Freeing a state of mind on Rip van Winkle's veld

Robert Block, in Bloemfontein, finds Afrikaners have a surprising capacity to adapt to their new lot

Orange Free State is considered by many South Africans to be an agricultural heaven and a cultural backwater, the home of rural Boer culture and Afrikaner stubbornness: Rip van Winkle country.

Cas Human, 40, an Afrikaner farmer, is not happy that he and his fellow Free Staters are regarded as yokels. "You have to understand Afrikaner history", he said. "The Afrikaner here always struggled but he is forward- looking. He is changeable when faced with reality."

It is a curious argument coming from a white man who has been an activist in anti-apartheid groups for 20 years, an outcast from his own community. But perhaps more than anyone else in the Free State, Mr Human understands his fellow Afrikaners' capacity to adapt. He has seen them go from cocking pistols to applauding their opponents.

Just over a year ago, he was told at gunpoint to leave a meeting of the Free State Agricultural Union because of his support for the African National Congress (ANC). More recently, as the agriculture minister in the ANC-dominated provincial government, he received a standing ovation from those who were ready to shoot him in January 1994 as a traitor.

"My house had been bombed by right-wingers the month before, but they showed me no sympathy. When I stood up to speak, they said they had heard enough. They showed us their revolvers and said they thought it was a good idea if we left immediately.

"Those same people now applaud us when we talk to them. I see them in the street and although they would never say it in words, in the way they talk to me and greet me, they are telling me that I was right," he said

One year after South Africa's historic all-race elections, Orange Free State has confounded even the least jaded South African expert, and has quietly emerged as a front runner in building trust between once sworn enemies. Whites did not imagine that rapid change was possible. Colin Legum, the veteran former Observer journalist who returned to South Africa from years in exile, wrote in the Johannesburg newspaper Business Day: "Those like myself who grew up in the Free State . . . would never have predicted in our wildest dreams that racial attitudes and acquiescence in democratic structures, involving the shift of power from whites to blacks, could have changed so radically in only 10 months." Now the radio jingles say: "Welcome to a freer state of mind."

Many Afrikaner farmers have not only accepted their loss of power with grace, but have shown a open willingness to co-operate with their new rulers. Sitting on the veranda of his farm house at the weekend in Tweetspruit, 50 miles east of Bloemfontein, Philip Henning, a 40-year-old Afrikaner cattle breeder and cash crop farmer, reflected on the year of black majority rule. An admitted "racialist", Mr Henning said he had attended several meetings with the new government and given his opinion on what he thinks farming policy should be. While not completely confident in the local government's ability to protect his interests, so far he had only one complaint: "I put those burglar bars up for nothing."

Iron gates, stockpiling of food, panic selling of property and sleeping with loaded weapons were all part of the psychosis that gripped white south Africans before the elections. There was even talk of race war by the white extremist groups. But that has all apparently evaporated. "Let's be honest," Mr Henning said. "My farming has not changed. Economically nothing has changed, except it's more peaceful." A large part of the reason for the change in Afrikaners' attitudes is that throughout South Africa whites have come to realise that their worst fears of chaos under black rule have not materialised. Life has been no worse for them than under decades of single-party rule by the National Party. Some farmers have also come to see their prosperity and the security of their own land as being tied up with improving the conditions of blacks.

Waning white militarism even led the Deputy President, Thabo Mbeki, to announce on Friday that South Africa no longer faced a serious threat of right-wing violence, because most whites now felt more secure under a multi-racial democracy.

In the Free State, much of the credit for winning over white farmers has gone to Patrick "Terror" Lekota, the provincial premier. The son of a Free State farm worker and once a militant anti-apartheid activist, Mr Lekota first worried the whites. Now, since seeing him in action and learning that he earned his nickname on the football pitch, they sing his praises.

Nonetheless, suspicion and a lack of goodwill still lurk. "There is still depression," said Mr Human. "Much of the change is still only on the surface. People feel they have lost prestige and privilege. The challenge is to get whites to see that this is also their government as well. That is going to take some more time."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracy Emin's 1998 piece 'My Bed' on display at Christie's
artOne expert claims she did not
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
TV
News
Hackers revealed Oscar-winning actress Lawrence was paid less than her male co-stars in American Hustle
people
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Sport
Robin van Persie is blocked by Hugo Lloris
footballTottenham vs Manchester United match report
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Manager is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Operations Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Panel & Cabinet Wireman

£20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Panel Wireman required for small electro...

Recruitment Genius: Electronics Test Engineer

£25000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An SME based in East Cheshire, ...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?