Encompassing an area of 1,221,037 km², South Africa is a large land-mass encompassing a variety of different linguistic, ethnic, and cultural groups. Situated geographically in the most sparsely populated region of the country, along the Orange River, lies the Afrikaner community of Orania.
In a recent interview with The Burkean, Joost Strydom, the Chief Executive of the Orania Movement, discussed the town’s future development goals: ensuring self-sufficiency and the well-being of Afrikaners within their own community, as the South African government proves itself incapable of fulfilling the basic needs of the state’s inhabitants.
An old construction town owned by the Department of Water Affairs, privately purchased in the 1990s, Orania is a community with much development to still pursue. The semi-arid location was chosen deliberately, as the low population density of the region provided an ideal location for Afrikaners to become a demographic majority.
The town advocates an ethos of self-determination and self-sufficiency for communities, on the grounds that the central government, has repeatedly failed to meet the needs of people in South Africa, and that the self-subsistence of organic communities provides a more stable political climate for South Africa, allowing for voluntary cultural interaction, rather than the forced integration of the Rainbow Nation.
The community’s intent is to create a modern rural city, with plans in the works for future sustainable economic expansion and community growth. Strydom detailed Orania’s plans for future community growth to The Burkean, revealing that around two years ago, Orania contacted professional city planners to plot a theoretical map of Orania’s future growth.
The extent of the city planning involved consideration for a long-term vision for Orania, with a sizable population of 15,000 inhabitants. A theoretical framework for future development zoning was established, as well as a plan for 500 new development plots to accommodate homes, businesses, and factories. The increase in services this requires is substantial as it requires a substantial expansion of Orania’s energy capacity.
Eskom, the state electricity provider, has been unable to handle South Africa’s domestic energy crisis, consequently people experience rolling electricity blackouts of 10 hours a day. Orania’s investment in renewable energy sources, such as solar panels, are an attempt at providing the necessary resources to allow self-sufficiency. However, the reliance on such technology provides the community with problems because of its expensive costs.
Plans to massively expand Orania’s solar farm are estimated to cost 60 million South African Rand, (approximately 3,225,000 Euro) if the community wants to reach sufficient capacity for electricity usage between 6am and 10pm without energy blackouts. Oranians are conservative in their energy usage, but the planned expansion is aimed at consolidating the community’s standard of living and energy access.
The maintenance of Orania’s infrastructure is an important role within the community. Orania’s technical training college provides inhabitants with the necessary education and skills to assist in community development. The industrious capabilities of the community have been demonstrated recently in a successful forklift patent designed and manufactured in Orania. Having just completed a project to introduce fibre optic internet connection to Orania, the community is not looking to upgrade its airstrip to allow for greater transportation of goods.
Orania’s yearly census recorded a population of approximately 2,300 in 2021, with a population increase close to 3,000. Strydom was optimistic for the town’s future population growth, citing the consistent annual population growth the town has experienced in previous years.
On the migration of Afrikaners to Orania, Strydom noted that the most significant problem is that Afrikaners are dispersed widely throughout the country, with their different living standards affecting their interests in Orania. While some Afrikaners from Cape Town have settled in Orania, the high quality of life available there results in comparatively fewer Afrikaners choosing to leave. Much of the Afrikaners migrating to Orania come from the more dysfunctional, northern parts of South Africa.
However, Orania isn’t any city, it has attached itself to a communal ethos that idealises the concept of freedom, and Afrikaners are encouraged to come not just out of economic or cultural reasons, but out of shared faith in the principles of the community. On the future prospects for Orania’s growth, Strydom argued that ‘We must get Orania in the people, before we can get the people into Orania.’ Meaning that the acceptance of Orania’s principles of self-determination and communal living must become a popular alternative to Afrikaners.
Orania, as a homeland for Afrikaners, has a number of amenities and cultural activities have emerged. Yearly festivals and public holidays reflect the Afrikaner culture, with notable holidays such as the Day of the Vow, the Treaty of Vereeniging and Paul Kruger’s birthday, demonstrating the community’s fidelity to Afrikaner history and its commemoration. A yearly harvest festivals, barbeques, and bonfires have become social settings for the community, as they remain positive in a county rampant with crime and corruption.
While the people of Orania are hard-working, they are friendly and enjoy a variety of social activities such as hunting, target shooting, and race cars. The community encourages fitness, with the town’s first gym having recently opened its doors. Rugby remains a popular sport in Orania.
The town believes that cultural communities must take responsibility for themselves and has therefore pursued its policy of cultural self-determination. As the South African government proves increasingly unreliable, other communities have begun to pursue similar policies, as recent diplomatic exchanges with African communities have been encouraged for the purposes of promoting ideals of self-sufficiency.
On the future adoption of principles of self-sufficiency by other communities Strydom said that ‘People have a right to cultural self-determination, but they need resources and motivation. We don’t want to make decisions for other people.’ Some communities may not have the motivation or resources to pursue a similar path as Orania, but the community understands the different political circumstances in which different cultural communities may find themselves.
One of the town’s goals is to increase its manufacturing base, however, the domestic economic failures of the South African government are a hindrance to such aims, thus forcing the community to continue its agricultural development focuses. Future goals for Orania include the development of an entrepreneurial environment which may facilitate the community’s growth. Strydom cited the need for more engineers and factories in the town to continue providing for the community’s range of interests but remained optimistic on account of the industrious pragmatism of the Afrikaners and their high degree of labour specialisation.
Orania, for purposes of local economic growth, has issued its own coupon system, backed by the Rand, which functions as de facto legal tender. Orania is still compliant with the South African government and uses the Rand for purposes of reinvestment into the community through the acquisition of interest in banks.
However, aside from the economic breathing room provided by the Ora, there is an added component of crime deterrence, as the coupons are only valid in Orania. In a community such as Orania, the symbolism of having notes with their own history depicted on them provides a sense of belonging and ownership to the community.
Orania perceives South Africa as ‘a community of communities.’ The Union of South Africa, as instituted by Britain, was an arbitrary imperial construct that disenfranchised the peoples of South Africa of local self-governance, a legacy which the South African government has continued to this day.
Strydom emphasised the value of natural communities and the stability they provide a society with, arguing that land either acquired through legal mechanisms or with a legitimate historical claim should belong to those communities which inhabit them. For Oranians, the hope is that their system may provide a healthier, natural alternative strategy to cultural communities in South Africa, rather than relying on a corrupt political establishment.
While other communities seeking to employ the Oranian model may not hold the same philosophy, the concept of self-provision is one which stands to become more popular in South Africa. Following the demonstrations of the riots in 2021, the state has become increasingly unstable and proved incapable of providing its citizens with the safety it promises them.
Unfortunately, the central government’s hostility to the autonomous rights of different cultural communities, manifests in the use of Orania as a political scapegoat during election season. While South African politicians use Orania for cheap shots and political obfuscation, they are obliged to address the state’s perpetual economic and infrastructure decline.
Strydom used an old Afrikaans idiom, ‘in every crisis there is an opportunity,’ to describe the community’s prospects for the future. Orania is a community making the best for itself out of a poor situation, and though the speed at which South Africa deteriorates will accelerate faster and faster in coming years, there is an expectation that Afrikaner migration to Orania will continue as jobs become scarce and the country becomes unable to uphold the rule of law.
Concluding the interview, Strydom reiterated Orania’s strategies as a multi-dimensional approach to cooperation with other communities and its continued infrastructure development. To date, Orania has enjoyed cooperation with groups in Flanders, South Tyrol, Germany and the Netherlands for purposes of growing their political support abroad with related peoples and fundraising for the community.
While Orania may be geographically isolated, it has many friends in the international community.