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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Whites-Only Town: The Afrikaner Venture

ORANIA, South Africa -- Their living room furniture was still parked in the driveway, but Chris and Ina Smit stopped unpacking one day last week to explain why they had decided to become the newest residents of one of this country's strangest towns.


God had appeared to him in a vision, Smit said. "I only saw his backside. He spoke to me in a telepathic way. And he told us to come here."


Other than his Calvinist faith, Smit shares another crucial belief with the 350 other whites in Orania: virulent racism. Only whites may live or work in this 3-year-old community, a bastion of intolerance that considers itself a model for a racially pure Afrikaner homeland in post-apartheid South Africa.


In 1991, a Pretoria newspaper advertised a "town for sale." It was deep in the rocky Karroo badlands, more than 1000 kilometers away to the southwest -- some 150 prefabricated homes, plus churches, shops and schools, built for engineers and workers who had built nearby dams and canals. The nearest neighbor was 40 kilometers away.


Carel Boshoff, a professor and former missionary, decided Orania could be the nucleus of a volkstaat or people's state. All he had to do was persuade whites to move to one of the country's most desolate, thinly populated areas. He and 30 other Afrikaners pooled their money and bought the tumbledown, tumbleweed town for $567,000.


The self-described pioneers probably would be called zealots and misfits anywhere else. But Orania is in South Africa's spotlight as right-wing separatists increasingly threaten to sabotage the country's first all-race elections unless they are allowed to secede and create an independent state for whites.


Both President F. W. de Klerk and African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela have insisted they will not dismember the country. But both men recently agreed to establish a parliamentary panel after the election to consider allowing a volkstaat, so long as other races have equal rights there.


Once the Afrikaners owned the town, they could make the rules. The first was revolutionary: To keep blacks out, whites would have to do all the work, sweeping streets, cleaning toilets and toiling in the hot sun in a land where manual labor always was reserved for poorly paid blacks.


"We started this town as an example, an experiment to demonstrate to the Afrikaner that he can do his own work," said Boshoff's wife, Anna, the daughter of South Africa's most infamous prime minister, Hendrik Verwoerd, the architect of apartheid who was stabbed to death in parliament in 1966. Still, Afrikaners are a fractious lot, and many of those who moved to Orania hoping to glimpse the future have been disappointed by the class and religious schisms that divide the community.


Open class conflict divides middle-class whites who live on a hill, complete with tennis courts and pool, from lower-class whites who do most of the work. And no fewer than seven churches and sects, differing on such theological issues as whether blacks have souls and go to heaven, ensure that Orania may have created more problems than it has solved for its Afrikaner inhabitants.