An AWB-member on a multi-racial youth camp

One of the most dramatic examples of the effect of group process was probably that of Gert (not his real name), the AWB supporter who drove the bus on one of the youth camps (AWB = Afrikaner Weerstand Beweging, translated as “Afrikaner Resistance Movement”).

When we left for the camp, Gert made it very clear that he wanted nothing to do with us. He said he would drive us to the camp and drive us back, and that was it. He was openly right wing. Fine. As he drove, Peter and I spoke to him from time to time, and some of the teenagers also tried. He was not rude, but didn’t exactly encourage any conversation.

On the first day Gert was nowhere to be seen. The youngsters had asked him to participate in the various activities such as canoeing and abseiling, and  especially the discussion groups, but he pointedly refused. The second day when we were sitting in one of our discussion groups, he was seen peeping around the corner of a building rather far away, and one of the boys asked him to join us.

“No!” was his reply.

On the third day, he drew much closer, obviously now trying to hear what was going on in the groups. Again, the approach from the group participants was rejected.

Finally, on day four, he relented.

“OK, I’ll join you,” he said, but was quick to add, “but you know where I stand! All this integration stuff is not for me. Blacks remain together and whites stay together, but there should be no mixing!”

“Fine,” they replied. “That’s the whole idea. We’re here to listen to each other and not to try to convert each other.”

As it happened, he joined my group. When he started off with his strong Apartheid talk, it immediately triggered off something in a black group member whose parents had been forcibly removed from their home, and conflict erupted immediately. I did not make any attempt to suppress it, but always brought it back to personal feelings. Once the anger had been vocalized, it did not take long for the underlying hurt to emerge. When emotions are allowed to be, as in this case, their nature changes, and soon Gert and the black youth began listening to each other.

Gert participated for the rest of the camp. On the journey back to Pretoria, he was surrounded by a number of black boys in the front. He told them how, as a police reservist, he had shot at people during the Soweto riots in 1976. He told them how petrified he had been at the time. Some of the black boys had been there, and they were telling him what it was like to be shot at. They told him how petrified they had been.

It was about a month later that we received a letter from Gert. He asked us whether he could be trained as a facilitator for our camps.

Comments:

The question may be raised why Gert was so interested in what was happening in the groups in the first place? After all, he just could have stayed in his room and not made any contact. But something drew him towards the groups: an atmosphere; a state of being. As the result of group process, a sense of unity and joy had emerged in the groups. Gert sensed that there was something happening in the groups of which he wanted to be a part. Intuitively, he probably knew that this experience would give him a deeper sense of peace.

Carole Charlewood and her cameraman were doing a television documentary on the camp and witnessed what had happened around our campfire in the evenings. The young people were dancing and singing around the fire: the spontaneous expression of pure joy.

“This cannot be staged!” was their stunned comment.

Near us a group of young Voortrekker boys had camped. This was (is) a movement similar to the Boy Scouts, but was originally formed to specifically promote Afrikaans cultural values. It has changed much, but at the time of our camps, racial integration was not one of the movement’s values. Yet, as our campfire experience proceeded, we kept seeing heads popping up behind bushes. The camp leaders must have had a very difficult time maintaining discipline. These boys too, wanted to be a part of what they saw we had: pure joy!

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