JOHANNESBURG – The founder of South Africa's whites-only, separatist town Orania died of cancer Wednesday, says a spokeswoman for the community. He was 83.
Carel Boshoff founded the privately owned town of 900 people, located in South Africa's northern province, in 1991 as South Africa transitioned from a white-ruled apartheid government to a democracy. Orania's goal was to preserve the culture of Afrikaners, one of South Africa's white minority groups. Its residents speak Afrikaans, sing traditional folk songs, attend the Dutch Reformed Church and celebrate Afrikaans holidays.
Although Boshoff championed the exclusive community, he wasn't a typical white separatist. A professor of theology, he worked in Soweto, one of South Africa's largest black townships, and was paid visits by prominent members of South Africa's black majority party. Visitors included South Africa's first black president, Nelson Mandela, current President Jacob Zuma and other political leaders within mostly black South Africa.
In 1990, Mandela traveled to the community to have coffee with the widow of Hendrik Verwoerd, the prime minister and apartheid's chief architect. Mandela offered gentle assistance as Betsy Verwoerd stumbled over the words of her prepared remarks in the Afrikaans language.
"The visits of both the old President Mandela and President Zuma showed the kind of respect they showed Professor Boshoff," said Orania community spokeswoman Lida Strydom. "When Zuma visited Orania, he said he came especially to pay good will to an old friend."
Adam Habib, the University of Johannesburg's vice chancellor, said ANC leaders visited the community as a symbolic gesture. "There is quite a desire among leadership in the ANC to signal to the Afrikaner community that they have a home and that South Africa belongs to them as much as it does to everyone else," he said.
The youth league of the African National Congress released a statement Wednesday which said the youth league was "saddened" by the news, and that unlike other right-wing forces, Boshoff was "always willing to engage with other people." The statement said Boshoff had "maximum prospects of understanding and embracing non-racialism."
Strydom said a lot of people still think the Orania community is racist, "but it was never founded on that basis."
"We are of a very small group in South Africa and when we are spread out all over the country and it's difficult to commemorate what we are and be true to our own identity."
Habib said Orania's "separate but equal" ideology is impossible.
"The ideas he stood for are ideas that are not compatible with the modern world. If those ideas were allowed to percolate and spread, the world would be a much more destructive place than it already is."