A SMALL, die-hard band of Dutch-descended Afrikaners have begun to develop this deserted construction camp on the banks of the mighty Orange River as the nucleus of a future white homeland. Like their ancestors known as the Voortrekkers, who embarked on a hazardous journey into the interior of the country in 1835 to escape British rule, the advocates of the Afrikaner Volkstaat (people's state) are also pioneers.
``The majority of the people who come here will be Afrikaans-speaking. We will allow only whites who see our future as we do to settle here,'' says Thys Fick, caretaker of Orania and its first permanent inhabitant. ``People who want to live with blacks won't have a chance here.''
Sitting on a wooden bench on a scrubbed wooden floor in the only store in town, Mr. Fick is in every sense a pioneer of a white enclave in a black-ruled continent. In the sparsely-stocked store, a display cabinet is set aside for Orania memorabilia. The white Orania T-shirt has a black map of Africa with the Orandia homeland as a tiny island of white. Orania's handful of white settlers hope that this small town will eventually become the thriving capital of a broader homeland called Orandia - a refuge f rom black majority rule.
Things went wrong
``People feel threatened and there's a high degree of anger because things went wrong politically and economically to such an extent that their very existence is threatened,'' Fick says.
He insists that many people living in cities like Pretoria feel threatened by soaring crime and the opening of public facilities to blacks. ``Its no longer safe to walk in the street. At the rate things are deteriorating it will soon be chaotic out there. This will be the only place to be.''
Fick, with his khaki shorts and shirt and unkempt red beard, resembles his Voortrekker ancestors who eventually established Boer republics in the Transvaal and the Orange Free State.
To preserve the dominance of the Afrikaners, their successors resorted to the policy of apartheid whereby the black majority was assigned to tribal homelands where they would be independent in economically impoverished rural areas. Now, history has come full circle.
Orania, about 100 miles south of Kimberley in northern Cape Province, would eventually be in the northern third of the Orandia homeland, stretching from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to the farming town of Graaff-Reinet in the east. Its proximity to the Orange River provides the surrounding corn farms with ample water through an elaborate irrigation scheme.
Built by the Department of Waterworks in 1968 to house construction workers building an irrigation system, Orania consists of about 90 prefabricated homes, in various stages of disrepair, a deserted town hall, school and post-office and the only new addition - a brick-and-mortar show home for a holiday time-share develop-ment.
``We have plans to create a large holiday resort on the Orange River,'' Fick says. A gas station, airport, and technical training college are being planned, and the school is due to open in July, complete with a computerized instruction course to enable gifted pupils to advance quicker in the manpower-hungry state-in-waiting.
The area of about 1,200 acres - surrounded by corn, cattle, and sheep farms - is incongruously fenced off. As only eight families have occupied homes in Orania, it has an almost ghost town-like quality. About 50 homes have been sold, and Fick says there is a constant stream of inquiries.
Professor Carel Boshoff, a retired theologian and Afrikaner cultural leader, who conceived the white homeland notion, foresees an eventual homeland population of two million inhabitants.
``It will be based strictly on free market principles,'' Fick says. ``Each inhabitant will support themselves, and wages will be dictated by the market. But we are confident we will soon be able to produce more than we can consume.''
Major towns contained within the envisaged borders of Orandia - like Upington, Colesberg and Graaff-Reinet - have ridiculed the idea. But Fick is confident that they will change their tune when they see it is working. ``If this can work and work properly then a lot of other places will fall in line. But first we have to prove our point here.''
The architects of the homeland have chosen a part of the country where there are few indigenous blacks, but about 300,000 people of mixed-race would face eviction. Already about 400 people of mixed-race who lived in Orania were forced to leave when it was bought in February by a right-wing consortium headed by Mr. Boshoff.
``It was my birthplace,'' says Leya Meyer, one of the mixed-race inhabitants of Orania who now lives with relatives at the Oranje River Station. ``It was very difficult for me to move. My heart is sore, but now it's done.''
No sovereign state
But the advocates of the white homeland are realistic enough to know they will not achieve a sovereign state and will have to negotiate both the borders and the status of their homeland. ``It's not possible to have the whole of South Africa,'' says Fick. ``And it's not worth chasing something that is impossible to attain.''
They hope to convince the right-wing Conservative Party to abandon its claims to all of South Africa and help build Orandia.
The government has waxed hot and cold on the homeland idea. President Frederik De Klerk says that while he doesn't agree with the idea, he is prepared to defend the right of those who see it as a solution to put their plans on the table.
The African National Congress rejects the white homeland idea, but is prepared to discuss it at the negotiating table. Some ANC officials do not dismiss the homeland idea out of hand.
Fick is not perturbed. On the contrary, he is excited about the future. ``In a year's time this place will be overcrowded - you won't recognize it,'' he says. ``I think we will even have people living in tents.''