Harambee OBU chair Kehinde Andrews recently visited Orania, an all-White ‘African settlement’ in South Africa. (Photo Sabata-mpho Mokae)
By Kehinde Andrews
Whilst in South Africa I visited Orania, an all-White settlement, just over an hour away from Kimberely. Sabata-mpho Mokae, who arranged my visit to the country was keen to show me the bubble of Whiteness. He had been there previously after arranging a tour by the community’s former leader Wynand Boshoff. In the first sign of just how awful the situation is in South Africa is, Boshoff had recently been elected to parliament. Boshoff is the grandson of Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid, who led the all-White settlement, and 25 years after majority rule he is now representative of the people. In fact, his fascist Freedom Front Plus party also had 9 other successful election candidates, more than doubling their success from 2014.
Especially with Boshoff’s election there has been a PR charm offensive by the Orania movement, keen to solidify their legitimacy. So Sabata suggested that rather than pre-arranging a visit we just turn up and take in the sights. Bear in mind that Orania exists because it is private land, and South Africa is one of the most violent countries in the world where people have no problem shooting trespassers. ‘Brave’ and ‘crazy’ were some of words people threw out when they heard the plan. But Sabata was certain that we would be fine. Orania is not a place that needs bad press.
As you turn in, there is a large sign that says ‘Welcome to Orania’, but that was the exact opposite of what I was feeling. Dotted throughout the town are Nazi-style propaganda images of families and pioneers who are building their version of the future. Because I was flying out that day we visited on a Sunday morning when everything was shut for church. It meant that we missed the opportunity to be refused service in the café, and driving round the place was eerily quiet.
Our first stop was the former house of Betsie Verwoerd, the wife of Hendrik who is seen as the architect of apartheid. Since her passing, Orania has turned the house into a museum and monument to Woerword. Unfortunately, this was also closed so we could not witness the house of horrors. When I shared pictures of Orania on social media there was a chorus of outrage about how the ANC could allow this. But it is far worse than just ignoring the issue, they have condoned the all-White settlement. Maybe in an attempt to strengthen his ‘sell-out’ credentials Mandela actually flew in to Orania to have tea with Betsie, and gushed that his reception was like ‘as if I was in Soweto’. Let’s just say that the psychosis of Whiteness is not just reserved for those with white skin.
In all fairness, almost everyone was extremely polite to us, so much so that it was a little discomforting. The only time we experienced open hostility was when a car stopped and the man inside said we looked ‘lost’. He then proceeded to tell us that Orania was like ‘South Africa used to be…Safe’ before driving off with his family. Sabata drove us up a dirt road to see a monument he had been shown by Boshoff. Within two minutes a security van was speeding up to us. Even security was overly polite, when we explained that I was from the UK and wanted to see what South Africa was like he even let us take a photo of the security car and made sure we took his number in case we had ‘any trouble’.
The most troubling scene was the monument at the top of a hill overlooking Orania. There is a bronze bust of the town’s logo, a little White boy pulling up his sleeves, flanked by busts in honour of various male, Afrikaner heroes. I honestly dread to think what takes place in this shrine to racism, when the sun goes down.
Orania is not some relic of an old era, it is growing. They are building new houses and even a college with student accommodation. It seems like that what ‘South Africa used to be’ is appealing to many. Whilst we were taking pictures, our escort for the rest of our visit turned up. I had the displeasure of speaking to the Deputy CEO of the Orania Movement, and his defence of his settlement is all the evidence anyone should need that Whiteness is a psychosis. He started as he meant to go on declaring that he was an ‘African, with white skin’, and that an all Afrikaner settlement was no different than a Zulu homeland.
Apparently, studies have shown that people are happier when they live ‘with their own’ and they are simply trying to maintain their culture. Pieter even tried to argue that his small, eco-settlement was the solution to South Africa’s problem. The state has failed and therefore hyper-localism where everyone works and builds a community together is the way forward. Whilst he tried hard to avoid saying anything racist he was basically arguing that the Black-led state was corrupt, and that Black people spent the wealth of their government subsidies on alcohol rather than building strong communities. That’s why the logo is the white boy pulling up his sleeves.
Any recognition that the problems of Black South Africans were caused by the legacy of apartheid and the wealth of White South Africans was completely ignored. In his delusional understanding of the world white South Africans were the victims, and Orania was a haven for the poor suffering Afrikaners. He cited the removal of Afrikaans being taught in state universities as a loss they had suffered. When Sabata pointed out that Afrikaners were the only ones in country who could learn in a mother tongue other than English, Pieter shot back that English was the language of the colonisers. He seemed genuinely confused at why Black South Africans would prefer to learn English over the hated, and frankly ugly, Afrikaans.
To solidify the depths of the psychosis, Pieter complimented me on my t-shirt. I had worn a Malcolm X shirt with the words ‘Try Me’ written on the front for my visit to the all-White settlement. Pieter seemed to think Malcolm would understand, ‘Black pride is exactly what you need’ he said and likened it to the politics of Orania. If Malcolm had been president of South Africa, he may well have visited with a helicopter but it definitely would not have been to have tea with Betsie.
As we drove out of Orania, with a car following us to make sure we left, it felt like we were leaving a different world. They exist in a protective bubble of Whiteness, where they can play by the old rules of apartheid. On the way back to Kimberly we had to pass one of the poorest Black shanty towns I had seen. It was a brutal reminder of the reality of the situation in the country. The psychosis of Whiteness protects people from having to deal with their privilege and complicity in a racist system; Orania just takes that logic to the extreme. More troubling is that in a country that is overwhelmingly Black, with a Black political class that the place is allowed to exist. The sad truth of South Africa is that the whole nation is built on the psychosis of Whiteness, where the delusions have become the basis of reality.