I was shocked when I learnt recently that apartheid in South Africa was only officially abolished a few years after I was born, in 1994. In my ignorance I believed it was something which had faded away no later than the 1980’s, with Nelson Mandela emerging as the figurehead of a reformed South Africa a decade or so after. Perhaps this impression was generated (understandably) because of the hushed tones it has been spoken of in the time since, like some barbaric artefact of the past belonging to the previous generations. But can a system like apartheid ever ‘belong’ – and are the stories really that distant?
The two fundamental groups out of which the racial segregation evolved in South Africa are still present; the white Afrikaner’s (with Dutch, French and German heritage) and the black African natives. With this segregation between whites and blacks ever present from the Dutch and British colonisation of the Country, the Slavery Abolition Act 1833 officially changed the status of black slaves as ‘free’. Meanwhile, laws of institutional separation continued to be developed throughout the early 20th Century leading to the adoption of apartheid in 1948, when the National Party took hold. It could then be said that the fundamental reason or ‘problem’ which lead to the situation is still present (as the two races are present) but it is the attitude which changed (as well as international pressure, internal revolts and important figures such as Nelson Mandela). In some communities though the attitudes haven’t changed (maybe for reasons too deep-seated to discuss candidly here) and the sins of their fathers have been transposed onto the sons.
The Kommando Korps, based in various locations in South Africa, is a survival camp which according to their Facebook page has the ‘ultimate goal that the fellow members of the local commando’s mutually protect each other’. In at least all internet descriptions of the camp, an emphasis is placed on ‘protecting their own people’; a racist implication may not yet register. But the Kommando Korps believe a racial apocalypse is imminent and train their disaffected youth in accordance. Witness reports tell stories of apartheid-era uniforms, the old national anthem ringing in disgust of a rainbow nation… “The training has taught me that you should hate black people, they kill everyone who crosses their path”, said one boy in an interview. One wonders how far the termites have dug.
I first read about the Kommando Korps in an edition of the Sunday Times Magazine (Feb edition I think), with a photograph shown of a blond haired, blue eyed Afrikaner teenager sternly pointing a pistol at the back of another’s head. As a blunt image, it invokes a sense of guerrilla warfare, with the deserted field in background. The violent association is immediately made plain but I was slightly shocked to discover that the camp is 100% unofficial, like some secret army training for non-existent warfare. Activities undertaken include army drills, 4am runs, weaponry training and engagement of physical combat – for boys aged 13 upwards. It is a relatively small group, training no more than 1500 in the last decade but one which has received revised attention in recent months.
Can an analogy be drawn between the likes of the American Ku Klux Klan or other white supremacist groups and the Kommando Korps? Perhaps, in terms of the breeding and thinking, but the Kommando Korps don’t seem as interested in spreading any ‘shock’ message (although ‘shocked’ might be the reaction of many outsiders – not so much at racism, but rather at the seemingly provocative, paranoid agenda of the group – considering the sensitive recent history of apartheid). The type of organisation which the Kommando Korps belongs to is much more combative in style; they are ready to use their fists and guns than just words. Their objective of defense and their prediction of the future are set down as matter of fact in this violent group, which recalls the format of Scouts or Guides and for this reason may be tempting for pushy parents when considering their kid’s social circles. There would be of course other motivations…a sort of ‘straight’ camp perhaps for some teenagers that way inclined or to discipline the badly behaved. Maybe there are just racist parents who want their offspring to inherit this characteristic and to defend it in blood. However, the overlying connotation of the Kommando Korps is fairly clear – get em’ while they’re young.