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Image: Boer
  Photo: Jan Stürmann
Image: Boer
  Photo: Jan Stürmann

New Coffins, Old Flags, Microorganisms And The Future of the Boer (cont.)

I ask Pieter what will be the plight of the Boer in South Africa. He pauses momentarily, “Exactly what happened to the farmers in Zimbabwe. The government will squander the countries wealth, which the Boer created. As they run out of money, they will confiscate our farms to give to their cronies; already this is happening. But we will unite and resist. For me to let them take our land is to stab my ancestors in the back. I will fight and make my forefathers proud. The Boer will survive.”

I ask him if he thinks black South Africans have a right to this land.

“Of course they do. All I want is for them not to mess with me, and I won’t mess with them. They must leave us alone; let us practice our own culture. But the Boer and the blacks are like oil and water: we just can’t mix.”

The day before, in Pretoria, I attended a meeting of the Boer think tank Studiegroep vir Eietydse Geskiedenis (Study Group for Current History). Once a month at an upscale restaurant downtown, this group of mostly elderly men, meet in a private room adorned with scantly clad Greek and Roman goddesses. They sat at white-linened tables, sipped wine, and listened to guest speaker Christo Burger talk about the threat of Islam, the biased media, the Antichrist, and God’s special plan for the Boer nation. His business card describes him as President of the CIA (Christian Intelligence Agency), “Spreading Absolute Truth.”

They asked ponderous questions, heard only what confirms their worldview. Like old lions they sat, growling into their wine glasses, their teeth worn down to stubs, hair gray and falling out. If evoked, their roar will still freeze blood, but most have lost the will to fight. They are disappointed and bitter and dazed. “Adapt or die” the old saying goes. In 1994, when the black South Africans gained power, these men were too old to adapt, too young to die. Now they are old; soon they will die, and be remembered for the mistakes of their past.

It is the young Boers who will lead the Volk forward. The ones who carry new flags up mountains, who live their history, learn the songs and sing them spontaneously on former battlefields. They are too young to be burdened by the guilt of apartheid. They embrace riding in commandoes and the Internet. They live the old traditions and adapt new ones. They can imagine a Boer future and are willing to fight for it.

I spend the night sleeping under an old ox-wagon, as Orion performs a slow back-flip over Majuba. The Boers sing and talk around a bonfire until 3 am.

Early the next morning I hitch a seven-hour ride to Bloemfontein. I rent a room in this small city in the Orange Free State, which was once a Boer Republic capital, and is still South Africa’s judicial capital.

In the evening I walk through downtown, a rare white face in a city turned African. Professional black families sit on balconies to catch the evening breeze. Young men rev hotrods at traffic lights. A large sandstone church, once filled with Afrikaners worshiping their white God, is packed with a well-dressed congregation of blacks singing foot-tapping gospels. The few whites, who had to venture downtown from their walled suburban homes, sit hunched behind steering wheels with the doors locked. Foreigners in their former capital, they pass like cloud-shadows across the land.

At an Orania guesthouse the next day, I meet a retired couple from Nelspruit. They sit on the front porch, sip tea, and watch the sun set. She, with hair shaped into a black helmet and eyes magnified behind thick glass, tells me: “Our children think we are mad coming here, but we have to find a safe place to live. The crime in Nelspruit is terrible, and getting worse. Four times they broke into our home. We have to chain our car to a tree so it won’t get dragged away. I can’t sleep anymore. The smallest noise, and I wake up; have to go check. Our friends have been killed; women we know raped...” Her voice grows with hysteria; eyes wide with remembered fear. “It’s just terrible, terrible. Always locking doors, locking windows. We’re like prisoners in our own home. No one should have to live like this. I’m going mad, quite simply mad with fear.” Her husband tries to calm her. She takes a deep breath and strokes nonexistent wrinkles on her dress.

In an Orania packing shed, young Afrikaners with enviable tans and sun-bleached hair, pack melons for export to Europe. They wear the unofficial uniform of South African farm laborers everywhere - black rubber boots, blue overalls and threadbare tee shirts. They came from towns like Newcastle and Kimberly where work, particularly for Afrikaans males is scarce. Ten years of the New South Africa has pushed these young men to the bottom of the food chain. Undereducated, white and often racist, their only hope lies in finding manual work at a place like Orania. So for $9/day they work where no blacks may; wielding shovels, swinging pick, harvesting melons, pruning 20,000 pecan trees.

They hate it here, but it's a living. The town folk, 51% of whom are university graduates, look down on them. Young women are scare, and extramarital sex is forbidden anyway. They can’t get drunk, can’t play their music too loud. The bright spot for many of them is the racial isolation. The bigotry is blatant, not hidden behind a veil of intellectual contortions: “A kaffir (disparaging term for a Black person) is a kaffir,” says Tiene Martines, 17. “He just stinks.”

In big vats of molasses, children at the Volk School Orania, cultivate microorganisms.

This school, with a graduation rate of 100%, is regarded as a model of progressive education. A self-directed, computer-based learning system called KenWeb, was developed here, and is exported to home-schoolers around the world.

Anna Boshoff, daughter of apartheid-era Prime Minister H.R. Verwoerd, is the principle of the school. The children treat her like a grandmother. One of her sons, Wynand Boshoff, is head teacher. A guest speaker demonstrates an earth building technique. Wynand takes off shoes and mixes mud with the students.

Mrs. Boshoff explains how Effective Microorganisms, or EM, works: “ 80% of microorganisms have little known benefit, 10% are harmful, and 10% are vital to maintain an ecological balance. Conventional farming practices have upset this balance. Through a company in Japan we buy EM spores, which we cultivated in vats of molasses. The EM-rich liquid is then sold to local farmers. They feed it to their cattle, spray it on their crops, put it in the water. In time, animals get healthier, crops stronger, and balance is again restored to the land.”

Maybe Orania is itself a big vat of molasses for the Boer people. A place in the semi-desert where they can preserve their own culture, and cultivate that which they require to survive.


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