Volkstaat (Afrikaans for "People's state") is a proposal for the establishment of a homeland for Afrikaners. Outside a possible use of force, the South African Constitution and International Legislation present certain possibilities for the establishment of such a state. The South African regime declared that they would not support a Volkstaat, but "would do everything they could to ensure the protection of the Afrikaner language and culture". What a fine job they are doing.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Afrikaners retreat to Boer 'homeland'

The liberal English press reports on the volkstaat east of Pretoria. This initiative seems to have been ignored by the South African media.

IN their desperation to escape modern South Africa's "rainbow coalition", a group of Afrikaner Right-wingers have returned to their roots and founded a prototype homeland.

In a ceremony brimming with Old Testament fulminations, the founders of the "Boer Republic Co-operative" last week welcomed their first followers to their 400-acre "volkstaat" 50 miles east of Pretoria.

Andries Campher, 6ft 6in tall with a hedge of a beard and a rumbling messianic voice, was the very model of a doughty 19th-century trekker. "We are doing this for the best of the volk (people)," he said. "There are only two principles that count. You must believe in the one God. You must also respect the vows the volk made to God in the past. Any man who is on the brink of extinction will do what he can to survive."

The headquarters of the new settlement is a farm called "Loneliness". In the valley below, just visible through trees, is a cemetery of Boers, mainly women and children, who died in a British concentration camp in the Anglo-Boer War.

One of the first tasks of the "homelanders" was cleaning up the mainly unmarked graves. They form one of the great shrines of "bitterenders" - the old nickname for Boers who refused to surrender, which still applies to Right-wing diehards.

A few years ago, in the countdown to the first all-race election in April 1994, the scene would have sent jitters through South Africa, reinforcing fears of a Right-wing secessionist revolt. But those days are long gone. This is the soft underbelly of Irredentism. While the "homeland" reflects Afrikaner fears of black rule, its modest aims show how aspirations for a volkstaat have withered.

The leaders shy clear of talk of independence. Taxes will almost certainly still be paid. Some members will visit at weekends but work in their offices in Pretoria during the week. "A republic? Oh no," said Mr Campher. "This is a place for like-minded people."

He also conceded that they had had to be liberal in their understanding of an Afrikaner. "We have English-speaking Boers, Portuguese, even French ones," he said. "All that matters is to respect and uphold the traditions of the volk."

The initiative began in February when two farmers and two businessmen jointly bought three farms near the town of Balmoral, which they then registered under the "Boer Republic Co-operative".

Fritz Meyer, one of the businessmen, said they were motivated by affirmative action, crime and the downgrading of Afrikaans and Christianity in South African society. Others more openly said they loathed black rule.

At the founding ceremony, 50 members paid £180 for a "share". In return they were allocated a 1,000 square metre strip of land.

Some said they would build houses. Others hoped to start small businesses. There was even heady talk of starting an "Academy", and dispensing with state electricity and generating their own. In good Calvinist style they celebrated with a frugal meal - and strictly no alcohol.

The radical Pan Africanist Congress has denounced the project and accused the ruling African National Congress of allowing Afrikaners to share out the land as if it were still the Scramble for Africa.

The PAC is outraged because Mr Campher evicted the black labourers who had worked for the previous owner. Like many farmers he was taking advantage of a few months' leeway before a new law comes into effect strengthening the tenancy rights of black farmhands. But the ANC has kept quiet, possibly appreciating that a heavy-handed approach would be guaranteed to serve the wrong purpose and rally Right-wingers to the cause.

One of the most vocal critics is the politician who might have been expected to back the project, Gen Constand Viljoen, leader of the Right-wing Freedom Front party. He condemned it as a mockery of a volkstaat. Despite making no progress in his quest over the last three-and-a-half years, he says only a self-governing Afrikaner statelet will do.

"Balmoral is just two or three people on a farm," he said. "It's wishful thinking. How do you make a volkstaat of a handful of people?"

Even with Nelson Mandela, the embodiment of reconciliation, as president, many Afrikaners are fearful for the future. Hundreds of farmers last week threatened to become vigilantes after attacks in outlying areas. But it seems unlikely that many will want to submit to the austere mores expected at Balmoral.

"I'm not sure," said a businessman who had come on a reconnaissance trip from Springs, east of Johannesburg. "I've been robbed so many times I've lost count. I gave up having a television when it was taken for the second time. But I need to think about it before coming here."



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