This post first appeared on Russia Insider
A very well-done mini film about the Boers' history, and their interest in Russia.
Full transcript below:
African Boers, the descendants of Dutch settlers are looking for a safe place to live in Russia. Attacks on them by the black population of South Africa are becoming ever more frequent. Vandals are robbing Boer farms. As a result, dozens of wealthy Boer families are ready to move.
Artem Yamshikov found out whether the Boers are welcome in Russia and how they could contribute to Russia's agriculture sector.
“This landscape is very similar to what you can see in South Africa. I'd say that about 35% of the country looks exactly like this. We could potentially live here.”
Special Report by Artem Yamshchikov: “Adventures of Africans in Russia”
He knows some Russian, a little bit of English, but mostly uses Afrikaans, his native language and one of the official languages of South Africa. Leon Francois Du Toit greeted Russian journalists at an airport in Moscow.
Leon Francois Du Toit, the spiritual leader of a Boer community in South Africa: “I'm happy to be here in Russia.”
Believe it or not, this gentleman and his son are Africans, or rather Afrikaners, the descendants of the first religious settlers from Europe, who were Protestants. The history of Du Toit's Ancestors Mr. Du Toit's ancestors fled France due to persecution under Louis XIV. At first they went to Holland, then to the Cape of Good Hope in Africa. That's where they decided to stay. They became Boers, the Dutch word for "farmers". The Boers grew wheat and vegetables until they were forced by British colonists to leave their land. The Boer families were dissatisfied with British rule and decided to head north, where several states were later founded. Today, those territories are part of South Africa. Boer communities settled all over the region.
Yury Skubko, Senior Researcher at the Institute for African Studies of the RAS: “South Africa currently has a population of 56 million people. About 8-9% of them are white. That's about five million people. Three million of them are Boers. White people began to settle in southern Africa in 1652.”
Some people blame the Boers and the British colonists equally for enslaving African tribes. Johannes Du Toit, the son of the pastor who's come to Russia, strongly disagrees with such an interpretation of the country's history.
Johannes Du Toit: “My ancestors were religious refugees. They fled to an area that wasn't yet occupied by black people from central Africa. My ancestors and black people came there at the same time and then went to the northern part of southern Africa. People misinterpret our history: we didn't colonize anyone. It was the British Empire that colonized the region. By the time British colonists got there and claimed our gold and diamonds as theirs, our people had been living there for 150 years.”
The polarization between blacks and whites escalated during the apartheid regime in the 20th century when black people were completely deprived of their rights.
“Today, the majority of South Africa, black and white, recognize that apartheid has no future. It has to be ended by our own decisive mass action in order to build peace and security.”
However, in the 1990s, the pendulum swung in the other direction.
“When I was eleven, there was an attack on our farm. Thank God, my dad was able to protect us. When I was 24, five men broke into our house. My grandfather was beaten to death.”
Jenin: “My father opened the door and was shot in the stomach. He reached for the phone and called his neighbor. The men continued to shoot at my father: his back, arms, and legs. He ended up getting shot in the head, execution-style. It's only getting worse. If you're 65 or older, you're a potential target. Farmers have no choice but to leave. The government isn't doing anything to help.”
Unfortunately, this is not a conversation about a horror movie. This is what Boers living in South Africa have to deal with on a daily basis. The outcome is often tragic. The world's media describe this situation as "reverse apartheid". The South African government blames the general increase in criminal activity in the country. In reality, a land reform which literally cut the African ground from under white farmers' feet lies at the root of the problem.
Yury Skubko: “The 28,000 households that belong to white farmers are large, high-value, mechanized farms. Their land is profitable, has an export potential for South Africa, and feeds the population of the country. Ahead of next year's election, the government led by the African National Congress is pursuing a populist course, so to speak, by backing the idea of land expropriation without compensation.”
Cyril Ramaphosa, President of South Africa: “Those who would have wanted to resist are now coming to terms with the fact that we've got to change. Our people want the wound inflicted on them to be healed. The only way to do that is by transforming our land ownership.”
Amid official statements like this one, the land value in South Africa has dropped by one-third. The Boers have no choice but to leave the country. Leon Francois Du Toit, the leader of a large, Christian community of Afrikaners, says that Russia is one of the options under consideration. According to him, Russia attracts Boers with its strong spiritual traditions and high family standards. The pastor came to see the country so he can later share his experiences with the wealthy members of his church. According to him, each family is ready to invest up to one million dollars in Russian agriculture as well as bring their technology with them.
Vladimir Poluboyarenko, Assistant Ombudsman in Stavropol Krai: “Soon, on October 11th or 12th if I'm not mistaken, another five representatives of some of the wealthiest Boer families are expected to pay a visit to Russia. They're going to be the ones who decide how much they should invest in Russia.”
Interestingly, our welcome guests from South Africa aren't afraid of Russian winters.
Johannes Du Toit: “Even in Kaluga Oblast, you can work on your farm eight months of the year. It's great. It's wonderful. We just need to get accustomed. That's why we need help from local unions and local experts.”
No sooner said than done. Vladimir Poluboyarenko, a social activist, drove the Du Toits to Kaluga Oblast. On their way, they stopped by the village of Kosyakovo, located near Moscow. Mikhail Baranov, the director of a local farm, welcomed the South African delegation. After a short, formal greeting, they headed to the field.
Mikhail Baranov: “I could drive us there. It's up to you.”
Once in the field, pastor Leon Francois Du Toit, a South African Boer, and Mikhail Baranov, the head of a dairy farm located near Moscow, seem to have found common ground.
Leon Francois Du Toit: “I feel at home here.”
This state farm has 2,000 dairy cows that produce quality milk. As it turns out, the forage for the animals is grown on this farm as well.
Leon Francois Du Toit: “When Boer and Afrikaner farmers see the quality of the crops, that alone will be a good enough reason for them to come to Russia and live on a farm here. It has such a fresh taste to it. These are quality crops. They remind me of my childhood.”
As a child, Leon spent a lot of time in the fields. That's when he learned how to operate a tractor. Later on, he took the charge of a farm. Leon managed the farm while going to school, so he has first-hand experience in running a farm. But he hasn't yet gotten acquainted with the relevant Russian laws.
Mikhail Baranov, director of a farm: “We know all the laws concerning this type of business in which we have over 30 years of experience. We can offer them our help. They're new to the country so, of course, they're not going to know all the details.”
We're now in Kaluga Oblast. This state farm seems to be the best at everything. The farm took four years to build. There're sheep, pigs, cows, chickens, and even a garden here. Boers can get help here as well. First, with advice.
Mikhail Ivanov, attorney-at-law: “Foreigners can't buy farmland here. They can either rent it or become a shareholder of a Russian company that already owns farmland.”
Then later, with a deed.
Mikhail Ivanov, attorney-at-law: “Perhaps, they will consider joining us here. It's up to them to decide. We're always looking for reliable partners.”
Mr. Du Toit Junior isn't afraid of difficulties facing him in his new home. He got used to the Russian mentality while learning the language. Daria, his language teacher and wife from Siberia, has set high expectations.
Johannes Du Toit: “I think it's very important to those who'd like to come and stay in Russia.”
For a fully immersive experience in Russian culture, Johannes' wife calls him Ivan.
– So you have a daughter?
– Yes, her name is Viktoria Ivanovna. This is a picture of us having a cookout together. My mother-in-law lives there. Here's a photo of her garden.
Johannes admits that he decided against moving to France, the country of his ancestors. This Christian from Africa isn't comfortable with European tolerance for same-sex marriage.
A hymn sung in a Russian church is like a glimmer of hope for a better future for the Boers. If they can't find it in their homeland of South Africa, they can definitely find it here, in Russia, which is known for its hospitality.
Igor Podositnikov, Chair of the Church Charity/Social Service Department of Stavropol/Nevinnomyssk eparchy: “I was happy to see that they were interested in more than just the culture, economy, and the people living in our region. The first thing they did was visit our church. As a priest, I'm interested to find out how they serve God where they live and what acts of charity they do. I'm the Chairman of the Church Charity Department and every day people come to me, asking for help and support.”
“We see 200-210 patients per day.”
“Here's our treatment room. Compare the test results of these patients.”
“We performed radical surgery to remove a tumor. Today, all of the patient's vital signs are within normal ranges. The patient was brought here from the intensive care unit after the surgery.”
Having visited the Stavropol Krai Cancer Center, Mr. Du Toit continued to bring it up in conversations. He claims to know many Boers who are excellent doctors and who could share their experience with Russian medical workers.
Stavropol Krai offers many opportunities for farmers. The climate here is warm and you can grow just about anything from forage crops to fruit and vegetables. The soil here is fertile. No wonder that African Boers are considering settling down here.
Afrikaners first began thinking about moving when they heard the news about a large German family with the surname of Martens. A year ago, Yevgeny, Luisa, and their ten children literally fled to Russia from the intrusive sex-ed programs in Europe.
Yevgeny Martens: “When your child comes home from school, it's like they're a totally different person. Because teachers tell them things that make children feel shy and uncomfortable around their own parents.”
It's the second time Yevgeny has tried to permanently move to Russia. The first time didn't go so well. They had to go back to Germany. After a while, they decided to try again.
– Hello, Valery.
– Long time no see.
– Thank you.
- Come here! I missed you the most!
Vladimir Poluboyarenko, a human rights activist from Stavropol, let the family stay in his villa. This time, it will be temporarily occupied by his guests from Africa.
– Very nice to meet you!
Johannes Du Toit: “It's very nice to meet you, too! We heard your story. We're here to see what our options are. People like me, Boers and Afrikaners, have come to realize that we don't want our children to live in a place where an ideology that we don't agree with is being enforced. It's in conflict with our values as Christians.’
The Martens now own a house and a small farm in the suburbs of Stavropol.
Timon Martens: “We already have a cow, chickens…
– We have pigs, too.
Right. As I said, I can feed the cow, for example. I can also drive a tractor. Going for a ride in a tractor while working is an interesting experience. I really enjoy that type of work.”
Melita, Timon's sister sitting next to him, helps her parents around the house. She said that every morning, at 4 am, while her friends from the village are still asleep, she goes to check on the cow.
- Her name is Krasotka. I go and milk her.
– You already know how to do it?
– Yes. And so does my sister.
- What is your daily routine?
- Six of us are girls. We're divided into two groups. For example, today, Elmira, Sophia, and I need to clean out the kitchen while Tarifa, Salamita, and Hanna are supposed to make dinner. Tomorrow, the roles will be reversed.
Timon and Melita, the oldest children in the family, teach their siblings. Two months ago, they took on a number of additional, enjoyable responsibilities when a bundle of joy arrived in the family: The family now has eleven children.
Yevgeny Martens: “Here's Viktor. His name means "winner".
For the German family of Martens, moving to Russia was a significant victory. Yevgeny is glad that he decided to move. He says that his children are happy here. As for African Boers, they have yet to make this step.
Leon Francois Du Toit: “In the few days that we've spent here, we've seen the fundamental principles that are important to us. We like to keep things organized and I can tell that we can have that here. Before moving here, we need to pave the way and make sure there're no ideological conflicts.”
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