Afrikaners build a homeland against the day of democracy

March 20, 1992|By Jerelyn Eddings | Jerelyn Eddings,Staff Writer

ORANIA, South Africa -- In the dusty scrub land in the center of South Africa, a village of die-hard segregationists is still planting the seeds of a new fatherland for whites who reject reform.

Describing themselves as modern-day pioneers, nearly 400 whites have come to this desolate spot out of opposition to the emerging democracy in which blacks and whites would have equal rights.

While other South Africans are debating the subject of a separate homeland for whites, the people here are building one.

They hope to secede from South Africa as the black majority comes to power, and they say their plans are more urgent than ever in light of this week's referendum on political reform, which put the country on course toward a racially mixed society.

"It's very serious now," said Carel Boshoff, president of the pro-apartheid Afrikaner Freedom Foundation and architect of the Orania homeland concept.

"Our intention now is to concentrate very hard on accomplishing a nation-state," he said, While the "no" voters were only one-third of the total, it was clear that their standpoint is not to be part of this new South Africa.

"If they are forced to accept it, I think there will be a conflict," he said. "We would rather work for a homeland than use violence to achieve it."

Here in the semi-arid middle section of South Africa, known as the Karoo, the people of Orania believe they can put an acceptable new face on a discredited old idea.

They say their primary objective is to preserve the Afrikaner people, descendants of the original Dutch settlers, who they think they would be overwhelmed in a society with a black majority. There are 3 million Afrikaners in South Africa -- two-thirds of the white population -- compared to 30 million blacks.

"The Afrikaner has only got one option if he is going to survive. That is to find his own land," said Gustav Opperman, who runs a small bookstore here that specializes in Afrikaner history and memorabilia.

"We believe we have a right to be on our own," said Andre van den Berg, chairman of the Orania Management Committee.

Mr. van den Berg said his community believes that the Afrikaners were sent by God to the southern tip of Africa on a mission to spread Christianity. That mission cannot be accomplished, he said, if the Afrikaners do not survive as a distinct group.

The fear of being governed by the black majority has driven many whites into the hands of the Conservative Party, which advocates a white homeland and opposes President Frederik W. de Klerk's program of dismantling apartheid.

Despite Tuesday's referendum, in which almost 70 percent of whites voted with Mr. de Klerk, party officials said they remain committed to the fight for a whites-only land.

The African National Congress, South Africa's most influential black political organization, flatly rejects the concept of a white homeland or any form of apartheid.

The people of Orania are banking on the idea that they can devise a reasonable proposal for secession and that their town of 400 will grow into a white country, which one day will take up one-third of the land mass of present-day South Africa.

They have come from all over South Africa to revive an abandoned town, originally built for workers on a dam project along the Orange River.

Located 90 miles south of the diamond mining center of Kimberley, Orania is a privately owned village of prefabricated houses on small plots of land that have fallen into disrepair since the mid-1980s.

Residents of Orania insist that the town is not built on racism but rather on an intense desire to preserve their language and culture. But "coloreds" -- people of mixed race who share the same language and belong to the same church as the Afrikaners -- are not welcome.

"Some coloreds may want to be connected to Afrikaners," said Mr. van den Berg. "We can develop a colored volkstaat [homeland] next to the Afrikaner volkstaat."

But he said neither coloreds nor blacks would be given jobs in the white homeland. "As working opportunities decrease for the colored group and the black group, we believe they will go away," he said.

But 15 miles north of Orania lies the colored township of Steynville, and there's the reality that would obstruct Mr. van den Berg's ambition or turn it into a bloody confrontation.

"We're not going away. In every municipal area, the blacks are dominant," said Chris Ludick, headmaster of the primary school. "No one's going to move me from here, not even by force."

Allan Boesak, a prominent colored leader and ANC official, said the problem is that some whites don't want to accept a system in which they are not guaranteed to be on top.

"Democracy is democracy is democracy. White people have got to learn to live by the rules," he said.

"The homelands didn't work. You can't go back. This country is an integrated country in every way. Every single possible way of creating a small corner somewhere for whites would mean dislocating people, removing them by force, stealing their land once again. You cannot do that."

But Mr. Boshoff, the founder of Orania, a former university professor and son-in-law of the original architect of apartheid, Hendrik F. Verwoerd, clings to the belief that it is possible to negotiate a solution that allows the new South Africa to proceed without him and his people.

"We cannot accept the idea of a unitary South Africa with as small a nation as the Afrikaners in an open society with 30 [million] to 40 million blacks," he says. "The Africanization of South Africa is almost inevitable. I don't think it's possible to prevent a black government from taking over.

"The way things happen in a unitary state is integration, blood mixing, the whole melting pot. It will be the end of Afrikanerdom."

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