Two decades after the end of apartheid, a system of brutally enforced segregation, this hamlet exemplifies the deep racial divides that still preoccupy South Africa. The existence of Kleinfontein and places like it has set off a debate about the type of country that South Africa should be today.
As Nelson Mandela, the country’s first black president, battles a serious lung infection, many South Africans are examining whether their nation has lived up to his vision of equality, engaging in conversations about race, politics and the economy. That has drawn new attention to all-white communities and the festering legacy of apartheid.
To blacks, Kleinfontein is a remnant of a painful past, a gated community of whites determined to perpetuate racist, apartheid-era practices. The several hundred whites who live here say they need to safeguard their Dutch-based Afrikaner culture and language and seek refuge from affirmative action policies and high crime rates that they blame on blacks. They insist that they are not racist, noting that they don’t welcome Jews, Catholics or any English speakers, either.
Under apartheid, the white Afrikaner-led government forced blacks to live in homelands to separate the races. Today, the residents of Kleinfontein say the creation of Afrikaner homelands is the best way for South Africa to progress under the black-led government of the ruling African National Congress party.
“I am here because outside there’s no place anymore for us. We don’t feel welcome,” said Dries Oncke, 57, a resident. “That’s why we start places like this and build them up. We know as Afrikaners we can be safe here. We have a place where we can be ourselves.”
There are three criteria for living in Kleinfontein: Residents must speak the Afrikaans language, be Protestants and be descendants of the Voortrekkers, the Dutch settlers who left the British Cape Colony in the early 1800s and migrated to the interior of what is now South Africa. They came to be known as Afrikaners.
The tension over Kleinfontein and other aspiring whites-only enclaves in a country that is nearly 80 percent black also reflects a broader societal conflict pitting individual rights against a community’s rights. South Africa’s constitution gives communities the right of cultural self-determination but also enshrines basic human rights that outlaw exclusionary practices.
“As Afrikaners, as a cultural group, we are basically a white people, a Caucasian people because of our history,” said Marisa Haasbroek, a spokeswomen for the cooperative that runs the settlement. “Culturally, we are different from other people in this country, and we just want to protect our identity, and that includes language.”