Lunch In Oraniaby Max Barashenkov / Images by Luke Daniel / 22.09.2011
“Watdoenjy?!” Rina Wiid snarls from behind the wheel of her BMW, “Geen fotos van my nie!” We freeze on the backseat, me mid-question, Ricochet Daniel with the camera in his paws. She proceeds, in rabid and venomous Afrikaans, to tell us that all photographic material acquired at the Doornbult concentration camp must be cleared with her before publication. Later, she will make us sign forms, swear fealty to the old South African flag and take a picture of us, for “archival” purposes, but, for now, I feign respect and Ricochet hisses “teef” under his breath. We are 30km away from Orania and knee-deep in Afrikaaner history. Or what’s left of it.
I pity her, the bent yet frisky Rina Wiid. The no-where historian, clutching onto tatters of nationalism, writing in-depth brochures – stacks of ring-bound A4 sheets, littered with pixilated pictures and extensive lists of Boer lineage, that she calls “books” – and whoring them off for R250 to the trickle of German tourists that pass by her farm. To the Fritz this place is a physical acquittal, a geo-historical ‘we-didn’t-do-it-first’, but, for two Cape Town boys, the site of one of the largest British concentration camps during the Boer War is nothing more than rusting shit scattered over the veldt. Rina guides us through the suffering of Afrikaner women, pointing out a horseshoe here, an empty Lee-Metford cartridge there. Ricochet and I, we stumble through this historic debris, painfully trying to tap into the passion with which she spits out incomprehensible fact after incomprehensible fact and, in that moment, I’m overcome with irrational hatred.
I hate Rina for the colonial dress of her maid, the cap and apron devil white against her black skin. I hate her for the refusal to speak English to us, despite her proficiency in it being clear from several of her “books”. I hate her for this wasted history, for her steam-train-like delivery of facts to deaf ears. I hate her culture and upbringing that made her see us as just two more rooineks, here to exploit the soul of her people. I hate her in-limbo existence, surrounded by the broken and beaten will of Afrikaans nationalism, seething with hate of her own and no way to move past it. I hate all of these tins and all of these bullets, the medicine vials and china that look way too new to have spent over a hundred years under the Karoo sun. But also, I hate her reserved politeness, her quiet determination, her carving of shelter for a time-that-has-been – a time that, in the New South Africa, will not be remembered. So when we shake hands, departing onwards to the town that racism built, the hate has abided and pity returned. We leave her there, amid the bones ground up into dust, to dig up more pride, to nurse a history that’s rotting away.
“You’re going where? Orania?!” The two petrol attendants in Hopetown exchange looks and laugh in our faces. Even at only 50km away, Orania is shrouded by a sort of mystique, a murky socio-cultural perversion of the post-94 era. We’re told we’ll be hated; we’re told we’ll be welcome; our asses are sure to get beaten; we will experience the famed Afrikaner hospitality. They tell us about the siren that goes off at any sign of trouble and of the Boers emerging from their simple, one-storey houses, rifles slung over their backs. We hear of convicted Afrikaans youth doing their community service there, a mechanism to keep Orania black-labour-free, a form of white slavery. From the older folk we learn about the new, eighteen million rand farm just bought by Orania, about the town’s expansion, the flourishing of the volkstad. The younger crowd tells us about the boredom of Orania, about the burning desire to flee, to leave behind the old ideals and hatreds. Each person we speak to tells us something different and, thus, we enter the little Northern Cape town prepared for anything – Ricochet holstering a carving knife, me practicing my goeiemore’s and tasing myself to test the strength of our “Paralyser”.
We are greeted with an idyllic scene, an oasis on the banks of the Orange River, the kind of place that would clean up any Apartheid-era ‘Town Of the Year’ competition. Serenely quiet and clean, unlike the filth-ridden Hopetown just up the road, Orania does not scream danger, does not reek of overt racism. We encounter no guards, no fences or gates, being waved at and greeted instead. Pigment, that treacherous dog of evolution, is on our side here. We see sturdy men mending houses, tending small vegetable gardens, we see tired life, slowly shuffling foot after foot. The beast turned out to be tame, its fangs bared only in the stern gaze the woman at the Information Centrum levels at us and her insistent suggestion that we get a guide to show us around. We politely refuse and go to eat at Afsaal Op Orania, a quaint, world-class hotel/restaurant where, we are proudly told, the owner works the bar and his wife cooks and cleans the rooms herself. Say what you will about white-supremacists, about their failed piece of the old days (“In my heart I agree with them,” says Johan, our new friend and sheriff of the municipality that includes Orania, Hopetown, Prieska and several other small towns in the area, “but it can never work. There simply isn’t enough people.”), about their front of grit and self-sustained labour, about the trap of a town they’ve built around themselves, but they sure can make a decent burger.
“Go to Orania, go, you will find your story there,” were the words of John, the black bartender at the only pub in Hopetown, the evening before Ricochet and I made our pilgrimage to the crippled volkstad. But he was wrong, Orania is hollow, fucked empty of real meaning, full of desperate people who, like their history, are slowly decomposing. He was wrong, because the real story was right there, under his nose, in Hopetown itself.
*For an in-depth look at poverty, decay, racism and hopelessness in rural South Africa, read The Kings Of Hopetown in the upcoming Mahala 4 print magazine. And if you haven’t already, subscribe here… free.
**All images © Luke Daniel.