This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.
01 Sep 1991: Nel, JJ
POM JJ, perhaps you could talk a little first about your decision to move here to Orania and to bring your family with you; there's you, there's your wife and you have some children too?
JJN Yes, I am here, and my wife and four kids. The one kid at present is still at school at Lady Grey because he's doing his matric this year, that's why I left him there. He's doing his matric and he's only a couple of days of school left before he's finishing off. That's why I left him behind and brought the other three with me.
Well to come back to the decision of making a change, to come to Orania, I was born on a farm and I sold everything till I bought myself this property here. But the reason why I actually did it was, I want to put it very, very clearly, that we as - all right I'm not calling myself a sucker - as Afrikaners, but you talk about a South African and you talk about all the population groups in the Republic, that's white, black, Asian, whatever you are. And this idea of Professor Carel Boschoff to try and get a volkstaat, as they call it, for the Afrikaner people, well this change, well how can I put it to you? We're going to have a change of government in this country within a couple of months time, something is going to happen and I don't see my way, I'm quite honest about it, to stand around that government that is coming. They've got their own culture, they've got their own religion, whatever. There's quite a bit difference between their culture and our culture and I won't say there's such a big difference in religion, but the black people belong to several tribes, I mean this tribe's religion is that and that tribe's religion is this. And that's why the idea of Professor Boschoff trying to get this off the floor, this Afrikaner volkstaat, was actually a very good idea. Here all the Afrikaner people that feel like we feel can come here and here we can live with our own culture, we can have our own religion or whatever, our own church. Here we can practise our own language.
According to the papers Afrikaans is not going to be used in the schools any more if say Mandela takes over. I mean English is going to be the official language, or what you can call it. And I don't mind speaking English, I've been to an English school myself and I'm quite glad I can help myself with that, because you have to speak more than one language otherwise you can go nowhere. But as I said our culture, our way of living, and the thing is in open schools like these, from next year on, there's open schools already. Well in Lady Grey where we came from, from next year onwards the blacks and the coloureds will be allowed to go to those schools. And I don't agree with it because those kids, their standard of education at this present stage is lower than the standard of education at the white schools. You can go where you want to, that is the story. And how are we going to bring these people up to the same standard which our kids are on? I mean you can't do that overnight. That's going to take time. But in the meantime that black scholar is in the same class with your child, for instance, and how are they going to teach that one on the lower standard and your guy on the average standard? If there's some way it can be done - but the only way they can do it is to bring down the standard of education so that he can fit in with their present standard of education that they've got in the schools now.
POM When you said the actual way of life is different, could you elaborate a little on that?
JJN Well, I've been in the farming business for the last 20, 21 years. I grew up with black people, I can speak their language as good as they can speak it themselves, I'm fluent because we were adjoining the Transkei and all that area. And I went to the Transkei myself quite a lot because we were training those guys, working with them and whatever, and their way of living is definitely different from our way of living. How can I put it to you? As I said, these people belong to tribes and the different tribes have got different ways. My English is not so good to tell you all as it should be told, but their ways of doing things are so different. I won't say all the black people, but the people that are living in the Transkei area are still raw Xhosa there and their way of dressing, for instance, I mean they don't wear this type of clothing we wear in the city, where you've got a bit of business and so on; there you'll see the black people, as I say, dressed in their tribal way and that's quite different from the way of the white people, for instance. They're very superstitious these people. They believe things that we never even think of believing, like the Tokolosh, for instance, that's a little man that's running around here calling up the forefathers and all that type of thing. Where I was staying, I was adjoining the Transkei, and it's a very old farm and there are some quite old buildings there and I got some people in to work for us and I want to put them into a house there and this black man said he's very sorry he's not going to stay in that place because it's haunted, the Tokolosh is running around and so on. So I had to make him a new home. It was a matter of money involved, I mean you don't want to just spend money unnecessarily on that type of thing.
POM And your farm was where?
JJN In Lady Grey. It was in the Eastern Cape.
POM It must have been a very wrenching decision to sell land?
JJN Well the thing is, let me put it to you this way, just look around us, we start in Angola, for instance, you take Angola and you take Rhodesia, you take Zambia and you take Mozambique. What happened when the white people were kicked out and the blacks took over? It was a matter of a couple, well I won't say even a couple of years, in the first year the economy just died as the white people moved out, their farms have been confiscated, most of their savings were taken and it was a very big decision to make to sell everything and to come here. But at present I can still use that money and buy property here. I mean at the end of the day I might be without money, but at least I've got the property, I've got the value. But if I stayed there, they were talking about the redistribution of wealth if the ANC or which black government will take over the government. I don't see my way open, over all the years that you've been working and now all of a sudden they come and they want to redistribute the savings you've got, the land you've got. I mean it's not a checkable thing. That's why I just sold the lot and came here and bought myself a special home. It'll still take a long time to get it properly fixed and so forth, but at least I can say this is mine. I mean we are still negotiating, I think Professor Boschoff will tell you people, negotiations are on with the government, and probably with Mandela as well, for getting this land here for this Afrikaner volkstaat which Professor Boschoff is talking about.
POM What about your children? You say your oldest boy is just studying for his matriculation?
JJN Yes he is. You see I couldn't take him away from that school because the standard of education there and the standard of education at the special school we've got here, there's a very, very big difference. That's why I left him there because, as I've just mentioned, he's only got a couple of weeks still left.
POM Will he come to live with you here after that?
JJM Yes. It's in the pipeline that we are getting a university here probably in the next 12/18 months time and this guy is very interested in engineering and then he will probably come here. If we will have the university by that time then certainly he will come here.
POM You used to be a farmer and now you're living here, what do you do to earn your living?
JJN Well I'm not doing much at present. I've got some investments and so on, I get some interest on it so I don't have to work, but at present I'm working with Johan Moolman in this building business of his. We've fixed him up with repairing and all that type of thing, just to keep him busy. I'm going to start a business here in time to come. I'm still busy negotiating with the Directors of Orania because they have to give you permission if you want to start a business because you don't want ten guys, for instance, starting a building business. There's not such a lot of building to be done for ten people, I mean for ten different businesses. So I'm just waiting for them to sort things out, to start a factory here.
POM What kind of future do you expect for your children here?
JJN Well I think the future for myself, and my children, I think it's actually very good because this country is undeveloped. This whole Northern Cape is still undeveloped country, it's actually still wild and it's a rich country. I don't think the people realise what the potential value of this place actually, because it's very, very rich.
POM Now if your son wants to go university in Pretoria or Cape Town or whatever, would that be all right with you?
JJN Yes. If they can't bring us a university here within the next year or 18 months or whatever, then actually I've got no option and I have to send him to a university in Pretoria, Cape Town, or wherever because he must carry on with this engineering story. That's up to him. If he is prepared to go into an open university with the black people - you see the thing is that we actually here in Orania, I've got nothing against the black people, absolutely nothing, when I left the farm some of the black people wanted to come here with me. So I said, "I'm sorry, but you people can't come here." Because I've got nothing against people, I mean, as I just said, we want to be governed by our own people. We as a white nation I think we've got the right to possess our own land and to have our own government, to be governed by the people who we want to be governed by.
POM What about the coloured people who live within the broad borders of Orania?
JJN Are you talking about here?
POM Yes. They speak Afrikaans. They share many aspects of your culture.
JJN Yes, well, the coloured people, their home language is Afrikaans because they grew up, the coloureds actually come from the Western Province so they are Afrikaans speaking, I would say 90% of them and I think they do share some of our culture. But if the new South Africa is being taken over by the ANC or whatever there will be a place for those people. We are not going to kick out the coloured people. If this state will be proclaimed we won't kick them out. I think that's what Professor Boschoff probably mentioned to you. We aren't going to kick out the coloured people from this place. It will be a fact that working opportunities will first be filled by the white people. I mean if any vacancy comes up then it's for our own people.
POM And if there's not one of your own people to fill it?
JJN That question I can't answer. You see in Orania itself we're not allowed to employ black people here because we want to get these opportunities. I think there are about 100,000 white people in South Africa that haven't got work, haven't got a job. And that's why we want this volkstaat because we want to use those people, we want to create job opportunities for our own people. You take the SA government, I think they're not very far from bankrupt, if I can use that word, because they've got such a lot of people who they must look after financially. Now where did that money come from? All right, out of the industries and so forth, but most of that money comes out of the taxpayer and who are the people who are paying tax in this country? It's the whites. And here where we want to create this volkstaat, myself as a taxpayer, that tax which I paid won't be used for other races, it will be used for the white people again.
POM Have you had friends of yours who said you're crazy when you told them you were selling the farm and moving out? Your friends and neighbours must have said that.
JJN Well there are people who thought I'm crazy and they said this volkstaat idea will never work and those people said they see lots of opportunities coming up when the new South Africa is there and when they've got another government. But I just can't see those opportunities. And I mean, as I just said, if you had to go to the Transkei, I've been to Lesotho a lot of times, if you have to go and look and see what has been done there to their agricultural ground - the black countries, or the black homelands within South Africa, they produce about 7% of the food which they daily use but the other 93% comes from the Republic itself. Now if you had to go and see how they farm it's actually a disgrace. I mean it's soil erosion just wherever you go. Now what's going to happen to the new South Africa if these people have to govern? I just can't see my door open. The population is getting more and more, not yearly, you can say daily. And some or other provision must be made for the future in providing food, all that type of thing. And if you haven't got the right people behind it, where is the food going to come from? You'll have the same type of thing which you have in North Africa at present, millions of people are dying of starvation at present.
POM So you really see the future of the rest of South Africa as being a disaster?
JJN Well I think 75% will go ANC, you can call it ANC government, like Mandela, Mbeki and all those people. 75% of those guys are communists, communist orientated. Take a guy like Joe Slovo, for instance, of the S A Communist Party, that guy's an atheist, I mean he's got no religion whatsoever. I think religion has brought the Afrikaner people, you can say since 1836, since the Great Trek, since then till now religion was one of the things that played a very, very big role in the life of the Afrikaner people and brought us up to here. And I can't stay under a government like that because 75% of them are atheists. You can't. I mean we grew up like that, that's our way of living. We're religious people, we can't stay under people that haven't got a God.
POM Does religion play a big part in this community?
JJN Oh yes, a very big part.
POM What are the values that you would like to see instilled in your children when they go to school here and live here? What values do you want the community to foster and develop?
JJN The type of values we're talking about, I haven't got the words to answer you right. We want to be well educated because we must be educated; you can't be uneducated. They won't be like the rest of Africa. That's one thing, education, religion. The bringing up of your children, for instance, that's also a value, that certainly plays a big part in their future life because not only among the blacks, among the whites as well you get people who are not brought up properly. Just go into a place like Johannesburg and see for yourself what's going on there. I think that a good foundation is to bring them up well in a good home, that is going to play a big part in their future lives.
POM What ages are your other children?
JJN My one son is 18, 16, the one is 13 and I've got a little daughter she's only five.
POM So are three of them here?
JJN Three of the kids are here with us.
POM How are they adjusting to the change?
JJN Oh well they've been for this. You know when this thing came up, I think when Mandela was released then we all knew what was going to happen in South Africa; they were talking about sharing of power and all that type of thing. That was only a story they were trying to tell the white people of South Africa, that they were going to share power. But since then my kids, we were always watching TV and reading newspapers and whatever, and they also didn't see their way open for this change type of thing. We just can't accept it. That also is one of the things that made me take the decision now to get rid of everything and come here.
POM So what do the children do, like the 16 year old? How do they study at school? Are there a number of teachers in the school?
JJN It isn't a very big school.
POM I mean here. Your 16 year old is going to school here?
JJN Yes my 16 year old and my 13 year old are at school here.
POM And there's one school. Do they have individual teachers for different things?
JJN We have three teachers at present.
POM And do the parents pay towards it?
JJN Yes we have to pay. It's costing me for my two kids, that's per family, it's costing me R300 a month. That's quite an amount to pay but from next year on in the whole of South Africa if you want your children to have the right standard of education you'll have to pay. If they go to a school where the standard of education is going to drop to meet the blacks that will be free, but the moment you send your kid to a school like a private school where they will have the right standard of education it's going to cost you money as well. So I might just as well pay it here instead of paying it there.
POM So when we come back here in six or seven months time how can we expect to see this community has developed?
JJN Well I think there will be quite a big development taking place in a couple of months. I believe from next year on, this school only opened on 3rd July, that's not very long ago, and at present I think there are 40 or 42 pupils in the school already. From January on I think there will be 100 pupils here. We had people here from all over the Republic the other day, people from Upington, George, a lot of cars. It was people who came up because this is the only establishment, education, of its sort in the Republic and they came to see what's going on and how the kids are doing here and so on because there are lots of parents who are interested in sending their kids to this place, to in this school. My kids are enjoying it such a lot. When they must go out, the kids at school, the people must now go home then the thing starts changing because in my time we couldn't wait for the bell to ring at one o'clock to go home.
POM Well I'll leave it there for today. I just wanted to get to know you and a little bit about you and I'll be back probably at the beginning of next year for a more extended conversation. It's really fascinating to see the risks people take to come here, for something they believe in.
JJN Well I quite agree with you and I think if the white people of South Africa want to survive this place here, this homeland, they want to get going will be their own survival. I mean that will be the only answer.
PAT Was farming in your family for a long time? Was your father a farmer also?
JJN Yes my father was a farmer for 40 years.
PAT Could you take up farming here?
JJN Well yes I can take up farming. I can go and buy myself a farm, yes, nothing is stopping me. Farming at present is such a dicey thing to do because prices are not right, see with local prices of mohair. I think the meat prices are climbing up a bit now. But I'm not in a hurry, we can look here, check the story properly and then we can later on make a decision.
POM Do you miss farming?
JJN Yes it's in my blood. I've been a farmer all my life. I like the wide open spaces around me. I mean that's the way of living.
POM Do you have brothers and sisters?
JJN I've only got one sister.
POM And she's living in?
JJN She's living in Bloemfontein. Her husband is a Station Commander and he's working for the SA Police.
POM How do they feel about the future?
JJN Well I don't know. I think about 75% of the SA Police feel like we feel here but they're not in a position to open up their mouths because that's their way of living, their bread and butter. And as a matter of fact now if the police just do a little thing wrong towards one of the blacks or whatever, then they just get paid off. That's the story and they must just do what they're told otherwise they're going to be in trouble. As I just mentioned to you earlier, we're not against people, not at all. If they are going to rule the new South Africa, we want to trade with them. We want to be governed by our own people here. We want that and that's the story, because I think they're going to need us and we're going to need them. We're going to produce stuff, we're going to produce here which we have to find a market for. You must export, you must import, that's the way of business. So we want our own land, we want to be governed by our own people and that's the story.
POM Thank you.