Whites only South African town focus of fascinating One World film

'Orania', photo: official website of the film

Orania, which has been shown at this year’s One World film festival of human rights documentaries, is a fascinating portrait of a controversial purely white town founded in 1991 by a group of Afrikaners averse to post-apartheid South Africa’s “rainbow nation”. Two decades later, Orania now has a population of around 1,000, and even its own currency.

'Orania', photo: official website of the film
Ahead of a screening, I asked director Tobias Lindner who its typical residents were.

“There’s not really a typical inhabitant of Orania, because everyone has their own story. You have a broad, broad spectrum of people. Of course, most of them are conservative Christians and some feel left out in the rest of the country.

“But you also have people that are just there for pragmatic reasons. They don’t find work on the outside. Some have a really difficult past.

“There are others who just live for the ideal. And there are some who are pensioners who just want to live there, like in a big old-age home.”

Do people often come and go? Leave the community, join the community?

“The fluctuation of the place is enormous. You have a lot of people who come there with a dream, with certain ideas about it, and some of them are maybe disappointed and leave.

“Some others just leave for economic reasons, because it’s just not sustainable to live there for them. If you’re a lawyer, you’re going to have a hard time to find a job there.”

Tobias Lindner
How is Orania perceived by the rest of South Africa?

“There are a lot of myths about Orania. Everyone has heard about it, at least. Some view it as racist concept. Most people don’t really take it seriously.

“But while showing it in the country in the past weeks, I found that there’s an enormous interest in the place, and people are curious to find out what it’s all really about.

“There has been a lot of press about it, but most of it is on one side of the spectrum, either pro or contra. So people are longing for a balanced view, I think.”

I got the impression watching the film that at least some of the residents have a siege mentality and they are expecting conflict in the future. One of them even mentioned bloodshed in the long-term.

“I think there are a few people in Orania that have this defensive, fortress mentality. They expect trouble in the new South Africa, at some point. But I think those are actually the odd ones out.

“Most Oranians are actually trying to pull themselves out of the conflict, by doing what they do, and try to have good relations with the rest of the country.

“But of course fear is also a main motivation to go to Orania, fear of the new South Africa.”

The film seems to be sympathetic towards the protagonists. Do you have sympathy for what they’ve created, this purely white little Afrikaner colony?

'Orania', photo: official website of the film
“As a documentary filmmaker I have to be sympathetic towards my subjects. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to make a film about them.

“So yes, I certainly have sympathy for my characters, and I know where they come from, and I know the environment they grew up in.

“As for having sympathy for what they’re doing…well, they have a certain dream, and whether I agree with it or not is not really important for me, because I’m merely trying to find out what drives them.

“Of course it’s a controversial subject, but if it’s right or wrong, or if it’s problematic, is, I think, something that the viewer should decide.”