Cablegate: Cloud Cuckoo-Land's Last Redoubt: A Visit to Orania

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. Summary: A dusty little Karoo farm town situated an hour
and a half south of Kimberly, Orania would be unexceptional
except for one thing: all of its 600 residents are white
Afrikaners. Founded on the principles of self-reliance and
preservation of Afrikaner culture, non-whites are not allowed
to live or work in the town, which is privately owned. The
town even issues its own currency, the ora. Town leaders and
politicians hope that Orania will be the start of a new
"volkstaat" (people's state) for Afrikaners. Nonetheless, it
was clear to Emboffs who visited recently that the town, with
no discernible industry or new construction, is an entity of
South Africa's past, not its future. (Note on the title:
Taken from an Aristophanes play, "cloud cuckoo-land" refers
to a system or entity that is wildly impractical and was
widely applied to apartheid South Africa and white-ruled
Rhodesia in the 1970s and 1980s.) End Summary.


2. Orania was originally built in 1964 by the Department of
Water Affairs for workers on a dam on the Orange River. The
housing was mostly pre-fabricated but the village itself was
quite well developed, with a church, school, post office, and
many recreation facilities. However, when work on the dam
was completed in the mid-1980s, the town was almost
completely abandoned and quickly deteriorated. In 1990, the
government decided to sell the town as a single entity and a
group called the Afrikaner Freedom Movement purchased it for
R1.5 million (at the time about $500,000). The town
officially opened in 1991, and soon purchased a large
commercial farm nearby for agricultural development.

3. The stated aim of Orania is to provide a haven for
Afrikaans and Afrikaner culture, which the town's leaders
claim is threatened by demographics and the loss of political
power in the new South Africa. Conservative Afrikaners view
the "volkstaat," in which Afrikaners do not rely on outside
labor or assistance, as the only means by which their
community can survive and thrive in the 21st century.
Orania, which has about 600 residents, applies these
principles to everyday life. All jobs, even the most menial,
are held by Afrikaners, and the town operates its own school,
medical clinic, library, and postal agency. The economic
base is agricultural, with town-owned farms that grow pecans,
almonds, and olives.

4. The Freedom Front, a conservative Afrikaner party that
holds 6 seats in the National Assembly, firmly supports the
ideals of the "volkstaat." Poloff spoke with Jaco Mulder,
the party's provincial leader in Gauteng, about Orania and
how it fits with the party's aims. Mulder said that while
the Freedom Front does not fund Orania, he described the
progress made there as "excellent" and thought that it could
be the basis to show Afrikaners that the idea was
sustainable. He noted, however, that he did not expect the
vast majority of Afrikaners to pick up stakes and move there,
but that he would be happy if he could get well-to-do
Afrikaners to financially support the community, "as Jews
abroad have long done for Israel."


5. Emboffs visiting Kimberly decided to take a day trip to
Orania on December 16, currently the Day of Reconciliation
holiday but previously known as the Day of the Vow. The Day
of the Vow commemorated the 1838 Battle of Blood River, in
which a small group of Afrikaner "voortrekkers" armed with
rifles defeated a far larger Zulu army, in the process
killing several thousand Zulus but with no loss of Afrikaner
life. The victors viewed this as a sign that they were
blessed by God, and the Day of the Vow was long considered
one of the most sacred holidays in the Afrikaner community.
Given that this marks the 10th year since the holiday was
changed to its present nomenclature, Emboffs suspected that
there might be some sort of rally or event going on in the
town. Upon arriving, Emboffs saw that the town was
practically deserted. All shops save a bakery were closed,
and there were few people in sight. There were a few people
at the town pool, and Emboffs witnessed a few backyard
picnics despite temperatures that hovered around 100 degrees,
but most residents appeared to be out of town for the

6. Emboffs spent a few hours driving around the town and
observed a sleepy country town with few signs of growth or
vitality. While there were a handful of relatively new
houses, most of the approximately 150 homes were clearly
refurbished from the original town. Most were well-kept, but
quite small. The roads, although in good condition, appeared
to have not been retarred since they were built in the 1960s.
Upon driving into town, there were several signs (all in
Afrikaans) for guesthouses, coffee shops, and other
attractions, but nearly all were run out of private homes and
not stand-alone businesses. The two major attractions were
the small museum and the home in which the widow of former
Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd, considered the primary
architect of apartheid, spent her last years. The yard is
strewn with busts of the Prime Minister.

7. Immediately outside the town center is a small shopping
center with about 8 stores and a garage. Although closed,
the town bookseller let Emboffs in her shop when she saw them
looking through the window. The shop was unexceptional, but
she was able to change our rands into ora, the local
currency. The ora, which has the appearance of glossy
Monopoly money, has pictures of plants, animals, and children
on the front of the bills and advertisements for local
businesses on the back. The shopkeeper said the bills are
printed in Kimberly. She claimed that they are proving
popular in other local towns, which also want to use the ora.


8. Although Emboffs were unable to interact with many local
residents and hear their perspectives, it was clear that
Orania is not a town on the rise. While clean and orderly,
there was no sign of expansion or new construction in the
town, and even the town's website ( notes
that growth is slow. Simply put, Orania is in the middle of
nowhere, and except for, as one resident told a reporter,
"old people running away from the blacks, and young people
desperate to get jobs," there is nothing to draw people to
this hot, dusty Karoo town. Even Carel Boshoff, the town's
founder and a son-in-law of Verwoerd, has told the press, "If
South Africa stays peaceful...then I do not think I will see
the realization of a 'volkstaat' in my lifetime." Given the
country's stability since 1994, and the unwillingness of
urban Afrikaners to give up their comfortable lives to move
to the bush, Emboffs saw no reason to disagree.

© Scoop Media

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