What We Can Learn From Orania

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We can study philosophy and politics for years on end to build ourselves a set of beliefs backed up by the full force of logic and argument. However, there are times in life when you see with your own two eyes the cold, hard reality which rattles the cage that contains your political views. You may not change your mind, but at the very least you will rethink your views, perhaps to try and see things from a different perspective. My trip to the town of Orania in the Northern Cape was such an experience.

For those who have not heard of Orania, I would suggest reading up a little bit before reading this article (this talk at the Property and Freedom Society gives a comprehensive overview), but here is a brief summary: Orania is a small town in the Northern Cape on the western bank of the Orange River. The town in notable in operating almost completely independently from South Africa’s government. This is because the town was founded as place to preserve the Afrikaner culture and language. Residents of Orania must apply to live in the town and hold a share in the Orania Company which owns the land on which the town in situated. By doing so, Orania is an example of a community which is completely privatised and functions relatively independent of the South African government. The only exceptions to this would be if a major crime were committed in the town (the South African Police Service would be called) or during South Africa’s national elections in which Orania residents vote.

At first it may be easy to ask, “why would one want to live in Orania?” It is a town with less than 2,000 people in the harsh climate of the Karoo semi-desert. Judging by any other South African desert town with similar statistics, it might seem like a strange place to want to move to.

Orania, however, is different. I was very impressed at how pleasant the town is. It is a clean, idyllic place with a few local shops and bars (which supply beer from Orania’s two different breweries) and one can see from the outset that it is a place which its residents are invested in.

Putting aside the attraction of Orania from the point of language or culture, Orania is probably the only town, village or settlement in South Africa where the residents do not have to worry about crime. Crime is probably the single greatest pox on the life of a South African family trying to go about their daily lives. It is not pleasant to have to worry about one’s sister or daughter walking home at night, or living behind high walls, keeping a watchful eye out for one’s valuables. The effect that crime has on the lives of every single South African is vast and tragic. Those who have been victims of a crime will know the terrible effect it leave on your psyche afterwards. Although I only stayed in Orania for two nights, those two nights were the first time I ever did not have to worry about leaving a door of a room or car unlocked, or leaving my phone on a table, or walking around at night. It was alien feeling, but it was quite remarkable not having to worry about something I had worried about at least subconsciously for most of my life. The existential threat crime has on the lives of South Africans is bigger than we realise and it’s important not to fall prey to the Stockholm Syndrome of believing that we should settle for a life of fear.

One of the most interesting sights that I saw in Orania was a sign outside a local bar with a message written in English, French, German and Dutch, which said the following:

Note to all white journalists from Europe:
Please leave your prejudices at the entrance.

This should be advice not only to foreign journalists with a political agenda, but also any South African who comes to Orania with certain preconceived notions. Here I’d like to address the elephant in the room: Why am I – a South African who lives in a pluralistic society – speaking so highly of a place defined by an ethno-linguistic background? To answer this, there are a few things to note here.

The first is that Orania is in its nature the perfect example of a private community preserving its language and/or culture not because of government help, but rather in spite of government. Orania is not putting forward arguments that they are owed something by the government, rather, they simply want to be left alone. On the basis of private property, the town is a model for the libertarian answer to the preservation of culture and language for those who would wish to do so.

This is extraordinarily important as there are minority groups around the world who may have to follow a similar model to Orania. Think about the thousands of tribes of North and South America, or India, or Asia. Even in Europe there are minority groups like the Basque, Romansh or Sami who find themselves at the mercy of the majority group who have little interest in preserving their language or culture. Perhaps this is why Orania has developed a friendship with the community of South Tyrol in Italy. This can be applied closer to home as well: Orania has also developed agreements with Mnyameni, a Xhosa community in the Eastern Cape, as well as a Khoisan group situated near Springbok. This was because, to quote an Oranian local, “They are also fed-up with local politics”, and no doubt communities such as theirs could benefit from the same relative independence from government.

Orania is also exciting for another, more monetary reason. The town has been using its own “currency”, called the Ora, for which they print notes with a rate of 1 Ora = 1 rand. The Ora is technically a sort of coupon (creating another currency would be illegal) but many prices are listed in both Ora and rands with the price in Ora being a slightly cheaper as well as there being no bank charges for withdrawing Ora. This has done wonders to stimulate the economy of the town. In addition to this, libertarian economist Dawie Roodt has been helping the town set up the e-Ora, a cryptocurrency for the town. Naturally, libertarians who share my disdain and suspicion of centralised monetary control should be jumping for joy here as it is a wonderful example of competing currencies and a more free market orientated monetary system.

There are no fences around Orania – the R369 runs right through it – and visitors are welcome. Perhaps it is because of these innovations that Orania – despite its negative press coverage – has been visited by a number of high-profile politicians. Nelson Mandela visited Hendrik Verwoerd’s widow Betsie in 1995, Jacob Zuma engaged with the community in 2010 and even Julius Malema, who was somewhat unexpectedly treated to some koeksisters and coffee when he arrived unannounced, and left on a more positive note. Orania is not a community that concerns itself with race, rather, it is cultural and linguistic preservation that it cares about. It has welcomed visitors from the opposite side of the political spectrum with open arms. To ignore facts like these is to be nothing but prejudicial.

So my advice is this: before you criticise Orania, at least do yourself the favour of visiting it, and when you do so – as the sign says – please leave your prejudices at the entrance. To quote a certain Orania citizen “The biggest experts on Orania are the who have never been here.” I hope journalists around the world will try not be one of those experts.

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