Under apartheid, homelands were created to isolate and repress blacks. Here in the crackling heat of the high bush, where jackals and antelope roam wildflower-carpeted mountains, some South Africans are dreaming of another kind of homeland: for white people.
Not just any white people, but conservative white Afrikaners who feel displaced by black majority rule and say their Bible abhors the racial mixing that is a feature of the new South Africa. They are moving to places such as Kleinfontein, one of three all-white Afrikaner communities whose leaders advocate self-rule.
“History has turned topsy-turvy. We’re reduced to a minority group,” Niel de Beer, the 65-year-old chairman of the Kleinfontein cooperative, lamented as he pulled up to 20-foot guard towers that stand sentinel along the red dirt road leading into the community of 420. “In Kleinfontein, we are a Volks, a small nation. Eventually we hope it will lead to statehood.”
As the heavy iron doors swing open against the sun-bleached high grass, it’s clear this is no ordinary gated community. It’s partly the way people talk, in a discriminatory lexicon no longer publicly acceptable in South Africa.
Monique Trollip, 13, says she was sent to live with her grandparents in Kleinfontein for a year “because there’s no blacks. They’re not allowed to take blacks in here.” Outside the gates, “if you’re walking the streets the blacks just grab you,” she said, toweling herself off at the community pool, where the fence is laced with concertina wire.
“We don’t hate the blacks. We just don’t want to mix with them,” said Johan van Emmenis, 45, the coach of an all-white boys’ wrestling club. “I’m a good Christian. God made black. God made white. It’s not up to us to decide why.”
Built by Whites
Even the buildings here, De Beer proudly points out, were built entirely by white Afrikaner labor -- distinguishing Kleinfontein, 15 miles east of Pretoria, from Orania, a wind-swept farming town in the northern Cape region. Orania, home to 600 other white separatists, was built by blacks, he said.
Kleinfontein gave the construction jobs to Afrikaners, he said, to help alleviate Afrikaner unemployment. Such unemployment was unusual when whites were at the top of the social pyramid. But after white rule ended in 1994, nonwhites became eligible for formerly “whites-only” jobs.
The transition “left the Afrikaner with nothing, no rights, no land, nothing. Now we are completely outnumbered,” De Beer said. “White men will never rule again in Africa. We can never have our nation’s ideals sustained anymore. Kleinfontein is an attempt to resolve this situation.”
Until white rule ended, the Afrikaners were firmly ensconced as leaders of the racist apartheid system. They aggressively promoted their Dutch-based Afrikaans as the language of the government and encouraged its use in media and schools. Their political leaders legalized the draconian policies that institutionalized racial separation after 1948, forcing blacks over the age of 16 to carry passes and, in the early 1960s, reclassifying millions of them as “citizens” of rural slums known as bantustans or homelands. Homeland residents had to produce papers to enter the rest of the country, depriving them of their national citizenship.
Such domination is history. Afrikaners have been reduced to a numerically insignificant minority of about 7% of the country’s 44 million people, and Afrikaans is just one of 11 national languages.
Now, except for this small separatist movement, Afrikaners who have not emigrated are trying to adjust to their new status, experiencing life in a more equitable multicultural society.
“I once asked a globalist Afrikaner if he would rather spend his time with a poor, illiterate Afrikaner or an educated, intellectual black person,” De Beer said. “He chose the intellectual black person.
“I’d rather spend an entire day with an illiterate Afrikaner, because we have religion, culture, language, history. These are the binding forces at Kleinfontein. It’s such a homogeneous population. We all look alike, we all think alike,” he said.
“If people are white,” said Jaap Diedericks, manager of the Afrikaner Radio Pretoria, which transmits from Kleinfontein, “they should have the freedom to pursue their ambition of staying white.”
In the new South Africa, such talk inspires more ridicule than outrage. Sunday Times columnist Max du Preez termed the communities “sustainable racism” orchestrated by “right-wing Afrikaner fundamentalists,” and suggested taking “buses full of tourists to look at these peculiar relics from the past.” A parliamentary staffer observed with a grin that the communities have “finally perfected racial purity -- now they don’t even have black servants.”
It is not uncommon for government officials to roll their eyes, snicker, or laugh out loud when asked about the Afrikaner separatists. One top Afrikaner government official dismissed Kleinfontein as a futile attempt to cling to a bygone era.
A Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Development spokesman acknowledged that the separatist communities flout the law, which forbids racial discrimination. “The setup is in violation of the constitution,” said Paul Setsetse, the ministry communications director. “It amounts to an act of racism, because they want to live alone, in an Afrikaner community, without other racial groups, in so-called self-determination.”
But he said nothing would be done until the autonomy issue is addressed, something the government -- preoccupied with poverty, unemployment, and economic development -- has stalled on for years.
Lebona Moosia, spokesman of South Africa’s Ministry of Provincial Affairs, said the government is studying petitions for local authority, not just from the Afrikaners, but from traditional leaders of Zulu, Xhosa and other ethnicities.
Only the Afrikaners, he said, are asking for a separatist state -- a degree of self-rule he finds unlikely. “Negotiations are on,” Moosia said. “That issue will be taken care of. It’s just a question of time.”
For now, the separatist communities -- a third is forming in northern Limpopo -- deal with Afrikaner angst on their own.
Statue to Verwoerd
In Orania, townspeople are pursuing municipal status. They have erected a bronze statue of apartheid architect Hendrik Verwoerd, and treat his resident grandson as a local VIP.
Kleinfontein -- with its bland suburban homes, sunsplashed flower beds and blond children ambling barefoot down the soft unpaved roads -- reminds people of South Africa under apartheid. And that, to many of the residents and 180 others who work or participate in civic activities here, is part of its attraction.
During apartheid, “we all knew what was expected of each other,” said Shirley Harmse, 68, sitting in the public library she built in her front yard, stocked with donated books in Afrikaans.
Harmse and her husband were the fifth family to build a house here, in 1997, when they abruptly sold their family farm after a neighbor’s son was murdered while milking a cow. Hundreds of farmers have been killed in recent years.
“We were too old and the risk was very high of being murdered,” said Harmse, a white-haired grandmother. “I think we all know why it’s happening, but we’re too scared to say it. They want the whole Africa for black empowerment. They don’t want the whites.”
A few days after the new year began, Harmse’s brother was shot in a carjacking in Pretoria along with her niece’s fiance, who died on the spot. Like a number of Kleinfontein residents, when asked to describe life here, Harmse answers: “It’s safe.”
Many Afrikaners live in gated communities around Pretoria, but those are open to affluent blacks and all others who can afford them -- an invitation Kleinfontein has no intention of extending.
A visitor to the library, Jan Jurgens Groenewald, who lives across the street, says he is shocked at the sight of mixed-race couples, once banned by the Immorality Act.
“I personally see this as unbiblical. Any form of racial mixing is an act of disobedience of what the Bible teaches us,” said Groenewald, 57, a developer whose family was first to move here in 1994 after acquiring the land for the settlement with his wife and De Beer. Under the terms of the cooperative, home sites are sold as shares to new members, who then are eligible to vote on local affairs, he said.
Groenewald, deputy chairman of Kleinfontein, is a member of a once-powerful Afrikaner family. His brother was an Air Force general during apartheid. Groenewald said he knows the now-infamous right-wing Afrikaner leader, Dr. Johan “Lets” Pretorius, “very well.” A year ago, Groenewald said, he held discussions with Pretorius about self-rule, and they spoke of joining forces.
But late last year, Pretorius and his three sons were arrested and accused of being members of an extremist group called the Boeremag, or Boer Force, according to National Police Commissioner spokesman Seldy Bokaba. The men will begin trial May 19 for sabotage, terrorism and high treason in connection with a spate of bombings last year that killed a woman in Soweto, Bokaba said.
“We differ in methods, at this stage,” Groenewald said. “We want to follow the path of negotiations. We hope the government will see this as an opportunity of not only providing for a future for the Afrikaner people, but creating a conducive climate to stabilizing South Africa.”
However, he said, “we are prepared to physically defend our institutions.”
Groenewald pulls up to a home construction site and coaches an Afrikaner worker to “tell about affirmative action and the blacks taking the jobs.”
“There’s black empowerment now, which doesn’t give the white guy a chance at all for a job,” says Johan Marais, 56, laying bricks with his son Johan under a pitiless sun.
Workers such as Marais live in trailer homes. People must pay cash for their properties, which means most residents are elderly people who built their houses with equity from paid-off residences elsewhere, giving Kleinfontein the feel of a retirement community.
But younger couples are trickling in. In the last year, school enrollment nearly doubled, from 26 to 48 children. Twelve of the children were sent by their parents to board at the school. As for the curriculum, Principal Adriaan Appelgryn said, “The foundation is the Bible.
“When the Communists took over South Africa,” he said, referring to the African National Congress, which produced South Africa’s first black president, Nelson Mandela, in 1994, “they took over the people’s education. We said ‘no.’ We’re conservative, and our conservatism comes from the Bible.”
To Van Emmenis, the wrestling coach, the Christian approach is a welcome change from public schools, whose curriculum once espoused a doctrine of racial inferiority, but now emphasize religious tolerance and multiculturalism.
“The government schools say you have to accept Buddha and all other religions,” Van Emmenis said. “To us this is Satan, all those funny religions. I tell my kids: ‘No way. Those are prophets of Satan.’ We believe in only one God.”