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“They picked out promising adolescents; they branded them, as with a red-hot iron, with the principles of Western culture; they stuffed their mouths full with high-sounding phrases, grand glutinous words that stuck to the teeth” – Sartre (1963:7).

As a child, growing up in Oudtshoorn, I can’t recall having an awareness of Culture. The town is endowed with many beautiful historical buildings and obviously has a rich history – but such things are taken for granted through the eyes of a child who doesn’t know any other place. In school we were taught local history like the origin of the town and its naming after Baron Pieter van Rheede van Oudtshoorn, who was appointed Governor of the Cape in 1772, but who died en route to Africa; and of the ostrich feather boom (but with no mention of the Jewish contributions in this regard). I also remember going on a school field trip to Arbeidsgenot, the home of the Afrikaans writer and poet C.J. Langenhoven. The house was musty and stuffy, but in the garden was the most wondrous thing – a glistening sundial that told the time by its relative position to the sun.

In 1983, the year before I was to leave the sleepy Little Karoo for the industrial heartland of South Africa (the Vaal Triangle), I was selected, along with three other boys from my school to attend Die Eerste Dinkskrum vir Afrikaner Jeug (The First Think Tank for Afrikaner Youth). Middle-aged men in brown suits with moustaches and thick-rimmed glasses told us about the rooi- and swartgevaar . In our small groups we were tasked to devise plans to fight communism and to protect the Republic. Soon afterwards the daily school routine would start with orchestrated searches for terrorists’ limpet mines hidden around every corner and/or in every dustbin. This was followed up with regular evacuation and security drills. At school, we were taught how to cower under desks in case of terrorist attacks and to always lie with your feet towards – and your head away – from an exploding hand grenade. I was 12 and suddenly the world had become a very dangerous place.

Dwang-selfportret

So, then, in 1984 I joined my mother and elder sister in Vanderbijlpark. They had just moved out of a semi-detached duplex into a three-bedroom house in the suitably named working class suburb of C.E.3. From our gate one could see Sharpeville. On 3 September of that same year this township would erupt in violence and terror after on-going demonstrations and stay-aways led to violent and bloody clashes with the police force. At night we would go to bed with music loud on cassette players , or with the radio turned on, to drown out the sounds of gunshots and screams. In the mornings all the children of the neighbourhood had to wait at their front gates to be collected by an armed gunman who would then escort us to school. In these army guarded schools we were fed the myths of Afrikaner Nationalism, constructed two generations earlier by Afrikaner male intelligentsia. We learned about jeugweerbaarheid (youth preparedness) and geestesweerbaarheid (spiritual preparedness). Satan incarnated, strangely, as communist ideology, joined the fray of dangers and through pop music he threatened to corrupt our minds and turn us against our country and our parents, and our race – it was a total onslaught.

I had been a promising adolescent, raised according to the principles of Western culture – or at least as much of a semblance there had remained of that after three centuries in Africa. Mine was an identity carefully constructed and policed by my elders. I could speak the language, but the words held no meaning, they left a bitter taste. They stuck like vomit to my teeth, to recall Sartre’s phrase. I fear that there are still many corners of my mind buried under the residual indoctrination. However, through my processes of art making I began to dismantle this strange heart of whiteness that I was coerced to wear.

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This is an excerpt from a personal response to Sartre’s preface to Frantz Fanon’s Wretched Of The Earth upon re-reading the book earlier this year. The title of this piece refers to the line in which Sartre states that “…the European has only been able to become a man through creating slaves and monsters”.

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