Last time I was in South Africa I spent two weeks deep in the Karoo, that desiccated wasteland in the Northern Cape which is home only to a handful of jackals, the occasional springbok and supporters of the Afrikaaner Resistance Movement. I had been visiting Orania, a smallish town in which no black people are allowed. Set up by the son-in-law of Hendrik Verwoerd, its existence now is very grudgingly protected by the South African government under regulations which preserve minority cultures — ah, the irony.
I was doing a documentary, the gist being: ghastly, ghastly, racist white people. I have to admit that I, as a white supremacist bigot, was a little more equivocal about the issue than the rest of the crew, which is perhaps why the programme never got on TV. Even back then — this was 2011 — white farmers were being driven from their land by the blacks and fleeing to Zambia, or the UK, while senior members of the ANC demanded the spilling of Boer blood.
Didn’t the Orania people therefore have a point, I wondered, even if it was one only of self-preservation? The point — a dream, for some of them — was to carve out a new nation for Afrikaaners across a hugely unprofitable swathe of the north of the country, from Kimberley to the coast. A new Boer trek, a new homeland. And of course they would make it work, despite the aridity and the inhospitable landscape, because when it comes to farming and modernity they are extremely competent. Racist and competent, while the blacks were racist and hilariously incompetent. Orania was thriving and, like Israel (which is not a bad comparison), turning the desert green.
Prim, reserved, polite, little kids marched in line to the schoolroom like creatures out of a John Wyndham novel, or maybe an Amish community in the south of Ohio.