by Xoli Mngambi
Orania, Northern Cape
On Tuesday, 16 April 2019, the eNCA Election Bus makes its way into the Afrikaner town of Orania, in the Northern Cape. En route to Orania, social media is abuzz with people curious to know if we if we have our ‘passports’ or whether we’ll ‘apply for a permit when we’re at the gate?’
Others are more direct with their questions: “Will they (Orania residents) allow blacks to enter?”
Immediately after a live crossing into eNCA studios announcing our arrival in Orania, I receive a call from a senior leader of the ANC, but I’m unable to answer it because I’m already on the line with an EFF leader. My conversation with the EFF leader eventually gets to the Orania topic and his tone of voice changes. “Orania is overrated”, he tells me as we end our short discussion about the campaign trail.
Then, I decide to call the ANC leader whose phone call I couldn’t pick up earlier and the conversation with him is much more surprising. He wants to know where I’ll be sleeping that night. I tell him that we – my 6 colleagues and I - have just checked in at the Oewer Hotel, inside Orania. He responds with a nervous laugh: “Do you think you’re safe there?” I respond that we’ve been warmly received thus far.
For me, what’s surprising about the call is the genuine worry in the voice of a leader of the governing party, whose main concern is our safety as black people inside Orania. It tells me that the place is well and truly closed to the rest of South Africa. Even leaders of the government of the day do not know much about what happens inside Orania, or perhaps they simply do not care.
Tuesday, 16 April - The eNCA team standing outside Orania, as part of the Election Bus drive around the country ahead of the 2019 Elections.
On the night of the arrival, we’re invited to dinner at a nearby restaurant, by members of the Orania Movement, a political outfit. After freshening up quickly in our beautiful hotel rooms we head down to the restaurant, one-by-one. For the first time I’m a bit nervous because I genuinely do not know what to expect. My thoughts are that I have never in my life been rejected from entering an establishment because of my skin colour.
The other fear is whether I and the rest of the team will be served by waiters and waitresses here; I’ve only read about this stuff and not experienced it.
As I enter, I’m warmly welcomed by a white gentleman whom we later learn is the manager of the restaurant and at our table I’m greeted by old Afrikaner men and women with the warmest smiles on their faces.
As the evening progresses conversations are flowing and there’s laughter all around the table. During the dinner table discussions it’s revealed casually that the Cosatu Northern Cape leadership have been to Orania to “learn” from this community’s leadership how to “run systems properly”. Naturally I want to know whether these discussions are still continuing between Cosatu and Orania’s leadership, however, we’re told that the federation’s regional leadership simply stopped coming and the entire thing fizzled out.
It’s Wednesday morning, the team is raring to go as we prepare to explore the small Afrikaner town of Orania. We meet up with two leaders of the Orania Movement at the same restaurant we were in last night. After a quick bite, we head out.
This photo, taken during the eNCA Election Bus visit to Orania in the Northern Cape in April 2019, shows a gardener working outside a medical centre. All domestic and garden staff are white in this town.
As we make our way towards to the parking lot, a colleague and I notice a number of white ladies carrying mops and buckets, walking towards the hotel we’d slept in. A quick glance at the hotel, we can already see some of them cleaning the rooms. My colleague and I look at each other in amazement, because what we’ve read and were subsequently told last night at the dinner table, now rings true. In Orania they do not use black labour.
Orania Movement leadership’s Pieter Krige and Joost Strydom say they believe that the “use of black labourers for menial jobs like domestic work, gardening and bricklaying” was a major part of apartheid’s “original sin” and that’s why it won’t be replicated in this Afrikaner town.
FULL COVERAGE: Election 2019 on eNCA
Orania is built on three principles; own land, own labour and own institutions.
Driving around the area, past the shopping center, the Verwoerd Museum and Koeksister Monument, we notice a few white workers at a construction site, building a house in the unforgiving sun of the Northern Cape. This is yet another confirmation of Afrikaner labourers doing work “for and by ourselves” as the saying goes around here.
Another sighting is that of an Afrikaner middle aged man cutting grass outside the shopping complex of businessman Sarel Roets. The image of a white man employed as a gardener fascinates one of my colleagues so much that he asks this man if he can take a picture of him doing his work. In broader South Africa this job is usually done by a black man.
A sign welcoming people to the town of Orania.
Our first television interview with the Orania Movement leadership is conducted at the top of Orania Monument Hill which houses the statues of Afrikaner statesmen, key among them apartheid architect, Hendrik Verwoerd.
Wednesday, 17 April - The eNCA Election Bus team prepares to interview residents of the whites-only town Orania, on Monument Hill.
One of the questions I ask is whether Orania is the sole preserve of white Afrikaners? Joost Strydom responds: “Orania is a culture town. One of its first goals is to preserve Afrikaner culture.”
I pose the question differently, seeking clarity on whether or not Orania is a non-racial community and if so, why are there only white Afrikaners in the community? Joost replies: “Well, to be honest, I have never met a black person who wants to come and live here. You should ask them why they don’t have that interest.”
I ask Pieter Krige, if an Orania community member were to marry a black person, would they be allowed to build their home inside Orania? Pieter replies: “The official statement would be yes. I suppose that spouse would have to assimilate in the Afrikaner culture.”
The eNCA election bus spent the night in Orania in the Northern Cape.This morning, anchor Xoli Mngambi speaks to Orania's political leadership, to tell us about the idea of going at it alone and whether it’s worked.
Politics aside, having explored the Orania town for a bit, it looks absolutely clean. The grass is cut, I’ve yet to spot a single pothole or maybe I haven’t looked hard enough. Even their gravel roads, yes, they exist as well, are smooth and less bumpy than I have experienced in Giyani and Mahikeng for example.
The municipal offices of Orania, in the Northern Cape.
The next interview is at the Orania municipal council offices. The entire council is run by just over 60 people, who administer council services to roughly 1600 households. Municipal Manager, Frans de Klerk, tells us that the Orania business model is anchored on strong institutions and accountability, and the town’s unemployment rate stands at “zero percent”. Orania residents pay their municipal accounts on time and are even double-taxed for services the community already supplies.
On crime in the area, we were fortunate to receive an outsider’s account on this score. Two local police officers, a captain and a sergeant who were passing by along the main road and stopped when they notice the eNCA Election Bus, told me that “there’s not a lot of crime reported from this (Orania) community”, except when criminals from outside steal “cattle or vehicles” from locals.
eNCA's Xoli Mngambi chats to two police officers about crime levels in Orania. The interview took place during the eNCA Election Bus visit to the whites-only town in April 2019.
My next interview is with two young people - Monja Strydom and Annemarie Hoogenboezem - who both had a taste of life living among the people of South Africa.
Monja returned to Orania, but Annemarie chose to come and live in Orania six months ago.
I want to know what attracted them to this Afrikaner enclave. In both of their responses they use prhases like: “there are so many opportunities here” and also make mention of the “10% [economic] growth rate for the past 4 years”. But they completely dismiss the idea of “reverse-racism” against white people in broader South Africa, saying it’s not what attracted them to Orania. What they are highlighting is the good quality of life and the happiness they feel in their community. Monja says she’ll be voting in the upcoming general elections, but she says her vote is her secret.
A property in Orania in the Northern Cape. The photo was taken during the eNCA Election Bus trip around the country ahead of the 2019 Elections.
Back to politics.
The team and I have been shown good parts, in fact excellent parts of Orania. I mean the place even has its own hotel which is run very efficiently for a rural town. We’ve been exposed to clean surroundings and above all we’ve not seen a single person begging for food on the streets of Orania, which means the story of zero percent unemployment may be true after all. Hard work is the mantra of Oranians, symbolised through their flag which has a picture of a short man, “Little Giant”, rolling up his sleeves.
But I cannot vouch for the “good systems” story of Orania, because this has been a guided tour of the place by the community’s political leadership. We’ve not been shown bad parts of Orania, if they do indeed exist. Having been on a mini tour of some of South Africa’s failing towns and cities, a question lingers in my mind, could broader South Africa learn something from Orania, if it wasn’t a political hot potato?
Orania's flag with the Little Giant, symbolising hard work.
I’m suddenly reminded of the community of Mnyameni, in the Eastern Cape Province which the Orania Movement leadership claims to be mentoring on self-reliance. I’m also reminded of the Cosatu Northern Cape leadership’s visit to Orania to “learn how to run systems properly”.
I put in a call to the head of Cosatu at national level to ask if he was aware of this visit by the provincial leadership to “learn” from Orania. Cosatu General Secretary, Bheki Ntshalintshali says he’ll have to check if such a visit ever took place, but the very idea of “learn[ing]” from Orania irritates him. Ntshalintshali says, “I would be surprised if the Cosatu leadership in the Northern Cape visited Orania to learn anything at all. I wouldn’t encourage my kids to visit a nude beach for example, because it’s immoral. What on earth can you learn from racist people? I can’t learn anything from immoral people because racism is immoral”.
I also put in a call to ANC Northern Cape (a Cosatu Alliance partner) Chairman, Zamani Saul, who also cannot recall being informed of such a visit. However, Saul’s starting point is that Orania is not even a fully-fledged municipality, “it’s a pseudo municipality. They don’t have a status of a town... [if anything] Orania is a tuck shop”, he says.
I question him, asking if he realises that Orania has grown significantly since its establishment in 1991. Saul agrees that the community has grown, both “in terms of its territory and population size”.
So what will you do as the democratic government when they come forward seeking a full status as a stand-alone municipality, I ask? The ANC Northern Cape leader replies, “There’s no way that a democratic government will approve a settlement that is based on racial exclusivity to perpetuate the sins of the past, we’re not going to allow that.”
Orania exists legal or not, I put to Saul. He responds, “Orania is simply a big farm that people there continue to buy shares in, for them to be allocated stands in order build houses. For instance none of the residents there will show you a tittle deed, because they buy shares in that farm through a business entity. If they want a fully-fledged municipality, at some point they’ll have to make an application to be zoned as an urban settlement. But we won’t allow a settlement based on racial exclusivity in democratic South Africa. Orania is part of a ward in the Thembelihle Municipality.” Zamani Saul issues a stern warning, “If they’re breaking labour laws for example, the Department of Labour will have to move in there.”
Scenes from Orania, where residents say they're preserving Afrikaner culture.
Our day’s expedition in Orania ends on a rather sour note late on Wednesday evening. Two of our team members who were stationed outside the Verwoerd Museum while the rest of us took a tour of the Betsie Verwoerd (late wife of Dr Hendrik Verwoerd) home-turned museum, were harassed by a passer-by who told them: “You know this is the last time you people [will] come here,” before driving off.
Then, during his closing after my live interview with the Orania Movement leadership later that evening, my colleague Vuyo Mvoko used these words: “That’s where we’re going to leave it for tonight. Xoli Mngambi coming through to us live from Orania. That enclave of white people, designed to be like that. And I repeat, black are only welcome there if they are domestics or they are garden boys. They’re going to get no other recognition from that community.”
The anger from the Orania Movement and the broader community stemmed from what appeared to be a deliberate challenge by my colleague, that black people are only welcome in Orania as “domestics or garden boys”, when in fact the leadership there had made it clear that no black people are employed at all in that community.
Immediately after the Wednesday evening broadcast, Vuyo Mvoko’s video clip of his closing to Orania, was being circulated and a copy was sent to the Orania Movement leadership. A threat of legal action against eNCA was issued at the dinner table that evening. Needless to say that the eNCA team went to bed feeling insecure about our safety for the very first time since our stay there.
The eNCA Election Bus next to the Orania sign, during the visit to the Afrikaans, whites-only town.
At 05h00 on Thursday morning, the eNCA Election Bus hits the road, as it has to drop off the Johannesburg-headed team at the Kimberley Airport, and proceed to Cape Town for the next leg of the country-wide tour.