Ethnic tension and racism surrounds us everyday in a variety of ways. We learn about racism occasionally in a class or two we take at university.
Other times, we learn a little about racism in high school, the media, or through peers. But how often are we truly aware of racism or the groups and institutions that promote this way of thinking?
Recently, racial tension has flared in Sanford, Florida, where the shooting death of Trayvon Martin by a neighbourhood watchman sparked outrage in the city’s African-American community. The youth was unarmed and returning from a convenience store with Skittles. Across the Atlantic, the city of Toulouse, France, saw the rampage of Mohamed Merah, who shot and killed three French-Algerian soldiers, three Jewish pupils, and a Jewish teacher. In Germany, there was recent outrage at the discovery of a far-right terror cell, the National Socialist Underground, which has ties to the neo-fascist National Democracy Party of Germany. The NSU went on a 10-year killing spree of foreigners being discovered by authorities, killing a policewoman in the process. While our university is not on the same level as these events, even on campus we have seen what amounts to racial tension surrounding several issues from the Indigenous studies petition to Israeli Apartheid Week.
So how do we contextualize all of these events? For African Americans, the Florida killing is another example of the systemic violence, racism, and economic oppression that is present every day in the US. The French incident has yet to produce greater effects, but even now it is likely it will set off national soul-searching about France’s stand on immigration and anti-Semitism. In the German case, politicians have lamented the lethargy and failings of the authorities to deal with the resurgence of racism. Many Jewish groups are warning that Europe is once again becoming a continent of racism, anti-Semitism, and overt nationalism.
While all of these cases have been highly visible, racial tension in places like South Africa is often ignored. South Africa’s racial difficulties were most prolific in 2010, when the FIFA World Cup was held in the country. Many people feared South Africa was unsafe and unable to provide security for the millions of fans that would flood the country for the four-week event. Those fears fortunately never materialized.
Yet, this past week the BBC published an “in pictures” news piece about racism in South Africa. Titled “Afrikaner Blood,” the slideshow dealt with a fringe group around ex-Apartheid army Major Franz Jooste. The group, known as Kommandokorps, holds summer camps for teen boys of various ages, all of who are Afrikaners, the white South Africans who are the descendents of the country’s mainly Dutch and German colonists.
At these camps, the boys are taught to hate black South Africans. Joost said that it takes him only one hour to brainwash these boys to no longer identify as South Africans, but as Afrikaners: no longer a part of the rainbow nation of Nelson Mandela, but a part of the long-thought-forgotten Apartheid regime. These young men come to the camp members of the rainbow nation, only to leave as racists.
The camp is run in a military style, complete with uniforms and war games. In fact, these camps are highly reminiscent of the Hitler Youth camps and activities run during the Nazi Regime that were meant to instil camaraderie, iron discipline, a belief in the superiority of the Aryan race and a militaristic attitude in young boys and teens through the use of games and fun activities. What does this say about our world when camps such as these continue to exist?
And the Kommandokorps camp is no one-off exception. Various far-right groups, including Germany’s NPD, run similar camps across Europe and neo-Nazi/white supremacist camps can be found in the U.S. as well. While the membership of these groups is usually small in comparison to the entire population of the countries, these trends are disturbing and troubling. The murder spree in Germany has shown the resilience and inventiveness of the far-right to accomplish their goals.
The video is interesting, along with other related work done by the two Dutch journalists who went to the summer camp run by Kommandokorps. If we want to make improvements in how people interact with one another in the world, awareness should be the first step.