Trained to Hate
Ilvy Njiokikjien is a 27-year-old Dutch photographer who’s been traveling back and forth to South Africa for the last four years to take pictures of the local far right. After spending a good amount of time with the biggest names of the Afrikaner community, in 2011 she was invited to visit the Kommandokorps military camps. According to their PR, these camps are supposed to "help the Afrikaner teenagers defend themselves in case black people attack in South Africa." Since she just won–along with journalist partner Elles van Gender–a World Press Photo 2012 prize, we got in touch with her to talk about what hate looks like.
VICE: Hi Ilvy. Where did you first hear about these Afrikaners training camps?
Ilvy Njiokiktjien: It was at the funeral of the far-right leader Eugene Terre Blanche. He was murdered in 2010 and he was the leader of the AWB, an organization based in South Africa. Here I met Kolonel Jooste, the leader of the Kommandokorps camp. I saw him standing in the crowd and he was wearing the old army uniform, the same the soldiers used to wear in the apartheid days. I was wondering who he was, so I walked up to him and started a conversation. I asked him if I could join one of the camps.
Are they popular in South Africa?
The Kommandokorps is a fringe organization, it's not big at all. Self-defense camps are very popular in South Africa, but camps similar to the Kommandokorps are not.
Did you have unlimited access when you got there?
Yes, mainly because my colleague Elles van Gelder and I both speak Afrikaaans. We could take pictures and video of everything. The colonel is so proud of his camps he didn't feel bad at all about showing us what the kids do there.
How many camps of that type do exist in South Africa?
I don’t know, it's really difficult to say. There are many Afrikaner organizations. Some are smaller than others, but all in all, their existence is pretty marginal.
Who put those kids in the camps? Is that a kind of a punishment for them, or does that come from a true "Afrikaner pride" of their parents?
Most of the time it's a decision that comes from the parents. Because of the high level of crime in South Africa they do believe their children need to learn as many possible ways to defend themselves. It's not seen as a punishment or something, because in the end most guys like to go to those camps. The parents also believe that because the military is not mandatory in South Africa anymore, they need to send their boys into a tough camp, you know, to become real men.
Is there a social class these kids primarily come from?
It's a very mixed group, to be frank. I just spent a lot of time with their families in South Africa, working on a sequel to the story. Some of them are from a poor background, others are pretty rich. Also, some are from cities and others from countryside farming areas.
Who are the rest of the guys? I've read that the big chief of the camp, Franz Jooste, used to fight against black people during the apartheid.
The guys around them are mainly boys who once also attended a camp and who are now climbing the ranks in the Kommandokorps. Indeed, Franz Jooste used to fight in the apartheid army on the border.
What kind of training did the kids have to go through? I've heard it was mainly a question of running in the woods and playing paintball.
It's actually a basic military-style training, pretty tough, especially for the younger boys. The youngest one at the camp was 14; I remember him having a very hard time keeping up with all the exercises. Each day the boys have to wake up and run at 4:45 in the morning, and they have to do push-ups, sit-ups, that sort of thing. At night, after the colonel has tired them all day long, they get lessons about "the enemy" and about "race."
Is humiliation part of the "learning process?"
Not really, but screaming and yelling at the boys is. This is supposed to make them tough men, as the Kolonel believes. At night, I've seen the representatives giving lectures to the teenagers about how black people have smaller brains. It's a different kind of humiliation.
Wow. Generally speaking, what do the sergeants "teach" to the young kids? Is this about race and fear of black people all the time?
Yes, they tell them that crime is mostly committed by blacks, and that black people are different in every way from white people. But the sergeant does't even have the impression of "lying" when he says that. He truly believes the cortex of black people is smaller than those from white people.
Do you think white people who lived the apartheid regret the old days in some ways ?
I think this is a question I cannot answer. There are too many different views on this. There are people who regret, those who feel guilty about this, and there are people who are nostalgic for apartheid and would like to return to the past. It's all the same for the Afrikaner culture in general: Some are truly afraid the culture they grew up with will vanish; others don’t care.
At the end of the training camp week, have the kids changed their mind about black people? I believe no one is racist without learning it.
Most of them have, indeed. But I learned that for the most part, they were racist already when they joined the camp. It's cultural among the Afrikaner community. The ones who haven't learned about the differences between black and whites (in the colonel's eyes, at least) are forced to stay there a week longer, until they do.