Orania and the reinvention of Afrikanerdom
Seldon, Sylvia Renee
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In 1991 a private town for Afrikaners was established on the bank of the Orange River, in the semi-desert of South Africa’s Northern Cape Province. As a deliberately Afrikaans, and thus white, community, the town’s aims and existence are controversial, but both its principles and practicalities are not unique. Endeavouring to build an Afrikaner homeland in multiracial South Africa seems incongruous, signalling a retreat from social heterogeneity as a fact of the contemporary world. It raises questions about what people do following a social, political and economic paradigm shift, and about what is occurring within a country with multiple and contradictory accounts of history and a traumatic recent past. It also means resisting the pressure to deal with the past, and therefore the present, in a certain way. Consequently, the frequent question of whether or not the town as an enterprise, or its residents, are racist, reveals instead a complex ordering of society. Life in Orania is filled with ordinary everyday activities of earning a living, raising and educating children, socialising, and practising religion in a town where Christian principles are explicit, each combining elements of intentionality and contingency. Once superficial similarity between residents can be taken for granted, the focus shifts to the differences between them, which rise and fall in importance, highlighting the circumstantial nature of group solidarity. This raises the question of what the differences within the community are, how deeply they reach, and where fundamental commonalities lie that prompt them to choose to build a future together. For the few hundred people involved in the enterprise, Orania is the only way they think they will have a recognisable future: they fear the demise of Afrikaners as an ethnic group through cultural assimilation or dispersal, emigration, and population decline. Their position of victimhood and vulnerability, shaped by the past, shapes their present actions in turn. Afrikaners’ interpretation of themselves as victims is easily supported by the popular historical narrative that Afrikaners have always struggled against outside authorities to be self-determining. This ethnographic study reveals that Orania is a concrete response to the fear that there may not be a place for Afrikaners in South Africa’s future, in the country to which they feel they belong and where their identity is rooted.