On Thursday, 8 October, I visited Orania for the first time. I stayed there for four days, attending a Libertarian Conference. Orania was a revelation to me. I was enormously impressed by its success, decency, safety, modesty, friendliness, cleanliness, by its spirit of goodwill, by its egalitarian attitudes and, above all, by its prevailing philosophy of freedom.
I write a column for The Citizen newspaper, which appears every Tuesday. So on Sunday, 11 Oct, from Orania I wrote my 400 words on Orania, reporting what I had seen and saying how extremely different Orania was from apartheid South Africa. The editor of the Citizen, Steven Mutale, rejected my column.
He would not allow it to be published. Below is my account of this episode and my thoughts on Orania, race and freedom of speech in South Africa. I shall explain why favourable reports on Orania seem forbidden by most of the big media.
My travelling companion and I, setting out from Cape Town, entered Orania on Thursday afternoon at a slow pace in my 1984 Suzuki SJ410 (which is incapable of a fast pace). Orania lies on the south bank of the Orange River between Colesberg and Hopetown on the R369. Since there are no border fences we did not know when we were entering the area of Orania until we came to the town of Orania.
There, turning off the R369, our only reception was a sign saying “Welkom in Orania” and featuring the Orania icon, a little boy rolling up his sleeve, either to engage in muscular Christian good work or to defend the righteous against the school bully.
I am the least perceptive of men but upon entering Orania I was immediately aware of a mood of peace and safety. Driving to our accommodation – the charming “Aan Die Oewer (“On the Banks”) holiday resort – we looked left and right at the houses on our way. Some were Cape Dutch, some were steel frame, some were wooden but there were no mansions and no shacks.
Some houses were sparse and prefab; there were some people living in caravans; there were indications of “poor whites”; but there was no destitution. There was a spirit of simple dignity. The streets were clean, simple and tidy. We noticed immediately that all the menial labour was being done by white men and women: white garden labourers, white waitresses, whites cleaning the streets, white petrol attendants, and whites washing the linen and cleaning the lavatories.
Never before in my life in South Africa have I felt so safe. For the first time ever, when I spoke to Afrikaners in my appalling Afrikaans, they replied in Afrikaans (rather than looking horrified and replying in English). All the street signs, all orange, and all the menus in the restaurants were in Afrikaans only, which as an Engelsman pleased me.
We passed the famous Koeksuster statue and the Betty Verwoerd museum, whose simplicity matched the mood of the place.
We spent a wonderful four days there. The Libertarian Conference was the usual lively, argumentative and interesting event, which as usual came to no conclusions at all. I think “Libertarian” is a silly word but it has been introduced to distinguish it from the correct word “Liberal”, which has lost its meaning.
I am a classic liberal, believing in liberty, rule of law, small government and equal rights for all. The trouble is that in the USA, and to a lesser extent the UK, “liberal” means “socialist” or “illiberal”. A “liberal” in the USA believes in big government and state control. Naturally there was much discussion about whether Orania fulfilled libertarian ideals.
Orania was established as a place to protect the Afrikaans culture and Christian values. In 1991, the founding fathers bought 500 hectares of parched Karoo scrubland for R1.6 million Rand. Photos of the place then show a desolate, abandoned wasteland whose only redeeming feature was proximity to the Orange River. 24 years later there has been a remarkable transformation – perhaps unrivalled on Earth.
Orania now is over 8,000 hectares (80 square kilometres) and worth over R500 million. Just over 1,000 people live there. Efficient, modern irrigation systems have turned the brown semi-desert green, growing crops of lucerne, maize, almonds, olives and, for some reason I don’t understand, pecan nuts. Orania seems to have developed a niche market in pecan nuts.
It also grows fruit, vegetables and flowers in greenhouses, and has livestock. Its industrial centre provides for all of its water, sewerage and electricity infrastructure. It provides its own services yet pays taxes to South Africa.
It is acutely sensitive of environmental protection, and uses in a sensible way the best benefits of solar power, modern agriculture and waste separation (at our chalet, there were two rubbish bins marked “Herwinbaar” and “Nie Herwinbaar”).
The schools in Orania, using both traditional and informal teaching methods, have got a 100% matric success, sending their pupils to universities all over South Africa. There is essentially no crime. There is no unemployment.
I tried to summarise all of this in 400 words and sent it off to The Citizen. I made a big point of saying that Orania was nothing like apartheid, was in fact the antithesis of apartheid.
On 12 Oct, the Editor of the Citizen, Steven Motale, sent me this email:
I’m afraid this piece might be interpreted by many as a tacit glorification of segregation and may be highly offensive to victims of apartheid. I have therefore decided not to publish it.
Editor, The Citizen.
On 15 Oct, I replied to him as follows:
Thank you for the courtesy of informing me that you had rejected my column on Orania.
You, as the editor, have the right and the duty to accept or reject articles as you see fit. That is paramount.
But I have to say I am puzzled that you think my column “may be highly offensive to victims of apartheid”. In my column I made it clear that Orania could not be more different from “apartheid, an oppressive, racist, socialist system”.
President Mandela, President Zuma and Julius Malema (when he was in the ANC) have all visited Orania, and have all been graciously received and respected. None of the three seemed to have found anything offensive at all in Orania.
Orania has no exploitation, no coercion, and no black “maids” or black “garden boys” working for the white madam or the white baas. The whites do all their own menial labour.
Orania is a complete rejection of all the horrible ways of apartheid. I think it serves as a fine example to all nations in South Africa who might wish to have a traditional community of their own to honour their own language, religion, culture and values.
Please treat this email as public information to show to anyone you please. I shall do the same for your emails.
When I told a friend about this, she replied, accurately I think, that a white editor would be more likely to reject my column than a black editor. Why does the big media in South Africa regard Orania with such hostility? I believe I know the reason why, and I shall explain it, but first let me set out my thoughts on freedom of speech in South Africa.
Is anyone in South Africa free to publish her or his views on any subject in a truthful way? Of course not. Our newspapers and broadcasters are technically free to publish what they want but in fact a stifling self-censorship prevents all but a small selection of politically correct views from being heard. On all discussions about race, there is a large range of topics, facts and opinions that are forbidden. The great racial problems may not be discussed, even though everybody knows perfectly well what they are.
No newspaper or broadcaster is fair, balanced and impartial. This is humanly impossible. Publicly owned media should, I suppose, aim to be unbiased but in fact all of them are greatly biased, the BBC in Britain even worse than the SABC in South Africa. But I see no reason why privately owned media should even pretend to be unbiased. Freedom of speech depends not on every newspaper being fair but on every newspaper being free to write what it wants. As I said to Motale, he must have the right to reject or publish any article as he sees fit.
Why did he reject my Orania column? I believe most editors in South Africa would probably have done the same. The reason obviously has to do with race, the Afrikaners, their culture and their history of oppressing black people under apartheid. The fact that Orania is the complete antithesis of apartheid doesn’t seem to matter. There is something in the notion and philosophy of Orania that does seem to matter. I believe the answer lies in African and Afrikaner history.
The moral history of the Afrikaner has two themes, one good, one bad. Most of Afrikaner history is a struggle for liberty and independence. Their Great Trek was mainly in pursuit of a land of their own, beyond the fetters and humiliations of the British Empire, a land where they could be free and could enjoy in full their own culture, their own language and their own religions. They fought a terrible war against the British Empire for exactly the same reasons.
Afrikaner society, as it existed from the 18th Century on, was liberal, democratic and egalitarian – within their own ranks. Unlike traditional African or European societies, they had no royal families or deep class divisions. They were highly constitutional people who never experienced a coup or a civil war amongst themselves.
But on the other hand, they abused the black people of South Africa. Until 1948, their conquest and enslavement of native people was no worse, and often much better, than that of European people invading and conquering the native peoples of North America and Australia. In 1948, the white people of the USA, Canada and Australia, thanks to the annihilation of the natives through disease and genocide, were in a huge majority.
In 1948, the white people of South Africa, now lead by Afrikaners, were in a rather small minority. This is the complete and total explanation why South African whites chose apartheid and the others chose democracy.
Apartheid was nothing other than an excuse for white minority rule. It differed from the old colonial rule in only two ways. First, the racial policies and exclusions were all written down in law and brutally enforced. Second, it devised a moral justification for the enforced separation of the races: it said that unless black Africans were protected in their own “Bantustans” or “homelands” their African culture would be crushed and displaced by the dominant European culture. This is exactly what is happening in South Africa right now. But of course the Bantustans were just a cruel farce based on coercion not choice.
The rule of South Africa by black Africans since 1994 has been profoundly different from that of white Afrikaners from 1910 to 1994. One has been democratic and the other not. But it is the cultural differences that explain hostility to Orania. Both black Africans and white Afrikaners railed against British colonial rule. Both wished for own culture and language. But when they came to power, only one of them made their wishes come true.
When the Afrikaners came to power, they put a huge effort into unifying and formalizing the Afrikaans language. They set up schools and universities teaching in Afrikaans and, most critical of all, Afrikaner leaders sent their own children to be taught in Afrikaans. They tried to make sure all Afrikaner children, including the poor, got a good education.
When the Africans came to power, they did nothing of the kind. They made no effort at unifying black languages. They did not set up schools and universities teaching in black languages. African leaders made a point in sending their own children to be taught in English. Many seem deliberately to choose schools where most of the teachers are white. With good schools for their own children, they betrayed the great mass of black children with a truly awful schools.
A West Indian scholar, Lloyd Best, devised the term “Afro-Saxon” to describe the black African who yearns for everything British and European and is ashamed of everything black and African. Robert Mugabe is a prime example, showing contempt for black people and trying always to dress, drive, talk and act like a white Englishman. Afro-Saxons dominate the ruling black classes of ex-British colonial Africa.
The ANC rulers are predominantly Afro-Saxon. The louder they shout about African values, the more ashamed they are of them. A deep and profound self-doubt about their African identity cripples them psychologically, and manifests itself in resentment and rage, as you can read almost every day in the comment sections of our newspapers.
Whenever you hear an African politician calling for “African solutions for African problems, you know that by “African solutions” he means a German car, English suits, Italian shoes, a clinic in London and, above all, education for his children in a European language.
The African leaders who have these self-doubts and who want their children to be taught in English are painfully aware that the Afrikaners have no such self-doubts, are proud of their culture and their language, and want their children taught in Afrikaans. Afrikaner pride shows up African doubt, and this infuriates a section of the black ruling classes. This explains their anger against Afrikaners teaching in Afrikaans at Afrikaans universities.
At a Curro school (a private school) recently there was outrage because two classes seemed racially segregated. It turned out that one class was taught in Afrikaans, which all the white parents chose, and the other in English, which all the black children chose. Somehow or another the critics managed to see racism in this, but all they were really experiencing was African self-doubt.
This is the reason why Orania is so resented by the big media. Orania shows Afrikaners celebrating their own language and their own culture in a way that self-doubting blacks do not. This upsets the self-doubters. Politically correct white editors are acutely aware of black self-doubt, even though they would never dare to admit it or write about it.
If there were a black African version of Orania somewhere in South Africa, operating in the same way, celebrating the culture, traditions, language and religion of say, Pondo, Venda or Swati people, I doubt if anyone would have the slightest objection. Favourable reports about it would be published in our newspapers. It is the fact that Orania is Afrikaans that bothers the politically correct.
The big questions about Orania are over race. Does Orania discriminate on race? If it does, should it be allowed to do so?
There is absolutely no racial discrimination for any visitors to Orania, as our black libertarian experienced for himself. There is no racial discrimination within the community but the community seems to be all white. (I’m not sure about this and obviously cannot define “white”. Some of the whites looked pretty dark but then so do I.)
Orania is a private company not a municipality. To become a resident of Orania, you must appear before a selection committee consisting of existing residents. The two main criteria are that you must respect Afrikaner traditions and the Afrikaans language, and you must respect the Christian religion. A non-Afrikaner and an atheist might be accepted provided they fitted in with the Afrikaner, Christian culture.
Would a black man, a black African or a Coloured, be accepted if he spoke Afrikaans and was a devout Christian? We asked this question several times to the Orania fathers, and every time they emphasized there was no official race discrimination in the selection. But was there unofficial discrimination? Would the residents just feel that a man with a dark skin wouldn’t fit in with the Orania culture? The answer was always that that would depend on the circumstances. The fathers, I have to say, were charming, thoughtful, intelligent men.
If Orania in practice does discriminate on race for the selection of its residents, should this be allowed? Unhesitatingly I say “yes”. I’d say the same of a similar Pondo, Venda or Swati community; I’d say that it should be free to discriminate against whites and other races becoming residents.
Everybody agree that a degree of private discrimination should be permitted. When you have a dinner party in your home, you should be able to choose who you want to come, on any grounds you wish, including race. A Lesbian club should be able to discriminate against men and straight women, and the managers of the club should make the classification as they chose. South Africa has many organizations restricted to black membership, such as the Black Business Council. I see no reason why a private residential community such as Orania should not be able to choose its member (residents) on race.
Down the ages, thinkers of all political and religious persuasions, from Karl Marx to Ayn Rand, have tried to design the perfect society. Most practical realisations of these designs have been nightmares, with Communism being the prime example. Small religious communities have done much better, and perhaps “small” is the key to success. Another key to success is organic development on guiding principles rather than implementation of a rigid master plan. Orania seems to me a great success.
It has many of the attributes that all libertarians seek: liberty, voluntary co-operation, mutual respect among all, a free market, and a spirit of enterprise and hard work. The garden labourer lives next door to the business leader, with not much difference in their houses. There is dignity for all. The sense of community and shared purpose is tangible, even to insensitive people such as me.
Near the centre of town is “Monument Koppie”. It is a rather eerie little hill, especially at sunset, which is when we visited it. There on plinths are the busts of Paul Kruger, Hendrick Verwoerd, John Vorster and other Afrikaner leaders, including apartheid leaders. The busts form a crescent, all facing into its centre, where there is a small statue (about 400 mm high) of the small boy rolling up his sleeve. One must beware of reading too much symbolism into things but I wonder if the message is this: “For good or bad all of you men are part of our Afrikaner past, and so we honour you, but this little boy is our future.”
I should say that Orania does indeed represent an Afrikaner ideal, and does indeed embody the virtues of their struggle and their history. A rather good publicity DVD for Orania calls it “A home coming for our people”. That seems true.
I experienced one regret there, or rather one irritation. I hate the fact that in South Africa you are not allowed to put petrol into your own car but must have an attendant do it for you. This takes much longer. It is such a luxury when you are abroad to do it yourself. At the petrol station in Orania I was delighted to see a sign on the pump saying “Selfhelp Diens”. But then I saw a big “Geen” above it. So I had to have my Suzuki filled by an attendant, a white man of course. (A big jolly Afrikaner in shorts and a hat, who had no objection at all to my taking photographs of him; in fact he encouraged me to take more.)
Was this because Orania is making some sort of point about the need to provide labour for all? Not at all. I’m sure it’s just that it is against the law in South Africa for you to fill up your own car – and Orania is very law abiding.