Posts Tagged ‘South Africa’

Township Tours and the human spectacle

I wrote an article last year about a ‘township tour’ that I took part in. The piece was literally dripping with tears of emotion and sentimental guilt. I could not believe that in my fourth year at Rhodes University, after resisting so many of those guided tours into the black populace, I was roped into one.

The trip was a mandatory part of our course, we had to write about the experience, and I guess it was for the purpose of broadening our horizons. However, I believe that is the first major wrong about the situation. We had to go into people’s spaces as voyeurs, as writers, as plunderers, as seekers of material and as exploiters of chance.

Our aim and goal was never congenial, never for the purpose of reaching, touching, smelling, or seeing beyond the surface. We did not have the time to witness brick upon brick the building of a house, or a family of five, previously homeless, making the harsh environment a home. We were not the neighbour that greeted across the fence, or the passerby that looked in or the lost traveler stumbling through, or even the stray. We were lookers through the glass window. We were prying eyes in a combie, leaving a cloud of dust behind us. We were on safari, wide eyed, staring, gaping, gawking, pointing, marveling, pitying, reassured, and glad that this reality was not ours.

We held starving babies and made weird ‘aawh’ noises that sounded strange the minute they escaped the lips. We took pictures of wry smiles and understandings that we were uselessness personified. We stayed as long as we had to knowing that plenty awaited us on the other side. We hated ourselves for crossing the divide. We hated ourselves for being ourselves and loved ourselves for being ourselves and not them. The ‘other’ from across town, the ‘others’ from the hilltop where the sun squats half the day looked through us.

We noticed the lack of trees, and quiet, and plenty, and the abundance of scarcity. Soon it was time to go and it was not soon enough. We waved; it was awkward. They waved, a little embarrassed and amused that we had come all the way.

In retrospect I guess the trip was a success. Some people probably never went back to the township; the tour was their first time. To them black locations are an experience, one they won’t have again, and one that makes for good story at a dinner party.

Is it useful? It’s sometimes necessary to force people to go, to make them leave the comfort of campus and see how wider Grahamstown lives. I have no qualms with the principle of the tour. My problem is that if we look at it, it’s a space that needs to be scrutinised and evaluated. We need to assess the way that it is done and see if there aren’t better ways, more useful ways we can introduce different cultures, classes and races to each other.

The current model threatens being a zoo-like experience; the better-off going to view the human animal. Hopefully with the help anthropological studies conducted Dr Joy Owen (Lecturer in Anthropology at Rhodes University), theory will formalize these ramblings of a destabalised mind.

AfrikanerBloed. A multi-media production on how an isolated group of Afrikaans South Africans see their place in South African society.

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.’

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BFWEtdZ5TWA

Media And Citizenship – Between marginalisation and participation

All research starts in personal biography and experience, in fact it’s one of the benefits of the academic world that this environment gives one the permission to turn the most perplexing questions of one’s life into legitimate research.  And one of the issues that perplexes me most about my own life – at this point in our post-apartheid, post-colonial democracy – is the condition of my citizenship, the status of my belonging and what I’m bonded to or not bonded to. I remind myself often of the words in the preamble to the Constitution: “We, the people of South Africa … believe that South Africa belongs to all who live in it” [my italics]. These are extraordinary, encompassing, generous words, and I often think “What were the drafters of the Constitution thinking? Were they drunk on post-apartheid freedom in that moment?” But maybe the move from the word “believe” in the preamble to the following paragraphs that deal with “citizens” (and therefore rely on the legal provisions of who and what a citizen can be) underlines the shift from an expansive idealism (as the apartheid shackles were thrown off) to a tying down and making functional for a bureaucratic reality (and increasingly so as we leave behind that giddy moment). We are, after all, talking about the difference between a sense of “belonging” and a right to assert myself as a voter and a client of the state.

If you want to study these conditions in order to understand them better, belonging seems to sit in the fields of psychology and anthropology and citizenship perhaps more with politics and sociology. But if you’re located in media and journalism studies (and especially if you’re located in education and are working with young South Africans) you know that these two conditions have an important, if strange, relationship because they crop up in and through our public conversations captured by journalists and other media workers. I’m very interested in how we talk about who we are, how dismissive we are of those who’ve “abandoned” us in this experiment of nation-building, how we allow racialised public talk (and sometimes extremely vicious forms of public dissing) to destabilise our journey towards creating new forms of belonging and bondedness, how we construe our very different relationships to our state (and its encumbent government with its liberation legacy), and how we do and don’t do this through the media we make in this country.

So if these issues preoccupy you too (whatever their shape or form) this is the space and an invitation to join our conversations.

By: Anthea Garman

Login Form

Warning: Invalid argument supplied for foreach() in D:\iis\mediaandcitizenship\wp-content\plugins\gantry\core\gantrygzipper.class.php on line 153