- Published on Sunday, 29 July 2012 10:33
- Stephane Meintjes
- 0 Comments
The panel discussions and lectures held during Think!Fest were part of the ‘Being & Belonging in South Africa’ series which took place during the National Arts Festival 2012. The Being & Belonging programme is part of the Mellon Humanities Focus Area project called ‘Media and Citizenship’ based at the School of Journalism and Media Studies, at Rhodes University.
Formulating a South African
- Published on Monday, 16 July 2012 20:15
- Stephane Meintjes
- 0 Comments
AfrikanerBloed. A multi-media production on how an isolated group of Afrikaans South Africans see their place in South African society.
- Published on Wednesday, 29 February 2012 10:30
- Stephane Meintjes
- 1 Comment
This isolated group of extremists cannot in any way claim to represent Afrikanerdom or even a significant number of Afrikaans people in South Africa. However, the mere fact that they exist as a group albeit a tiny group is an indication of a particular way of looking at themselves as South Africans in relation to other South Africans. In order to get a representative view of citizenship in South Africa cognisance will have to be taken of all views including the marginalized, the divergent and those regarded by mainstream groups as excessive and extreme. It is interesting to note that this group was strongly critisized by AfriForum. – by Stephane Meintjes
This article was sourced from Elles van Gelder, a journalist from The Netherlands based in Johannesburg’s website http://www.ellesvangelder.nl/work/128/
Afrikaner Blood – by Elles van Gelder
“Survival of the whitest: inside an Afrikaner boot camp.At a right-wing training camp, young South Africans are being trained to fight for their Afrikaner heritage”.
Thick clouds of diesel smoke fill the air outside a rundown guest farm, three hours’ drive east of Johannesburg.
As the stench dissipates, a group of boys, aged between 13 and 19, spill from the bed of a rusty truck, lugging huge bags full of military clothing.
‘There are old bloodstains on my uniform,’ one of them says, as he trades his trainers for army boots.
Shouted orders ring out. Groaning, the boys raise 15ft tent poles among the cowpats dotting the grassland. The large army tent that they put up will be their home for the next nine days.
South African teenagers often go off to camp during school holidays to learn how to start fires, build huts and identify animal tracks. But this survival camp is different. Here, the focus is on the survival of white South Africans.
The participants are all Afrikaners, descendants of Dutch, German and French colonists. They are also all children of the ‘born-free’ generation, born after 1990 into a multiracial South Africa.
‘I don’t know what apartheid is,’ 13-year-old Jano, the youngest member of the group, says. ‘But a long time ago, Nelson Mandela made it so everyone has the same rights.’
Their position as the first generation of whites in the new, integrated South Africa makes them an interesting demographic. They are supposed to help bring about unity and change. But according to Prof Elirea Bornman at the University of South Africa, as Afrikaners many of them feel unsure about their place in their homeland.
‘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.’
That anger is fuelled in part by positive discrimination, which has made it harder for white youth to find jobs and which fans the flames of racism. Many of them feel unwanted. ‘Anyone [in authority] can take their frustration and channel it in a negative way.’
The boys run from the army tent to the mess hall. Before them, under the glare of fluorescent lighting, stands 57-year-old Franz Jooste. Army decorations gleam on his uniform; Jooste fought in the old apartheid army. ‘We’re going to make men of you all,’ he says in Afrikaans.
Jooste is the head of the Kommandokorps, a little-known but potentially dangerous extreme right-wing group. On its website, the Kommandokorps describes itself as an elite organisation, ‘protecting its own people’ in the event of an attack, necessary ‘because the police and the military cannot provide help quickly enough’.
The organisation, though small and not familiar to many in South Africa, claims to have trained more than 1,500 young Afrikaners in defence skills over the past 11 years. Jooste, who spreads his message via email and newsletters, says that 40 per cent of boys sign up themselves. The rest are volunteered by their parents.
Kommandokorps feeds on anxiety. Though the national crime rate is dropping, South Africans are increasingly anxious. Every year, 16,000 murders are committed and 200,000 assaults with intent to cause bodily harm. The violence breeds a sense of fear.
As a result, farmers organise themselves into countryside militia and patrol at night to ensure their cattle are not stolen, urban residents form neighbourhood watches, and every South African (white and black) who can afford it hires a private security company that will send an armed response team to his home when the alarm goes off. All of which provides fertile ground for an organisation such as the Kommandokorps.
‘We always have to lock our doors at night,’ Nicolas, 18, says. ‘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 is 4.30 on the first morning of camp. The boys are sent out on a one-and-a-half-mile run in their heavy army boots, down a rocky country road filled with potholes.
Sixteen-year-old EC is in the middle of the exhausted troop. Though not one of the youngest present, he is one of the smallest, a childish teenager who is primarily excited at being able to shoot his paintball gun.
‘I want to be able to defend myself. And I am also doing this for my paintball career,’ he says with a smile.
At 18, Riaan is more self-assured. ‘I want to learn how to camouflage myself in the field,’ he says.
As we talk about their country, the teenagers say they believe in the idea of South Africa, the ‘rainbow nation’. ‘People generally get along pretty well,’ Riaan says. ‘We have to fight racism.’ EC has two black friends, Thabang and Tshepo. ‘I don’t like racism,’ he says.
Yet some of the older generation’s fears are visible in these boys, even though they were born after the end of apartheid. ‘I’m terrified to walk past black people,’ Jano says. EC says he would never marry a black woman. The boys seem trapped between the ideas their parents have passed on to them and what they learn at their mixed-race schools and experience daily.
Jooste sits in the mess hall and looks through the glasses on his nose at the following day’s programme. Kitsch paintings of buffalo, 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 (then Rhodesia) and Mozambique in the 1970s and is scarred by what he calls treason. While he was fighting for the white regime, his leaders were making peace with 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 during one of his lectures.
Few of South Africa’s 4.6 million whites (in a population of 50 million) share Jooste’s desire to return to the past. The country’s lone Afrikaner political party, the Freedom Front Plus, polled only 0.83 per cent of the vote in the 2009 general election. The majority of whites support the new democratic South Africa.
‘There are a few right-wing splinter groups, though I think they have no more than a thousand active members,’ says Prof Hermann Giliomee, a historian specialising in Afrikaners. The most prominent is the AWB, the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (Afrikaner Resistance Movement), with which Jooste shares certain ideological views, but that organisation has lost momentum since the murder last year of its leader, Eugène Terre’Blanche.
As the voice of hardcore Afrikaners has become quieter, men such as Jooste have become more desperate to preserve, as he sees it, the Afrikaner identity, and establish a new independent Afrikaner nation. That means cultivating a new generation.
Jooste is lecturing in the mess hall. ‘Who is my enemy in South Africa?’ he asks. ‘Who murders, robs and rapes?’ His cadets sit cross-legged on the ground. ‘Who are these creatures? The blacks.’ Jooste goes on to tell the boys that black people have a smaller cerebral cortex than whites, and thus cannot take initiative or govern effectively.
Jooste boasts that it will take him only an hour to change the boys’ minds. ‘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, which was adopted in 1994, and lays it before the entrance to the mess hall like a doormat. He orders the boys to wipe their filthy boots on it. They laugh uncertainly, then they do as they are told. Jooste tells them that they should love the old South African flag and the old national anthem.
Indoctrination takes root best in exhausted minds. Outside, the cadets are made to crawl across the ground, gripping a wooden beam they call ‘sweetheart’ in their arms, their knuckles bleeding. ‘Persevere! You’ve got to learn to persevere!’ Jooste shouts.
The sound of crying rises from the rearmost ranks. Jooste’s assistants, older members of the Kommandokorps, grin as they take photos of the boys with their mobile phones. It feels almost sadistic.
EC is struggling. The beam weighs 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,’ he says. ‘In three nights, I’ve slept six hours. Every day I think about giving up.’
Frans Cronje, the deputy CEO of the South African Institute of Race Relations, insists that ‘relations between black and white are civil’, but while he dismisses Kommandokorps as an extremist fringe, he believes that the camp none the less represents a real concern. Jooste’s message is that conflict between whites and blacks is just around the corner. ‘I think we’re sitting on a timebomb here in South Africa,’ Jooste says. ‘It’s inevitable that something is going to happen in this country, because there is discord.’
Cronje’s worry is that it takes only one boy to act on Jooste’s words for there to be a serious incident. ‘When you convince a child that blacks are the enemy, the danger is that he will act upon it. He gets a gun, climbs on to a bus full of black schoolchildren, and shoots 20 of them dead. That’s a realistic danger. It’s brainwashing, and it’s easy to do.’
At camp, 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,’ EC says. ‘They kill everyone who crosses their path. I don’t think I can be friends with Thabang and Tshepo any more.’
Riaan repeats what he has learnt 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 definitely feel more like an Afrikaner now. I feel the Afrikaner blood in my veins.’
Jooste maintains that he doesn’t want to force the boys in any particular direction. ‘All we want to do is channel the feeling they already carry within them,’ he says. ‘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.’
As he prepares to leave camp on the final day, Riaan appears to have absorbed Jooste’s message: ‘This is my country,’ he says. ‘I will fight for it.’
Reflections on my proposed ‘Media and Citizenship’ project
- Published on Saturday, 25 February 2012 12:02
- Stephane Meintjes
- 0 Comments
The Republic of South Africa has a model Constitution which guarantees legal and political rights to all citizens including those who were previously discriminated against. However, many South Africans still suffer as a result of economic inequality and the inability fully to participate in the public sphere. (Von Leres. 2005: 23) Subaltern citizens remain handicapped with regard to full participative policy making. A sociologist like Patrick Heller (2009: 144) refers to the bifurcation civil society. The present South African government has futhermore defined the “authentic” citizen (Chipkin. 2007) as an essentialised African. All of these phenomena result in diminished citizen participation in decision-making.
Journalism could be seen as the foundation of democracy. (Papacharissi. 2009: vii) It may, therefore, be possible that the media could be a vehicle for democratic deliberation. The media might be able to convince citizens that they provide reliable information to valuable participants, or potential participants in the democratic process and, in doing so, support and enhance the fragile but potentially great South African democracy.
The goal of my proposed project is to ascertain empirically the contribution of photographic images to democratic practices or the lack thereof. The photographic data collected by me could possibly be taken cognisance of and be utilized by the media, civil society as well as the government to facilitiate future citizen participation in decision-making. A goal of my project is to provide insights which could assist media institutions to portray the needs and life experiences of citizens and in doing so assist their democratic participation in decision-making and planning.
As a student who specialized in Photography in the third and fourth year of BJournalism at Rhodes University, I should like to utilize my photographic expertise to compile and analyse a significant amount of photographic data retrieved from publications and supplement these images by conducting extensive interviews. This database will be used empirically to assess the way in which media constructs citizenship. Extensive interviews will furthermore attempt to ascertain how audiences relate to these images of themselves and their situations. I am hoping that the insights gained by the compilation of the database on the one hand, and establishing audience responses to these images, on the other hand, will enable the media positively to contribute to the enhancement of democratic citizen participation. As I am primarily interested in the recording and mediatory role of images in society I would like to explore the role of photographic records in the realm of media and citizenship.
Benedict Anderson linked citizenship with imagery in his work Imagined Communities (1983). In this work he asserts that citizens of a country “hold in their imaginations an image of the national norm, which represents communal somatic affinity”. (Beeney. 2011: 8) Anderson goes on to say that this “nation-ness”, is “assimilated to skin-colour, gender, parentage and birth-era – all those things one can not help”. (Anderson. 1983) Mari Matsuda, a legal scholar states the following: “Everyone has a gender, but the hidden norm …is male… everyone has a race, but the hidden norm …is white”. (Matsuda. 1996)
Photographs tell a story. Photograps provide a visual record and portrayal of who is included and excluded by the media. Furthermore, it shows which images are constantly perpetuated by the media. Dona Schwartz (1989) asserts that, in order to use photographs in social research, one must have an understanding of how “pictures get used by both picture makers and viewers”. By integrating photography theory and practice into the research methodology of this project, I shall attempt to gain an understanding of how viewers engage with and understand photographic images.
Schwartz quotes Byers and Sekula (1964) by saying that: “There is a historical two-sided way of viewing photography as 1) an art and 2) a precise machine -made record of a scene or a subject. In the first view, the primary concern is the vision of the photographer-artist who uses the technology to produce a creative photograph of which the photographer is the “source”. In the second view, the primary concern is the accuracy with which the subject is recorded on film, in which case the subject is the “source”.” (1964: 79).
With the above in mind, the second view of photography as a record assumes that the image is a reproduction of “reality in front of the camera’s lens, yielding an unmediated and unbiased visual report”. (Schwartz. 1989: 120) However, this view does not take the photographer’s selection and combination process into account. My research project will inevitably also have to take cognisance of the social, economic and political role of the photographer. Furthermore, the photograph becomes the platform from which viewers, and therefore the participating community, generate meaning with regard to their role as citizens.
In the post-modern world of simulacra, on the one hand, coupled with the well documented lack of literacy on the other hand, visual images have become of enormous significance in the media. Any research project, therefore, which focuses on media and citizenship inevitably will have take cognisance of the visual aspects of media. I am hoping that my proposed project will be able to contribute in some way to the Melon “Media and Citizenship” project.
By: Stephané Meintjes