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  • August 24, 2015

Photographing Inside the Gates of a Closed Community

Italian photographer Erica Canepa describes herself as both “curious” and “stubborn.” Both of which are excellent characteristics for a photographer.

Both traits came in handy while pursuing a recent project on an extremely closed community in South Africa called Kleinfontein. The society, on the outskirts of Pretoria, is home to a small group of Christian Afrikaners who embrace traditional Afrikaner culture and exclude all others from their settlement.

A house in Kleinfontein
The community of Kleinfontein was founded in 1992 and has a population of about 1,200 people. The community of all-white Christian Afrikaners includes a mix of different economic backgrounds.
Oom Wynand van den Berg
Oom Wynand van den Berg has been living in Kleinfontein for three years. Loud music comes out of his balcony at all times of the day.

When Canepa started researching the community she couldn’t find any photos of the place, and she wanted to know why. She also wanted to better understand the community members’ unique way of life. Afrikaners, also sometimes called Boers, are descended from mostly Dutch settlers. They maintain a distinct culture and language and are predominately white. Kleinfontein, with a population of around 1,200, is one of South Africa’s few remaining white-only settlements.

Canepa reached out to community leaders to see if they would let her visit. She wanted to stay for five to six days and live with a family there who could help her understand their way of life.

“I started emailing them and they didn’t reply, so I called them, and they said, ‘No,’ and then I finally convinced one of the founders to meet me, and the first thing that he told me was: ‘You will never get into the community.’”

A woman at home in Kleinfontein
Michelle used to be married to a man from Wales whom she had two children with. They got divorced, and she met her new husband, Louis, who introduced her to Kleinfontein. The first time she visited she felt at home and decided to stay.
Sheep in a field
The settlement is completely surrounded by a wire fence. The total area of Kleinfontein is a little over three miles, although the community is hoping to acquire more land soon.

Over the course of a long conversation Canepa explained that she wasn’t interested in sensational journalism but instead wanted to truly understand the community.

“I was really interested in them because it was a story related to the aftermath of apartheid, and I read a lot about South Africa before and after the apartheid, but I didn’t find a lot about the Boers. They are usually portrayed [in a bad light], but I was curious to understand something that was difficult to understand,” said Canepa.

Steven, in Kleinfontein
Steven lives in a caravan with his daughter and his wife, pregnant with their second child. He does different manual labor jobs to sustain his family. They have been living in Kleinfontein for three years.

After a month of deliberation and back-and-forth emails, the community leader finally agreed to let Canepa visit Kleinfontein. She then had a hard time finding a family willing to host a journalist, but she was eventually welcomed by Michelle and Louis, a couple in their 40s.

“It was really hard for me to get into the community, but once I was there everyone was really friendly; I honestly didn’t have trouble taking pictures and talking to [people],” she said. “They would see me in the street and invite me into their house. It was interesting, the contrast getting in and how friendly they were once I was there.”

A security gate
At the entrance of the settlement there is a gate monitored by security guards 24 hours per day. It is only possible to get in with an invitation.
A family in Kleinfontein
Sundays services are an important time for socialization in the community. Kleinfontein’s inhabitants dress up for the event and go to the community hall with the whole family.

And once inside the community gate—manned 24-hours a day by security—she said she found a warm, safe community of deeply religious people who loved nature and had a helpful spirit. She said she eventually came to understand that their way of life was more about preserving their unique cultural identity than simply keeping “others” out.

“Before going to the community I had a prejudice, but I was trying to get my mind clean to be open. Honestly, I was kind of expecting to find a racist community and, in a way, this is actually what I found. It is more complicated than that, though. I found it’s not about the race; everything is about the culture, and racism became a consequence of their desire to protect themselves and their culture. They think if they live outside the community they will keep mixing with others and will slowly lose their identity.”

Dries Oncke in Kleinfontein
Dries Oncke shares four caravans with his wife and their daughter and her family. He lost two legs and an arm in a train accident 24 years ago.

Canepa also said the safety of the community surprised her. She found few locked doors, and the children ran around mostly unsupervised. There was also economic diversity—some people were well-off, while others lived in a makeshift squatter camp. There was a special home for the elderly, and almost everyone had a job in the community—with the goal of making the settlement self-sufficient without outside help.

A group studying religion
After Sunday services kids study religion in small groups while their parents have coffee and tea outside.

Overall, Canepa said she wants to share what she found in Kleinfontein with a wider audience, to help dispel stereotypes about a group of people who have chosen to isolate themselves from a larger population.

“Basically, I want to show people something that is quite unusual and that not everyone has seen. They really care about their identity and culture, which is something different to me than just being racist. Afrikaans is not only a race—it’s a race, it’s a language, it’s a way of living.”


Erica Canepa is an Italian freelance documentary photographer and videographer. She is passionate about stories that examine the human condition. See more of her work on her website.

There are 38 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Mirelle
    September 16, 2015

    I’m a resident of Kleinfontein and I would like everyone to know that I’m a very well paid professional. I work outside of the Kleinfontein community. I work with all different races. My kid attends a school with kids of all races. Why did we move there? Firstly I was hijacked once with a gun to my head. I was mugged at an ATM with a knive pointed at my pregnant belly. My partner was also mugged in an attemted hijack. Here I feel safe in a community of like minded people. I have travelled the world and am very aware of what happens in the world out there. I sleep with my doors open, my kid can run around safe. It’s a great quality of life. By the way i was born in SA surely I also have a right and where would uou like me to go this is also my country. People are getting killed here in the wonderful SA. I choose to create a better life for my child without having to leave my country. I am also involved in community projects where we assist communities of every colour.

  2. Lo
    September 11, 2015

    Uh no, people from the Netherlands do not travel to this place, and no, they don’t have to move here either, thank you very much. There are enough small towns with mostly caucasian and strict religious in this place. I’m all for diversity

  3. Paulette Burns
    September 10, 2015

    In reality not one group of people or persons wants to lose their culture, but I cannot see how that can be avoided. The French people in Quebec (of which I am one)have tried to maintain their language at an extremely high cost, they lost much of the businesses that were profitable to other provinces, they encouraged people to the world who spoke french to migrate to Quebec, what they got was many poor people from all the french countries, Haiti , Sudan, Lebanon etc, I am in no way implying that everyone from these countries were poor but the majority that came after the troubles were, consequently they have gangs, lots of poverty and a very active Muslim peoples in a very Christian community. Still after all this they are now realizing that with computers such a major player in everyone’s lives that all the French people really all need to learn English. So separating yourself from everyone else does not ensure that you will maintain your culture or religion, also I cannot believe that all Afrikaners are honest and have never had any problems with the authorities

  4. Nefrí Smith
    September 4, 2015

    I think and feel that if safety and preservation are key to their religious and cultural preservation, perhaps they should go back to their home country. Because the truth of the matter is that they originally migrated to Africa to take land that they believed and impure people lived on. Now that the South African people have control of their country again they want all of the the people that pressed them gone. They should just go. This is a very though provoking article but when your dealing with an issue like this you have to stop and think about all of the African continent and realize that So much of our cultural practices have been disrupted due to colonization. It breaks my heart to see articles like this. I want to feel something good about what these people are doing but I can’t allow myself to because of all the damage that many of them have already done. at the end of the day we must remember that Christianity was brought to the people of the the larger part of Africa and forced upon them and cultures that were not theirs. If these Dutch people want to stay they are never gonna be truly safe because of what their ancestors did to the African people.

  5. Artur
    September 2, 2015

    I like this article, very well written.
    Some times I wish that I was living in a community that shares the same values as I do, in stead of having a lot of values that do not necessarily I agree with being pushed on me or my kids at school, by current government in province of Ontario, Canada.

  6. Gerhard
    September 2, 2015

    Thank you for the article Erica.
    Reading through the comments, there is clearly a misinterpretation by some regarding the information in the article.
    As a resident in the community, I just want to clarify some points of which might be of interest.
    It seems that Kleinfontein is sketched as a poor, backyard family inbreed of a 1200 racists who is completely out of touch with the “real world”.
    This is not true. MOST of the inhabitants are or were (those retired) professional people working in the close-by Capital of Pretoria or Johannesburg. You will find anything from engineers, scientists, business professionals, etc. Many with Masters degrees and Doctorates (some with two). Some are and were even professors at major South African universities.
    One should also mention the various, very successful businesses with large turnovers which exist within the community who also conduct business outside the gates.
    The only difference is that the above mentioned people acknowledge the fact that the Afrikaner/Boer (his language, traditions, culture, history, religion) is under serious threat in South Africa and are doing something proactive to preserve it for future generations. I won’t even go into depth of the safety issues in the country.
    To preserve the above mentioned, a Afrikaner community(ies) such as Kleinfontein is necessary.
    I am of the opinion that the pictures sketched in the article are very one sided. People do tend to act and react more on what they see than what they read. Therefore, I would like to request Erica, if possible, to publish a follow up article with photographs which highlight the diversity of the community and its people more appropriately.
    Regards

  7. Elizabeth Angus
    September 1, 2015

    I loved the article. Interesting and enlightening and non judgmental. Some comments reveal much about the person commenting….

  8. Bernadine Miller
    September 1, 2015

    So many questions…Who established this community in 1992? Were these people born in South Africa? Are they 100% Dutch? Do you have to be 100% Dutch to live there? Do people travel from the Netherlands to live here? Why? Do the inhabitants ever travel outside the community? How about shop? Interact with the outside world? Do any of them have the desire to know about the outside world and South Africa in particular? Is this racism or a case of classic self absorption on a huge scale?

  9. damphoose
    August 31, 2015

    @Olaf Big your statement is not accurate. You said “The residents of this community happen all to be white, but I don’t think they self select for race, but rather for cultural identity, which happens to strongly correlate with race.” It is a Boer/Afrikaaner community. Boer/Afrikaaners are decedents of settlers from the Netherlands from a time when the Netherlands was 100% white. To say that it’s happenstance that the culturally selection means everyone is white (just by coincidence) is naïve at best, more likely disingenuous. While the photographer seems to be honest in her pursuit, I wish others were as well.

  10. Julia
    August 31, 2015

    Amazing pictures and article! I was there in March and April this year for the same reasons and to collect data for my master thesis. I first heard about them in a Spiegel magazine article. Lovely people, amazing place. Cant wait to be back, greetings from Germany. Julia

  11. Glynis Lailann
    August 31, 2015

    I am South African born Chinese and I keep up with my culture & traditions. It is one thing to preserve your culture, but the main issue with these people is that they fear that integration with other colours & creeds will make them less ‘Afrikaans’. I am living proof that one can preserve your heritage that still move with the times. We now live in the 21st century. So as they say in the classics ‘Get with it man!’

  12. Vijay
    August 31, 2015

    Communities like this one rarely acknowledge the constitution that protects their right to practise a racially exclusionist way of life. They are generally left in peace, but also are of little interest to the rest of South Africa

  13. Raymond Schep
    August 31, 2015

    This article ignores the genocide that is being taking place in South Africa, whites being murdered inside their homes by blacks merely because their skins are white and the need for such communities to provide safety and security. The media is ignoring this genocide and maybe this article would never have been published by NG if this was pointed out. Maybe this post will be deleted too.

  14. Bipin B. Gupta
    August 30, 2015

    People live in comunes, gated communities, ghettos etc out of FEAR.
    All other reasons are means to justify and convince the outside world or rather fool them into getting convinced.
    What is the economic strength of this commune? If it is just farming it may not last long. The younger generation today look out for greater diversity. Then intermarrige into the same blood lines / DNA will ultimately make them deseased.

  15. Bellie Jayaprakash
    August 30, 2015

    Find the photos and write up very interesting. The key words that struck are me ‘preservation of culture’. Belonging to a small community called BADAGAS in the Nilgiris in Sothern India, though not a ‘closed community’, our unique culture, traditions and language are under threat of becoming extinct due outside influence. Trying to preserve them in my own way through a website http://www.badaga.co

  16. Daryl
    August 30, 2015

    Good work, it is hard to try to preserve something of one’s culture these days. The Mennonitte’s try to do this in Canada and have succeeded partially, but they are not viewed as a minority and face discrimination and pressure to lose their culture.

  17. Katie Troyer
    August 30, 2015

    This is so much like my Amish culture.

  18. Wikus
    August 30, 2015

    I am an Afrikaner living in South Africa, but not living in a community like Kleinfontein. To be honest, I have never heard of Kleinfontein, although I know that a few other similar communities exists. The racial and cultural issues in South Africa is complex and often misrepresented. It is very refreshing to read an article like this, where the focus of the author was to understand rather than the normal judgmental approach that is so typical of these type of articles.

  19. Sara
    August 30, 2015

    I went to her website to view more of this same article BUT a PASSWORD was needed! I was very disappointed. A password was not needed for other places on her site.

  20. Olaf Big
    August 30, 2015

    Jan Alva, don’t be naive! How do you think people get into a high-demand upscale condo in New York? That’s screening too. The residents of this community happen all to be white, but I don’t think they self select for race, but rather for cultural identity, which happens to strongly correlate with race. Unless you are forced into this selection process, there is nothing frightening about it. South Africa is a big place.

  21. Eugene Fraser
    August 30, 2015

    I was never aware that such a place existed. Thank you Erica to make us aware of these things. I was thinking of doing the same thing on my farm in the Free State.

  22. Fred
    August 30, 2015

    Hung up in the past. The children are the ones suffer. Uneducated about the real world. I don’t see it lasting another generation.

  23. Dorothea Smith
    August 30, 2015

    I would love to learn more about Kleinfontein and it’s people. I think it would be a nice place to live, peaceful

  24. David A. Greene
    August 30, 2015

    Nice job. A very kind loving presentation.

  25. Roberta Hudlow
    August 30, 2015

    I live in what some refer to as the melting pot, USA. However, I love to visit various ethnic festivals and enjoy the music, dance, food, whatever. I also truly love the culture of the original nations of our continent. If we work it right, continue our culture in our homes and neighborhoods or friends, but also mix and enjoy others we can become a marvelous stew with many flavors and a wondrous gravy that picks up the flavors of the varied groups. I live in a neighborhood where I can go out for Mexican, Cajun, Ethiopian, Thai, a US burger, Chinese, regional barbeque, and an international grocery store. How lucky I am!

  26. Miriam Bowden
    August 30, 2015

    It is unfortunate that these colonists felt the need to create a community just for their religion and culture. They feel they have the right to remain untainted by the beliefs and cultures of the people whose land and culture they exploited and attempted to obliterate. I think I know the best place for them to preserve and celebrate the ways of their Dutch ancestors — The Netherlands.

  27. Carl Jordaan
    August 30, 2015

    Since 1994 there has been a huge increase in crime that has driven people to security villages. What makes Kleinfontein and Orania unique is that there areas have been earmarked for Afrikaners who hold specific cultural values. Preservation of language and Christian values are very important and need to be protected, and places such as kleinfontein provide such a safe a haven. Afrikaners find their language and culture under attack as one after the other Afrikaner institutions is challenged by what is perceived to be an unfriendly government. This has forced people to move inward and to try and preserve for themselves what they consider as precious.

  28. Jack Noel
    August 30, 2015

    I observe: Since the beginning of homo sapiens, we’ve evolved to be suspicious of “others” not of our tribe. Though it’s unlikely to happen tomorrow, I suggest we should adopt Species Identity and Species Loyalty over all other considerations. I am accepting of other human beings because of their humanity..

  29. Igor к
    August 30, 2015

    довольно интересно и содержательно. Благодарю и желаю продолжения совершенства …

  30. Madhav Manikal
    August 30, 2015

    “Religiousness” does not mean just attending Church or Temple regularly. As all the great savants of Religions highlight, it especially means looking at all other Human beings as God’s creations and fellow brotheren in this ‘great big beautiful wonderful world’. Nice words and cliches do not cloak apartheid as an underlying theme. It is well inside their biological system and cannot be got out so easily.

  31. LesB
    August 30, 2015

    In the US these people would be called “white trash”

  32. jan alva
    August 30, 2015

    Quite understand wanting to preserve cultural identity. However, must agree with what Stephanie says about the means to achieve that. Which leads me to a question: how are applicants to the village “screened”? This seems frighteningly like programs in the past where the racial purity of people was delved into.

  33. aldo tremblay
    August 30, 2015

    In a certain way they are right to isolate themselves,,to preserve culture language and identity,,,we here in Canada have interfered with Inuits and they are struggling immensely to preserve their language.

  34. Greer Barton
    August 26, 2015

    I went into this story thinking I was going to be upset yet again about a racist community. I think there is something to the preservation of our cultures and our values. This has me approaching the way we as humans choose to live in a different light.

  35. Stefanie Jones
    August 25, 2015

    I found this story extremely interesting and thought-provoking. It seems there is this ultimatum in thinking of the people of this community (and many others): either integrate or isolate. I don’t think there is any right answer… nor should there be. People should be allowed to choose for themselves how they want to live their lives. It is possible to isolate as a community and keep others, who are different away so as not to pollute your culture. But, as many Jewish people can attest to, there are other ways to be part of society as a whole and maintain your sense of self and community values. This was a tough piece to take on… great job to the author!

    • Coburn Dukehart
      August 26, 2015

      Thanks Stefanie for your thoughtful comment. Much appreciated!

  36. Michel Jean
    August 25, 2015

    It is unfortunate that we live in a 21st century world that still copes with integrating different values. And maybe integration is not the right answer, but isolation doesn’t seem the answer either. Fear of losing its identity is a worldwide issue, in a stream of massive world opinions which seem to dictate what is right and what is questionably a norm. Live and let live as they are, holds a positive melody.

  37. Dannie
    August 24, 2015

    Thankyou Erica for telling the story of the Afrikaner community of Kleinfontein.

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