In 1991 a group of white South Africans started a new community. Wanting to preserve their culture, their language and their independence from the Rainbow nation, they moved into a remote and abandoned settlement town and called it their independent state; Welcome to Orania.
Orania is a remote village in the barren centre of South Africa, an “intentional community” where only white Afrikaans people live – a culturally homogeneous place in a multicultural country.
They are the descended from the original Dutch settlers, a legacy that they aim to preserve. Starting off with this fact the film (unsurprisingly) very quickly lets us to believe that we are dealing with a bunch of racists. Trying to live disconnected from the rest of the nation this notion of how others perceive them seems to be an issue for the settlers; perhaps the only way they have managed to survive for so long as a separate entity with a separate currency and separate governance is by ensuring people would let go of this image and accept them for what they like to think they are: saviours of a nearly lost culture. Yet exactly how they do this is another matter. Or perhaps we are wrong about thinking the entire village has the same motives for living where they do.
As it is officially private property you can not just walk into Orania. No, you have to be allowed in, be welcomed by one of the community leaders – but what is their decision based on? In the film, a big deal is being made out of two men, white and black, shaking hands while doing business (some of the food produce still needs to come from outside the settler’s gates). It is a clear façade, put on to show us there is no hostility from one towards the other – at the same time we hear how in 30 years of doing business the black man has never been allowed within the village gates, however, a white filmmaker is.
Independenceis a big issue for the people of Orania; aside from the ultimate necessities the village is totally self reliant. As one of the town elderly says: “If they help us they will get rights and can vote – how can we allow that?” Who exactly ‘they’ are is subtly left in the middle.
The town’s own radio station also contributes. A fast and continuing stream of propaganda is fed to the town’s mere one thousand inhabitants and the same happens in the local academy, where students and new entrants to the community have to watch an ongoing stream of Apartheid films and pro-Orania videos.
Though he has all reason to, filmmaker Tobias Lindner never takes advantage of his subject’s vulnerability and honesty but lets viewers make up their own mind entirely. That he has won the trust of the people of Orania is already quite remarkable but the stunning way in which he created this fly-on-the-wall portrait of a remarkable quirky and somewhat frightening town is something to applaud for.