Orania: the desert of Afrikaner dreams: Kajsa Norman’s thoughtful take on the whites-only settlement in the Karoo has resulted in the best piece of South African reportage in decades

Orania: the desert of Afrikaner dreams: Kajsa Norman’s thoughtful take on the whites-only settlement in the Karoo has resulted in the best piece of South African reportage in decades, by Stephen Robinson. The book is called Bridge Over Blood River: The Afrikaners’ Fight for Survival.

Kajsa Norman: Bridge Over Blood River: The Afrikaners' Fight for Survival

South African democracy has not, on the whole, been kind to the Afrikaner. During Nelson Mandela’s benign oversight of the Rainbow Nation, liberal Afrikaners persuaded themselves that all would turn out well in the end. But in their hearts, they sensed it would go wrong. And so it has. …

[S]ince the first democratic election in 1994, at least 117,000 whites have been purged from the civil service, traditionally home to poorly educated Afrikaners. Thousands more have been driven off their farms due to ‘land redistribution’ measures, and hundreds of farmers and their families have been murdered. Things are so bad for the rural Afrikaner that some of them are trekking off to central and west Africa, where their agricultural skills are actively sought.

Oriana:

[Blonde, Swedish and female, Kajsa Norman] visits Orania, a racially exclusive settlement in the depopulated fringes of the Karoo desert, set up in the 1990s by Afrikaners who wanted no part of the new South Africa. The really radical thing is that it does not allow even black servants; so whites do all the menial work there, which must be the only place on the entire continent where this happens.

Every foreign correspondent still based in South Africa goes to Orania to poke fun at Afrikaner obduracy. But Norman travels there and hangs around, forming bonds not with the dreary civic leaders but with the low-life characters living in the single men’s block. There she befriends a range of scary yet strangely endearing characters, damaged, toothless veterans of past wars ‘on the border’, and other drink-and-drug-addled Afrikaners who have been unable to cope since life for the white man suddenly became much more difficult.

Meet the new elite, same as the old elite:

Norman heads off to Mozambique and meets a genial young Afrikaner, Willem, who has moved to Maputo to experience the ‘real’ Africa. But as she soon discovers, the city has become just another place where ‘the internationals advocating for the rights of the disadvantaged often live as segregated from them as possible’. In other words, Willem and the idealistic young European, Canadian and Australian aid workers are as impeccably racially exclusive as the Afrikaners of Orania.

Who will survive longer, Afrikaners or Swedes?

Norman finally turns her thesis on its head. She recounts a discussion with Hermann Giliomee, a liberal Afrikaner academic, in which she asks him how long his people will survive. He responds by asking her whether the Swedes will survive in the long run, and she admits she is thrown by his question, but takes his point.

So by the end of this surprising book, Norman has set up the precariousness of the Afrikaner as a model for all the nations in the world which counter their low birth rates and ageing populations with mass immigration. The question is no longer can the Afrikaner survive, but can we?

hat-tip Stephen Neil