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WATCH: A look inside Orania, South Africa’s whites-only town

Nestled in the Karoo, a semi-desert area lost in the middle of South Africa, its population Orania’s population increased almost tenfold since it was founded thirty years ago.

Orania has a population of 2 500 Afrikaners – descendants of Dutch and French Huguenots who arrived in the 17th century.

In this whites-only enclave – which was founded in 1991, shortly before the apartheid regime fell – people say they are not racist.

The residents say they want to live among themselves, in security, far from the decadence of the rest of South Africa.

Far away from glaring inequalities created by the previous regime.

WATCH: Orania, SA’s whites-only town

Wynand Boshoff, one of Orania’s first residents, said the town is “not racist at all”. He said Orania prides itself on having broken colonial labour practices.

These practices, which had reportedly been scrapped, includes “using cheap black labor for all the hard or menial work”, according to the town’s spokesperson, Joost Strydom.

Meanwhile, gardeners and workers are not allowed to live in Orania. In fact, most of its residents live in a parallel reality where black South Africans… do not exist. Or at least are invisible.

Orania origins

The 8,000-hectare site on the Orange River where Orania was founded was bought by the son-in-law of Hendrik Verwoerd, the former prime minister considered the architect of apartheid, and a few other Afrikaner families.

The locality, tolerated by the state, relies on an article of the constitution that defends the right to self-determination.

Orania south africa
Carel Boshoff, the son of Orania founder and grandson of Hendrik Verwoerd, poses for a portrait in Orania on 25 July 2022. Photo: AFP/Marco Longari

Its autonomy, which relies heavily on solar energy to avoid dependence on the vagaries of the national electricity grid, which has been strained by decades of mismanagement and corruption, is very attractive, says a 28-year-old resident.

Population growth

According to Carel Boshoff, 52 – grandson of Verwoerd and himself a right-wing parliamentarian – the town’s population growth rate is 17% per year.

Boshoff said Afrikaners dreamed up and created Orania to have a place of their own.

“Like the African tribes or clans. Here, everyone has a place of reference that is their own,” he told AFP, after his Sunday morning sermon in one of the small town’s Reformed churches.

Autarky

Orania functions in autarky. It has its own bank and currency, the ora, whose rate is equal to that of the South African rand.

Ranci Pizer, 58, moved here from Pretoria a few months ago. “I can express my own culture. I have more social interaction on the street, with neighbors,” says this former tax employee.

Annatjie Joubert, 66, a pecan farmer, also left the political capital in 2007 and enjoys the “much more relaxed lifestyle.”

Orania residency

Orania south africa
Carel Boshoff leaves with other worshippers after a service at a Dutch Reformed Church. Photo: AFP/Marco Longari

Residency in Orania is granted after a process of checks, including criminal records.

“It’s like a marriage; both parties have to be prepared to support each other,” Strydom said.

Orania ‘not unusual’

Sandile Swana, an expert on municipal governance, says that the creation of private cities like Orania is not unusual.

“You’ll see others,” he says, “but the specificity here is that they have chosen their own ethnic origin and culture” as a precondition.

A small, unassuming house was visited in 1995 by Nelson Mandela, the country’s first black president.

He came to drink tea with Hendrick Verwoerd’s widow, tirelessly seeking to reconcile a bruised and divided South Africa.

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