect a chairperson and an executive from its ranks. The chairperson fulfils the same functions as a mayor. The Directors are elected by secret ballot at an annual meeting of the shareholders of Orania. Each Director is responsible for a portfolio, sometimes more than one. Interviewees listed finance, economic development, security, social work, sport, education, and development and maintenance of the infrastructure as examples of such portfolios.

Orania is not a proclaimed town. With the demarcation of a myriad of municipalities, with its edge-to-edge approach (see Local Government: Municipal Structures Act [Act No 117], 1998), Orania was incorporated into the Tembelihle municipality, which includes the towns of Hopetown and Strydenburg. However, with the proclamation of Tembelihle, Orania was not listed in the documentation with the other towns. It functions as a Representative Transitional Council in the Northern Cape Province. The previous Premier followed a policy of no interference in Orania’s internal affairs and consensus politics was the approach in deliberations with Orania. At this stage it appears that two years into her term of office, the new Premier is following the same approach.

With regard to the democratic political order in the Province, Orania constitutes a voting district together with a number of farms in one of the wards in the Hopetown District. Since the ANC became the government in 1994, the Freedom Front has held a seat in the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature on the basis of proportional representation. The seat is currently held by Carel IV Boshoff, a son of Prof Carel Boshoff.

The majority of the people of Orania who participate in party politics are members of the Freedom Front, the only political party in the South African Parliament that supports the idea of self-determination for the Afrikaners. However, in June 2006 a branch (with 37 members) of the Democratic Party, the official opposition in the South African Parliament, was established in Orania. The DP is opposed to the idea of an ethnic state for the Afrikaner. It would, however, be wrong to ascribe the establishment of a DP branch in Orania to ideological differences. A number of people interviewed indicated that the establishment of a DP branch is more an expression of their resentment with the manner in which they are sidelined when they raise legitimate queries and identify problems regarding the management of Orania during shareholders’ meetings.

Because of discontentment, the last number of years, schism has developed among the people of Orania. Members of Orania Bestuursdienste and some of their allies are accused of clique-forming and monopolistic control by means of proxy votes during shareholders’ meetings. The discontented people who claim support of approximately 20% of the inhabitants of Orania, said that the executive of the share holder’s company, Vluytjeskraal Aandeleblok (Edms.) Bpk. and its administrative arm, Orania Management Services (Pty.) Ltd. are used by Orania Bestuursdienste to maintain their monopolistic control of Orania. They alleged that these organisations manipulate the granting of water rights to private owners of pecan nut and olive tree orchards and lucerne fields as well as the purchasing of grazing land for the benefit of family members and friends. Members of Orania Bestuursdienste and their allies, in turn, pointed out that people of the opposing party often do not observe the rules contained in the Constitution of Orania if their interests are affected, and deem their own interests to be more important than the ideals and principles contained in the Constitution of Orania. The research in Orania and interviews with members of the Orania Movement and a few people who have left Orania, provide evidence of furthering of self interest on both sides.

Economic viability of Orania
Orania Management Services bought the town with a basic but dilapidated infrastructure from the Department of Water Affairs. From that simple beginning in 1991, Orania has developed gradually to more than just another rural town and in the process has created and established various services (infrastructural, medical and geriatric) and cultural institutions (musea, library, a Council of Social Welfare [OMR], and a Cultural Council [OKeR]) that serve the cultural and artistic needs and interests of the people of Orania. Furthermore, it has its own Tourism Council and showgrounds, while Orania is also a proclaimed conservation area.

Regarding the financial and economic viability of Orania, the more than fifty businesses and undertakings are represented in the Orania Chamber of Commerce. These businesses include a flour mill which provides employment for 15 Oranians and exports its entire production to Namibia and Angola. There are also supermarkets and shops, an engineering firm, brickworks, a beauty salon, a truck and tractor business and various home industries (ie jewellery design and manufacturing),

As a community that strives for self-sufficiency, agriculture is the backbone of the economy of Orania. Pecan and almond nut and olive orchards, irrigated with water from the Orange River, have been cultivated since shortly after the establishment of Orania on approximately 500 hectares of irrigation land. Cultivation of lucerne is also done on a small scale (Du Plessis nd).

According to Van Zyl Slabbert (2006:112): “Orania is a model of self-sustaining rural development. If there could be a dozen Orania-type settlements in the Northwest and Eastern Cape, they would make a serious dent in rural poverty in South Africa”.

In his assessment of the economic sustainability of Orania in comparison with that of Philippolis, another town in the in Northern Cape Province, Steyn (2004:20) of the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of the Free State concluded that:

Two different mindsets work in these two towns. In Orania self help within a Christian Nationalist Worldview is the driving force, while in Philippolis depending on government or other institutions like the University of the Free State are the initiators to start projects…. In Orania highly skilled people initiate projects. They do it with their own money and are responsible to make it work. In Philippolis on the other hand … managing skills are clearly needed because without good financial planning the capital for continuous purchasing of essential material might terminate a project.

Daily life and quality of life in Orania
Living in Orania is not only about the striving for self-determination in an own area, supporting Afrikaner ideals, symbols and institutions and viability to earn a living. It is also a practical day-to-day experience.

The leisurely way people go about their daily tasks, the way they have time to listen to commonplace discussions, about everyday pleasures and sorrows of people and even converse with strangers such as the researchers, were conspicuous. Children play in the streets till well after dark. It appears as if the only danger that small children in Orania have is to safely cross the main tarred road from Van Der Kloof to Hope Town that passes through the residential part of Orania.

Many people commented positively on their increased quality of life and the safety in Orania. On account of this higher security, Orania is a popular place for truckers to stay over at night. They usually sleep next to the road in their trucks after buying food supplies from the modern supermarket nearby. The butcher and his assistant emphasised how highly they value the safety situation in Orania. Because he has no fear of walking to the butchery at any time of the day or night, the assistant came out of early retirement to work again in Orania.

Parents divide housework between themselves. Usually they are assisted by their children after they come back from school. This contrasts with the situation in South Africa where daily domestic work is usually done by domestic workers from outside. Family members indicated that doing one’s own work enhances productivity and also saves the money necessary to pay for hired labour. They also emphasised that a complementary approach to work creates a close bond and a team spirit among them.

People in Orania have the same needs and wants as people elsewhere in South Africa and further afield. During weekends discos are held at which young people dance to popular music as well as traditional Afrikaans music (Boeremusiek). Catching fish in the Orange River is a popular leisure activity for young and old people. A badminton and pool club also provide recreation and entertainment. Every Friday evening films are shown for the entertainment of particularly school children. Many people, the elderly in particular, also enjoy walks and exercise on the hiking trails of Orania. Bushman rock art that dates back to the Stone Age can be seen on some of these trails.

Young people find it irksome that some members of management attempt to prescribe their moral behaviour. A young labourer mentioned that a visiting girlfriend was told where to stay. Others dislike being told that they should not listen to loud music and that they should tone down their boisterous behaviour when watching a rugby game on television.

Perceptions of Orania
On the whole many Afrikaners in South Africa have negative perceptions of Orania. They regard the establishment of Orania, four years before a democratic South Africa under ANC rule became a reality in 1994, as an impracticable pipe dream of a tiny group of Afrikaners who wished to escape the demands of a non-racial South Africa under black majority rule. They therefore regard the majority of Orania’s people as racists who wish to isolate themselves from a globalised world.

Another view is that Orania is a retrogressive step back into the past. When one of the ORA notes for instance was shown to some interviewees, they indicated that they no longer identify with the symbol of a woman with a traditional Voortrekker sun-bonnet on the ORA. Others said that Orania, for political and economic reasons in particular, will not develop into a full-fledged ethnic state that will provide sufficient employment and other opportunities for Afrikaners to enable them to maintain their current living standards. It is believed that the impact of globalisation is so great that the people of Orania, just like the Amish in Pennsylvania in the USA (see Seitz 1987:20), will be unable to withstand these forces, inter alia, because they do not make adequate provision in their vision to stem the tide of globalisation. It is also evident that the majority of Afrikaners have become used to the idea in South Africa that certain work, such as menial domestic tasks and farm work, are performed by Blacks and Coloured people (see Jooste 1994:85).

Although many Afrikaners at least have sympathy with the idea of self-determination for the Afrikaner, very few of them are prepared to move to a place where they will have to do their own work and are denied the luxuries of the modernist life-style that they enjoy in South Africa.

During the interviewing of Afrikaners in South Africa it was evident that their perceptions of Orania are predominantly based on press reports and anecdotal information. The overwhelming majority have never visited Orania and are therefore not in a position to make objective statements about the Orania settlement. Thus a tremendous challenge to the people of Orania, and the Orania Movement in particular, is to put these negative perceptions in perspective in order to change the views of people in South Africa about Orania.


The paper highlighted the historical roots of the establishment of Orania and also focussed on the nature and identity of the people of the settlement. Besides these focal issues, the administration of Orania and its position and functioning within the Northern Cape Provincial Legislature, the viability of the settlement, the daily life and quality of life as well as perceptions and views of Orania, particularly as regards self-determination for the Afrikaner, among Afrikaners in the rest of South Africa were also discussed. The investigation also revealed and elicited the complexities and fluidity of ethnicity within the context of Orania.

The study of Orania showed that its establishment is a manifestation of a cultural resistance movement and reflects features of other nativistic as well as cultural revitalization movements. In this sense it is a continuation of the Volkswag as a combination of a nativistic and rivitalization movement of which mention was made above. Note the strong influence of Prof. Carel Boshoff as the leader who had the prophetic vision to lead a group of Afrikaners away from a stressful situation of rapid cultural change to an area where they can assert their identity and live according to a moral code that is based on the primordial Christian values of the Afrikaner.

In spite of the accentuation of the primordial values of the Afrikaner in Orania, one was rather amazed to observe contradictions, fluidity and the manifestation of self-interest in circumstances where a way of life is maintained with predominantly homogenous cultural features. The field research in Orania revealed the continuous interplay between the primordial and instrumentalist dimensions of ethnicity as strong driving forces that permeate the management and activities of the settlement, and at the same time reflecting the fluidity and contradictions inherent in the phenomenon of ethnicity. Similar contradictions are also apparent in contemporary South African society where the ruling party as well as provisions in the Constitution, prescribe and promote a society based on equality, human dignity and non-discrimination. However, these noble principles and ideals are not fully pursued and applied by the present ANC government. In the implementation of its policy, affirmative action in the workplace and sport quotas based on racial grounds prevail. In addition mention was also recently made of the possibility of bringing back the racial classification system to redress inequalities of the past. This state of affairs has compelled Dr Frederick Van Zyl Slabbert, the former leader of the official opposition during the time of apartheid and a person with liberal political orientations, recently to say: “If you make yourself and others hostage to a racist past you budget generously for a racist future” (Van Zyl Slabbert 2006:8).

Lastly the question should be answered whether Orania is a futile exercise or will it succeed in establishing a viable ethnic state for Afrikaners in the western part of the Northern Cape Province? The answer it would seem is that regardless of what has been achieved during the last fifteen years in Orania, unless significant numbers of Afrikaners are convinced of accepting the volkstaat ideal and move to Orania as a viable alternative to their position in South Africa, a full-fledged volkstaat will not become a reality in the Northern Cape Province. The negative perceptions of Afrikaners in the rest of South Africa about the Afrikaner settlement in Orania, suggest that the idea of Afrikaner self-determination in its own ethnic state in the Northern Cape Province will not be realised in the foreseeable future.


1. In an effort to enhance the objectivity of the research strategy, my colleague, Professor Mike de Jongh, the head of the Department of Anthropology and Archaeology at the University of South Africa and a NRF-rated scholar, was an integral part of the investigation and played the role of objective monitor during both phases of the research.


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