Thick clouds of diesel smoke fill the air
outside a run-down guest farm outside the town of Carolina in
Mpumalanga. As the stench dissipates, a group of boys, aged between 13
and 19, spill from the bed of a rusty truck. The trip from the city to
the country was long and hypnotic in the old jalopy.
It is after midnight when the boys heft bags
full of military clothing. "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 begins immediately.
Groaning, the boys raise 4m tent poles among the cowpats dotting the
grassland. The large army tent will be their home for the next nine
Thirteen-year-old Jano, the youngest at the camp, spreads his sleeping
bag on the bumpy floor. He is at the camp because he wants to prove to
his father that he isn't a sissy but a real man, he says with a shy
At 18, 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 veld." He, too, seems excited to be camping out and playing soldier,
as if he's living an adventure out of a boyhood novel.
But soon they will realise this survival camp is different to others held in the veld.
The boys run from the tent to the mess hall. Before them, under the
glare of fluorescent lighting, stands 57-year-old Franz Jooste. Old army
decorations gleam on his apartheid-era uniform. The uniforms of the
boys also come from that era.
"We're going to make men of you all," he tells them in Afrikaans.
'Protecting its own people'
Jooste is the head of the Kommando-korps, a small, little-known
right-wing group bent on breeding hate and banking on some young
Afrikaners' sense of not belonging in the new South Africa to get there.
On its website, the Kommandokorps describes
itself as an elite organisation "protecting its own people" in the event
of an attack, it writes, necessary "because the police and the military
cannot provide help quickly enough".
Last year, it signed a saamstaanverdrag (a unity pact) with the
Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) and the Suidlanders -- a small
whites-only group that is awaiting the racial apocalypse -- to
coordinate their security strategy together.
The organisation claims to have trained more than 1 500 Boere-Afrikaner jongmanne
in defence skills over the past 11 years. Jooste, who spreads his
message by e-mail and in newsletters, says that 40% of boys sign up
themselves. The rest are volunteered by their parents.
The teenagers at the camp all know crime horror stories and feel
responsible for protecting their families. "We always have to lock our
doors at night," 18-year-old Nicolas says. "This camp will teach me how
to protect my father and mother, and little brother and sister."
At 4.30am on the first morning of camp, the boys are sent out on a 2km
run in their heavy army boots, down a rocky country road filled with
potholes. The organisation aspires to instil discipline through sweat.
The war of attrition has begun. Indoctrination takes root best in
Sixteen-year-old EC is in the middle of the panting troop. He is one of
the smallest boys here, a childlike teenager who is thrilled at being
able to shoot his paintball gun.
'I don't like racism'
"I want to be able to defend myself. And I am also doing this for my
paintball career," he says with a smile. His mother is a single mom and
sent him to the camp because she feels it will be good for her boy to be
surrounded by men.
After they catch their breath, we talk about their country. The
teenagers say they believe in the idea of the rainbow nation but the
contradictions soon emerge.
"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
"I don't know what apartheid is," Jano says. "But a long time ago,
Nelson Mandela made it so everyone has the same rights." Then EC adds he
would never marry a black woman and Jano says he is afraid when he
walks past black people.
The group is called to a small field next to the community hall. They
line up in military formation while a camp leader unfolds the old South
African flag. They fill their lungs with air and start singing: "Uit die blou van onse hemel, Uit die diepte van ons see, Oor ons ewige gebergtes waar die kranse antwoord gee."
Some struggle with the words of the apartheid national anthem.
Meanwhile, Jooste sits in the mess hall. Kitsch paintings of buffalos,
elephants and rhinos hang on the walls, and the wicker furniture is
covered in zebra print. He looks through the glasses on his nose at the
camp's schedule. It is written down in military style and every minute
seems accounted for.
There are slots for self-defence techniques, radio communication and how
to patrol, as well as lectures on patriotism and the history of the
Jooste is a proud veteran. He fought on South Africa's borders with
Zimbabwe and Mozambique and in Angola. He is scarred, he says, by what
he calls treason; while
he was fighting for the white regime, his leaders were making peace with
Nelson Mandela. After his army service, he was active in the AWB.
Before his most important lecture, "Die vyand en bedreiging"
(The enemy and the threat), Jooste boasts that it will take him just 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
His cadets sit cross-legged on the ground in the mess hall. When he
speaks the teens listen quietly. "Aside from the Aborigines in
Australia, the African black is the most underdeveloped, barbaric member
of the human race on Earth," he says. He tells the boys that black
people have a smaller cerebral cortex than whites and thus cannot take
initiative or govern effectively.
"Who is my enemy in South Africa? Who murders, robs and rapes?" "Who are these creatures?" he asks. "The blacks," he answers.
He picks up the current 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 on it. They laugh uncertainly, then they do as
they are told. Only Nicolas stands back.
Jooste tells them that they should love the old South African flag and the old national anthem.
Fear and superiority
An extreme form of patriotism runs through groups like this one; the
cadets at this camp are taught that the country should not return to
apartheid but, rather, they must work to acquire their own independent
nation. Jooste last year got elected on to the Volksraad Verkiesing
Kommissie (People's Council Electoral Commission), a group that fights
for Afrikaner nationalism.
Hermann Gilomee, a renowned writer on Afrikaners and an extraordinary
professor in history at the University of Stellenbosch, says 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 -- their culture, language and symbols -- as a separate people.
Jooste is desperate to conserve this sense of separateness and create a
new generation of Afrikaners who carry his ideas. It is his mission to
indoctrinate young Afrikaners like Nicolas, Riaan, Jano and EC, who are
struggling to determine their position in the country.
Born after the end of apartheid, they feel unwanted, says Unisa
associate professor Eliria Bornman of the department of communication
science who did research on Afrikaner identity. "They know they're
different from the rest of the population. Any leader can take their
frustration and channel it in a negative way."
Outside the tent, the cadets are made to crawl across the ground, army-style, gripping a wooden beam they call liefie
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
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. In three nights, I've slept six hours. Every day I
think about giving up." But his paintball career seems to keep him
'You should hate black people'
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," EC says. "They kill
everyone who crosses their path. I don't think I can be friends with
Thabang and Tshepo anymore."
Riaan repeats what he has 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 definitely feel more like an Afrikaner now. I feel
the Afrikaner blood in my veins."
Jooste insists his job is to teach them to defend themselves. 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."
But in nine days, boys who once carried a budding belief in South African unity have become toughened men with racist ideas.
At the end of the camp the two boys who performed best are selected. They will get the next course, the gevorderde weerbaarheids kursus (advanced preparedness course), for free. There the paintball guns will be traded in for the real deal.