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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


SENEKAL, Burgert. The first 40 years of Orania. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2021, vol.61, n.2, pp.526-550. ISSN 2224-7912.

The town Orania is uniquely determined by the fact that it is almost exclusively inhabited by white Afrikaans speaking South African citizens - for the purposes of this article to be simply referred to as "Afrikaners". The establishment of such an exclusive enclave represents a unique and controversial phenomenon in South Africa about which much has already been published. However, no purposeful attempt has yet been made to record the history of this town. This article examines the town's origins and development from the nineteen sixties to the present. During the 1970s, it became apparent that the policy of apartheid would not guarentee the continued survival of the Afrikaner nation. Moreover, the policy itself was widely targeted as being inherently immoral, and generally viewed as "a crime against humanity". This severe criticism, while largely internationally based, was also expressed, in South Africa, by opposition parties, including critical views originating from some Afrikaner organisations. It was evident that an alternative to so-called separate development would have to be pursued in attempting to ensure peaceful co-existence of Afrikaners with other racial or cultural groups residing in South Africa. In this regard the South African Bureau of Race Relations (SABRA) suggested that Afrikaners could be (re)located in a dedicated area, such as a volkstaat. Subsequently, up until the 1990s, SABRA and others debated where such a volkstaat would have to be located and what it would entail. The idea of an Afrikaner town was first proposed in 1979 by dr. WM van Heerden and reiterated by the reverend HF Verwoerd, a son of dr. HF Verwoerd, the following year. Both had in mind a particular town, namely Orania, an already established town in the Northern Cape at the time, but neither of the gentlemen in question referred to the actual town itself, but instead preferred to make use of an overarching vague concept of "Orania", not restricted to any particular town. Only in the late 1980s did prof. Carel Boshoff of SABRA (dr. HF Verwoerd's son in law) suggest that the volkstaat should be located in the Northern Cape. Focus on the town itself, was kickstarted when Orania was put up for sale by the South African government. Orania was one of eight towns erected in the mid-1960s with the express purpose of providing housing for workers employed in the Orange River Water Scheme, a project driven by dr. HF Verwoerd to expand South Africa's infrastructure, thereby creating economic opportunities of growth. The first three phases of the project, namely two dams (at the time named the PK le Roux Dam and HF Verwoerd dam, now the Vanderkloof- and Gariep Dams respectively) and the Orange-Fish River Tunnel were completed, but budget cuts resulted in the project being terminated before the completion of all of the envisaged phases thereof - one of the resulting effects being the gradual relocation of employees from the early 1980s onwards. By the time the town could eventually be bought in 1990, with prof. Carel Boshoff as one of the driving forces directing the negotiations with various interested parties, it was virtually a ghost town. However, some squatters had moved into the abandoned houses in Grootgewaagd, the old Coloured part of the town. The eventual removal of these squatters became the first of many a controversial moment recorded in the history of the town. Throughout the 1990s, Afrikaners were engaged in a large scale renovation - almost a (re)creation, of the town - as may be seen in the establishment of schools, the maintenance and expansion of the town's infrastructure, and the creation of viable economic opportunities. In addition, from a historical-cultural perspective, it became necessary to relocate to Orania those statues of former political leaders that were no longer politically acceptable after the transition of political power in 1994 - particularly those that had been erected in honour of dr. HF Verwoerd throughout the country. Continuing the legacy of the late prime minister, Mrs. Betsie Verwoerd, widow of dr. HF Verwoerd, settled in the town, where she was visited by president Nelson Mandela - the first visit by a serving South African State President to the town. In short, by the late 1990s, Orania had become a functioning town again, although with a small population. Between 2001 and 2006 Orania's population grew by 0.4% annually; a figure which, by 2014, increased to 9.3% annually. This steady increase continued throughout the following years, so that by 2016, Orania was able to register a population growth of 10.8% with a population of more than 1 600, which subsequently, in 2020, resulted in a population of approximately 2 000 inhabitants. During this period of steady growth with regard to the population, the imperative of growing the economy remained a key focus in the town's planning. Firstly, beginning in 1999, Orania started a process of establishing its own bank, which was finally registered as the largest South African Cooperative Bank in 2012, titled the Orania Spaar- en Krediet Koöperatief (OSK) (Orania Savings and Credit Cooperative). Secondly, beginning in 2002, preparations were put into place for obtaining its own local currency, which was launched as the Ora in 2004, and by 2017, plans were under way to launch a digital version of the Ora, the e-Ora. Thirdly, Orania invested heavily in local businesses, and by 2013 the town possessed its own cinema, while the Stokkiesdraai Centre was opened in 2015, complete with shops and a restaurant. Tourism became an important economic initiative and after the first campsites had been established in the 1990s, chalets were being erected from 2003 onwards, while the hotel was officially opened in 2010. Besides economic initiatives, Orania also invested in education, which included the establishment of a tertiary education institution, intent on providing technical courses, by 2016. During this time, Orania also gained wider acceptance within the Afrikaner community, and partnerships with other Afrikaans institutions such as Solidariteit are therefore highlighted in the article. Orania also expanded its projects concerning heritage conservation, erecting various monuments (such as the Koeksister monument in 2003 and the Klein Reus [Little Giant] in 2007), or relocating historical statues from elsewhere in South Africa when these were no longer politically acceptable or had become otherwise unwanted (for example, the Irish War Memorial or statues of former Afrikaner leaders). Apart from these positive developments, the article also discusses financial failures, conflicts between inhabitants, the first crimes reported in the town and the outcome of the land claim filed by those who had been removed from the town in 1991. Visits by Julius Malema and president Jacob Zuma are discussed, also highlighting the continuing conflicts with the media concerning allegations of racism. In conclusion, the article suggests possible areas for further research.

Keywords : Orania; self-determination; Afrikaner; nation state; right-wing; minorities; Afrikaans; HF Verwoerd; Orange River Water Scheme; Northern Cape.

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