Half a million white South Africans have left the country in the past three decades, but most didnt choose Russia as their new home, unlike Johannes du Toit, who is intent on settling here as Ivan Vahrushev.
“The hostility, the injustice Im living through, it is to do with the South African government. It is an attack on our people. They dont want us to feel comfortable in our own country. They want us all to leave,” du Toit explains in his still somewhat rough but comprehensible Russian.
Ironically, it is du Toits inability to leave his country for good that led RT Russian crew to contact him in Paris and take a telephone interview.
Du Toits is not a simple story. His family is descended from French Huguenots, who settled in the Western Cape in the 17th century.
“We were religious refugees, not colonizers,” he insists, and he prides himself on his South African heritage.
But for all acknowledgements of the white-led unfairness of apartheid, he says that the black majority rule means that he can barely consider the place he grew up a home.
“My home area used to be one of the wealthiest in South Africa. But now, daily, there are protests. They break everything, set fire to hospitals and police stations. We used to live there in safety, but that was a different time. Today, that time is gone. And I do not want to go back,” he says, talking of legislation passed this year that paves the way for expropriation of land from the Boers.
Du Toit first left the country in 1999 to emigrate to France, his ancestral homeland, where he says he has been working in communications – but the pivotal moment in his life was when he met a Russian woman, Darya Vahrusheva, three years ago.
He was not only charmed, but took to Russian culture, traveling to Daryas eastern Siberian hometown of Krasnoyarsk, rapidly learning the language, marrying, and best of all, fathering a daughter, Viktoria, who turned one this month.
So far, the couple has divided their time between France, Zambia (where du Toits parents live), and Russia, where he can stay for no longer than 90 days at a time as a tourist.
He wants more. Not just to see his family more often (“I am suffering while they are in Siberia for the summer”), not just to become a Russian citizen, but to start a new life as Ivan Vahrushev, becoming the head of a family, something he says his wife, who grew up with that name but without having a father around, never had.
In the face of this commitment, the bureaucratic barrier seems trivial – the lack of a legal document that shows that du Toit has no criminal record. So far, efforts to contact the South African authorities through letters have been met with no response. A conversation with a local official, in which du Toit spoke of his planned name change, brought “humiliation” and accusations of “disrespect” to his home country.
Now, du Toit hopes that attention from Russia, South Africa, or maybe an NGO – he has already been helped by some Christian organizations, with which he connected on the basis of his avowed faith – will transform his fate.
“I want to become an example of how it can be possible to become a Russian. To live as someone who benefits society.”
The story comes on the heels of reports that up to 15,000 Boers, descendants of Dutch farmers in South Africa, are planning to move to Russia and settle in the south of the country. Currently, the new South African government, led by President Cyril Ramaphosa, pledges to return lands owned by white farmers since the 17th century to the black population.
While the government says they intend to put an end to the legacy of apartheid – given that most of South Africas agricultural land is still possessed by the minority white population – white farmers claim they face government-inspired violence and receive death threats.
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