ORANIA, SOUTH AFRICA: From afar, Oranie looks like any other small rural town in South Africa.
But once inside, the visitor is struck by an obvious difference.
Here, everyone is white.
And in a country where menial labor in affluent areas is typically done by black employees, white people clean supermarket floors, operate leaf blowers and harvest nuts at pecan farms.
The people of Orania are 100% white in a country that has declared the end of racial segregation.
The history of this incongruity goes back to 1991, when apartheid was on its last legs.
White Afrikaners – descendants of 17th-century Dutch colonizers – bought 8,000 hectares (19,000 acres) of land on the banks of the Orange River in the sparsely populated Karoo region.
Using self-governing status under the post-apartheid constitution, they created a private city that has so far admitted only white residents.
Today, Orania’s population has increased nearly 10-fold to around 2,500, and the economy is booming.
Older Cape Dutch-style homes sit alongside modern townhouses, separated by low walls or no walls, but manicured gardens. Children ride bikes and adults run free on the clean streets.
Small orange, white and blue flags – the colors of South Africa under apartheid – flutter in the afternoon wind on construction sites.
Sensitive to accusations of racism, residents insist they are not nostalgic for the apartheid era but a community pursuing “freedom with responsibility”.
It means, they say, a community that runs its own affairs, away from crime, power cuts, dysfunctional local governance and other issues that plague South Africa today.
“People see Orania and maybe see there are no black workers…and their first thought is ‘wow these guys must be racist’, that’s exactly not the case,” Wynand Boshoff said. , 52, a pioneer resident.
In wealthy suburbs elsewhere in South Africa, manual labor is done almost exclusively by black workers.
But Orania says she broke with colonial and apartheid-era labor practices.
“We do our own work, from gardening to cleaning our homes, from our own toilets to building, everything,” spokesman Joost Strydom said.
Orania, he said, is the only community that avoids “the cheap black labor system”.
Under the South African constitution, Orania has the right to self-determination and operates autonomously from central government.
It has its own currency, the ora, pegged to the rand.
The city is also seeking energy independence through solar, in a country largely fueled by coal and plunged into an energy crisis.
Potential residents are screened and must not have a criminal record.
“It’s like entering a marriage,” said Strydom, a 28-year-old born in the southeastern province of KwaZulu-Natal.
Potential residents must “share the values and subscribe” to the city’s goals, he said, insisting that Orania was not “racist” or “a desperate throwback to apartheid”.
Boshoff said there’s nothing stopping non-white Afrikaners from applying — just no one ever has.
“We haven’t found anyone,” he said.
Orania’s population has grown by up to 17% per year in recent years, and in 2021 new business start-ups have increased by a quarter, Strydom said. Tourism is one of the main commercial activities, attracting an average of 10,000 visitors per year.
“Suddenly other communities are like ‘how can we learn from you?'” he said.
During a recent visit by AFP journalists to Orania, some traditional royal envoys from the Xhosa and Tswana ethnic groups were in town for a “diplomatic” visit.
“It was important for me to go there…Whether rightly or wrongly, there is a success story there somewhere,” said Gaboilelwe Moroka, 40-year-old leader of Seleka Barolong Boo, who is of Tswana ethnicity in neighboring Free. provincial state.
“It’s a shame that these things are too politicized,” she said.
Boshoff, the grandson of apartheid architect Hendrik Verwoerd, argued that Afrikaners created Orania because they needed a home.
“Each African tribe or clan has its own place which it uses as a point of reference,” said Boshoff, who is also a right-wing lawmaker in the national parliament.
Orania “has become part of the South African landscape now”, he said after delivering a Sunday morning sermon at a Dutch Reformed church.
Private towns such as Orania are not unusual, said municipal governance expert Sandile Swana.
“You’re going to see more,” Swana said.
“The only difference with Orania is that they chose their own ethnicity and culture” as a prerequisite.
Another Afrikaner-only town, Kleinfontein, is about 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the Rainbow Nation’s capital, Pretoria.
South Africa’s first black president, Nelson Mandela, worked tirelessly to reconcile the deeply divided country.
He visited Orania in 1995 and had tea with Verwoerd’s widow. A white tea set they drank from is among the memorabilia neatly arranged in an unassuming white house where Betsie Verwoerd spent her final years.
Outside the church, Ranci Pizer, a 58-year-old former government worker who moved to Orania from Pretoria in December, said she liked having more social interaction with her neighbors on the street.
“It’s a community where I can express myself in my own culture,” she said.
A short drive up a hill is a collection of statues donated by people who wanted nothing to do with Afrikaner history after the fall of apartheid.
“Afrikaner history is almost criminalized,” Joost said.