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Survival of the whitest: inside an Afrikaner boot camp

 INSP 16 March 2019

At a right-wing training camp, young South Africans are being trained to fight for their Afrikaner heritage – and against Mandela’s rainbow nation. (1776 Words) - By Elles van Gelder

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Afrikaner children practice how to use guns during a nine day camp. The camp is organized by self acclaimed 'Kolonel' Jooste, a South African white man who fought in the old apartheid army. He wants to put the white youth up against Nelson Mandela's culturally mixed 'rainbow nation'. Photo: Ilvy Njiokiktjien

SNS_Survival of the whitest

Children and adolescents are being trained in a nine-day camp by a South African white man who fought in the old apartheid army. He wants to teach them how to defend themselves and how to fight when a war will start. Photo: Ilvy Njiokiktjien

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Children and adolescents are being trained in a nine-day camp by a South African white man who fought in the old apartheid army. He wants to teach them how to defend themselves and how to fight when a war will start.Photo: Ilvy Njiokiktjien

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Afrikaner children practice how to use guns during a nine day camp. The camp is organized by self acclaimed 'Kolonel' Jooste, a South African white man who fought in the old apartheid army. He wants to put the white youth up against Nelson Mandela's culturally mixed 'rainbow nation'. Photo: Ilvy Njiokiktjien

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Children and adolescents are being trained in a nine-day camp by a South African white man who fought in the old apartheid army. He wants to teach them how to defend themselves and how to fight when a war will start. Photo: Ilvy Njiokiktjien

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Children and adolescents are being trained in a nine-day camp by a South African white man who fought in the old apartheid army. He wants to teach them how to defend themselves and how to fight when a war will start. Photo: Ilvy Njiokiktjien

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Kolonel Jooste and his sergeants watch as the boys lift tires. They want to make the children tough so they can fight in a war. Kolonel Jooste thinks there will be a war in South Africa soon. Photo: Ilvy Njiokiktjien

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The boys rest on the grass, during one of the very few breaks during the tough training of the Kommandokorps camp. This camp is organized by self acclaimed 'Kolonel' Jooste, a South African white man who fought in the old apartheid army. He wants to put the white youth up against Nelson Mandela's culturally mixed 'rainbow nation'. Photo: Ilvy Njiokiktjien

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The nine day camp takes a lot of energy from the boys and the marching exchausts them after a few days. The kommandokorps camp is organized by self acclaimed 'Kolonel' Jooste, a South African white man who fought in the old apartheid army. He wants to put the white youth up against Nelson Mandela's culturally mixed 'rainbow nation'. Photo: Ilvy Njiokiktjien

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Riaan, one of the boys sits on his knees in a field at the end of an exercise. The kommandokorps camp is organized by self acclaimed 'Kolonel' Jooste, a white South African man who fought in the old apartheid army. He wants to put the white youth up against Nelson Mandela's culturally mixed 'rainbow nation' and does not want them to integrate in the 'new South Africa'. Photo: Ilvy Njiokiktjien

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Boys pose in army style under the stars on the last evening of their nine day camp. The kommandokorps camp is organized by self acclaimed 'Kolonel' Jooste, a South African white man who fought in the old apartheid army. He wants to put the white youth up against Nelson Mandela's culturally mixed 'rainbow nation'. Photo: Ilvy Njiokiktjien


Thick clouds of diesel smoke fill the clean air of the countryside. As the stench dissipates, South African teenagers spill from the bed of a rusty truck. The trip from the city to the country was long and hypnotic in the old jalopy. The boys heft bags full of military clothing out of the truck. "There are old blood stains on my uniform," one of them says as he trades his sneakers for army boots.

Shouted orders ring out. The harsh intimidation has already begun. Groaning, the boys raise fifteen-foot tent poles among the cow paddies dotting the grassland. The large army tent will be their home for the next nine days. These pimply teenagers between thirteen and nineteen are staying at a run-down guest farm some three hours' drive east of Johannesburg.

South African youth often go to camp during school holidays to learn how to start a fire, build huts and identify animal tracks. But this survival camp is different. Here, the focus is on surviving in South Africa as a white South African.

The participants are all Afrikaners, descendants of Dutch, German and French colonists. They are children of the "born free" generation. None of them have experienced apartheid. "I don't know what apartheid is," says thirteen-year-old Jano, the youngest member of the camp. "But a long time ago, Nelson Mandela made it so everyone has the same rights."

In nine days, little boys who once carried a budding belief in South African unity have become toughened men with racist ideas.

Their position as the first generation of whites in the new South Africa makes them an interesting group. They are the generation supposed to help bring about unity and change. According to professor Eliria Bornman at South Africa's UNISA university, however, studies show that they increasingly identify as Afrikaners instead of as South Africans. "They have a strong Afrikaner identity and they are struggling to determine their position in South Africa," she says. "There's a great deal of anger, too. They know they're different from the rest of the population. They feel unwanted in their own country and are looking for someone to lead them."

Young, frightened faces run from the army tent to the mess hall. Before them, under the glare of fluorescent lighting, stands fifty-seven-year-old Franz Jooste. Army decorations gleam on his uniform; Jooste fought in the old apartheid army. The uniforms riddled with bullet holes also come from that era. "We're going to make men of you all," he says in Afrikaans.

Jooste is the head of the Kommandokorps, a small extreme right-wing group. The organization claims to have trained between 1500 and 1800 young white Afrikaners during school holidays over the past eleven years. On its website, the Kommandokorps describes itself as an elite organization 'protecting its own people' in the event of an attack, necessary 'because the police and the military cannot provide help quickly enough'.

Though the crime rate is dropping, South Africans are increasingly fearful. Every year, 16,000 murders are committed and 200,000 assaults with intent to cause bodily harm. The excessive violence is the primary factor driving the sense of fear. "We always have to lock our doors at night," says eighteen-year-old Nicolas. "This camp will teach me how to protect my father and mother and little brother and sister." But the group's leader has a greater objective.

It's four-thirty in the morning on the first day of camp. The boys are running a mile and a half in their heavy army boots, down a rocky country road filled with potholes. The organization aspires to instill discipline through sweat. The war of attrition has begun. Indoctrination takes root best on exhausted ground.

Sixteen-year-old E. C. is in the middle of the panting troop. He isn't one of the youngest present, but he is one of the smallest. He is a childlike teenager who is primarily excited at being able to shoot his paintball gun at camp. "I want to be able to defend myself. And I am also doing this for my paintball career," he says with a wide, mischievous smile.

At eighteen, Riaan is already a little more self-assured. His lily-white skin is recovering from acne. "I want to learn how to camouflage myself in the field." He, too, seems primarily excited at camping out and playing soldier, as if he's living an adventure out of a boyhood novel.

As we talk about their country, both say they believe in South Africa's rainbow nation. "People generally get along pretty well," Riaan says. "We have to fight racism." E. C. has two black friends, Thabang and Tshepo. "I don't like racism." But the contradictions soon emerge. "I'm terrified to walk past black people," Jano says. E.C. may have black friends, but he says he would never marry a black woman.

Leader Jooste sits in the mess hall and looks through the glasses on his nose at tomorrow's program. Kitschy paintings of buffalos, elephants and rhinos hang on the wall. The wicker furniture is covered in zebra-print fabric.

Jooste is a proud veteran. He fought along South Africa's borders with Zimbabwe and Mozambique. He is scarred by what he calls treason. While he was fighting for the white regime, his leaders were making peace with Nelson Mandela. "Aside from the Aborigines in Australia, the African black is the most underdeveloped, barbaric member of the human race on Earth," he tells the boys.

"It'll take me an hour to change their minds," Jooste says with pride. "Then they'll know they aren't part of the rainbow nation, but part of another nation with an important history."

Few whites share Jooste's desire to return to the past. Most of them support the new democratic South Africa. There are an estimated 4.6 million whites in South Africa of varying descent, in a population of fifty million. A small fraction still fights for the survival of the right, like Jooste. "There are a few right-wing splinter groups, though I think they have no more than a thousand active members," says professor Hermann Giliomee, a historian specializing in Afrikaners. According to Giliomee, apartheid stemmed from two sources: fear and a sense of superiority. You can still see them in Jooste. The primary fear is for the loss of Afrikaner identity as a separate people. For the loss of their culture, language and symbols. And so he must stimulate the sense of being a separate group and cultivate a new generation.

"Who is my enemy in South Africa? Who murders, robs and rapes?" Jooste is lecturing in the mess hall. His cadets sit cross-legged on the ground. "Who are these creatures?" he asks. "The blacks." He goes on to tell the boys that blacks have a smaller cerebral cortex than whites, and thus cannot take initiative or govern effectively.

According to criminologist Anthony Altbeker, the justified fear of crime can be used to engender racial hatred. "The damage that can inflict is significant." He believes that crime has become a useful tool with which the elite can mourn the loss of power without sounding nostalgic for the past. Whites' fear is also amplified by witting and unwitting racism. Because there are simply more black South Africans and because many of them are poor, they form the largest group of perpetrators.

"It'll take me an hour to change their minds," Jooste says with pride. "Then they'll know they aren't part of the rainbow nation, but part of another nation with an important history." He picks up the South African flag and lays it before the entrance to the mess hall like a doormat. He orders the boys to wipe their filthy army boots off on it. They laugh uncertainly as they watch the mud cling to the flag they considered their own.

Many extreme right-wing groups exercise an extreme form of patriotism. The cadets at this camp are learning that the country should not return to apartheid; rather, they must work to acquire their own independent nation. Jooste teaches them to love the old South African flag and the old national anthem, which they sing every morning. By the last day of camp, Riaan will have absorbed Jooste's message: "This is mine, this is my country, my flag. I will fight for it."

"The training has taught me that you should hate black people."

"Persevere! You've got to learn to persevere," Jooste shouts. The cadets are crawling across the ground army-style, gripping a wooden beam they call "sweetheart" in their arms. The sound of crying rises from the rearmost ranks. Blood flows from white knuckles. Jooste's assistants, older members of the Kommandokorps, grin as they take photos of the moaning boys with their cell phones. It feels almost sadistic.

Little E. C. is having a rough time. The beams weigh almost a third as much as he does. The nights, too, are hitting him hard. "We sleep on the ground and our sleeping bags get wet. In three nights, I've slept six hours. Every day I think about giving up." He has something else to think about, too: Thabang and Tshepo. "I don't know if I can still be friends with them," he says in despair.

In his next lecture to the cadets, Jooste claims that the cerebral cortex of a black person weighs 120 grams less than that of a white one, and this is why blacks cannot take initiative or govern effectively. The boys listen obediently.

The next night they move from the army tent to a nearby forest where they set up two camps. They each get one small tin of canned beans or vegetables to eat and warm themselves near the fire. At first light, one of the groups launches an attack. With the sleep still in their eyes they point and shoot their paintballs.

The young faces are increasingly marked by exhaustion as the days pass, yet the boys seem to grow more and more confident. "The training has taught me that you should hate black people," E. C. says. "They kill everyone who crosses their path. I can't be friends with Thabang and Tshepo anymore."

Riaan, too, repeats what he's learned in nine days almost word for word. "There's a war going on between blacks and whites. A lot of blood will flow in the future. I no longer want to be a South African and associate with the rainbow nation. I definitely feel more like an Afrikaner. I feel the Afrikaner blood in my veins."

Jooste says he doesn't want to force the boys into any particular direction. "All we want to do is channel the feeling they already carry within them. We don't want them to hate. We just want them to love their own culture, traditions and symbols, and to fight for independence and freedom." In nine days, little boys who once carried a budding belief in South African unity have become toughened men with racist ideas.

Awardwinning Multimedia Production 'Afrikaner Blood':

This story is accompanied by the multimedia production 'Afrikaner Blood', which won the World Press Photo Multimedia Award 2012 on March 15. One of the photo's used in the picture gallery and multimedia also won the Second Prize in the World Press Photo Contest 2012. The makers, Elles van Gelder and Ilvy Njiokiktjien, have given permission to INSP street papers to reprint the story and images in their street papers and also use this multimedia production on their websites using this embed link (http://youtu.be/BFWEtdZ5TWA).

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