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Raising Awareness of Human Rights Within The Field of Mental Health
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INFORMATION > PSYCHIARTY'S HISTORY IN SOUTH AFRICA

PSYCHIATRY AND SOUTH AFRICA

South Africa is unique in modern times in that the presence of psychiatric genetics did not have to be hidden, as it has been in other countries since the Second World War. In fact, this influence was not only supported by the then-governmental apartheid system, but strongly motivated it.

Psychologist and Prime Minister of South Africa Hendrik Verwoerd - Architect of ApartheidThe link between apartheid and psychiatry is longstanding. South African Prime Minister and the primary architect of apartheid, Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd, was a psychologist who obtained his doctorate in psychology in 1924 with the thesis, "Die Afstomping van die Gemoedsaandoeninge" (The Blunting of the Emotions) which is essentially what he proceeded to accomplish in that troubled country. He was appointed a lecturer in psychology at Capetown's Stellenbosch University.

In 1926, Verwoerd furthered his studies in psychology at universities in Hamburg, Leipzig and Berlin in Germany; at the time, these same institutions were energetically forwarding psychiatric genetics. Director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity, and Eugenics in Berlin, psychiatrist Eugen Fischer, boldly theorized that blacks were devoid of value and useless for employment other than for "manual crafts."

Nazi psychiatric eugenics characterized blacks, according to Richard M. Lerner in Final Solutions: Biology, Prejudice and Genocide as "slothful, unintelligent, though motorically and physically capable people, who live in crime, poverty, and generally socially deteriorated conditions, and do so because of their genetically based limited mental capacities."

Apparently Verwoerd took this to heart. And it is little wonder that South Africa's segregation laws - so similar to German psychiatry's Racial Purity law banning the cohabitation of Aryans and non-Aryans - forced generations of blacks into unemployment and poverty.

Verwoerd held strong views regarding the importance of the race barrier being held in place. And his "expertise" as a psychologist gave his policies of "separate development" the veneer of professional authenticity.

Verwoerd stated in September 1943, "This segregation policy, which also means protection and care for the Native in the land of the Afrikaner, but decisively rejects any attempts at equality, gives the Native an opportunity to develop what is his own, so that he can have pride and self-respect as a Native, instead of being continually humiliated as a failed and imitation white."

He stated that South Africa would be doomed if its policies allowed the native to "improve his skill, draw better wages and provide a better market within 'white' South Africa."

These statements contained a hidden agenda which, if understood, explains a great deal about the fate of blacks in South Africa under apartheid.

How Education Was Denied
Throughout the world, non-white ethnic groups have suffered from the use of psychology texts which have propagated the blatantly false idea of black inferiority through the use of culturally biased intelligence tests. According to one report, "The mental tests...point clearly to the fact that the observed inferiority of the Negro is to a large extent one which no amount of education, or favourable environment can obviate." South Africa was no exception.

The Bantu Education and Extension of University Education Acts were legitimized in this fashion. Verwoerd explained to Parliament during the debate of the Education Act that "Racial relations cannot improve if the result of Native education is the creation of frustrated people who, as a result of the education the received, have expectations in life which circumstances in South Africa do not allow to be fulfilled immediately, when it creates people trained trained for professions not open to them..." (empahsis added).

Education in South Africa was therefore consciously designed on a two-tier system - excellent schools for the whites and less-than-excellent schools for the blacks, designed solely to "keep them in their place."

With millions of people facing substandard education, unemployment, no opportunities and, consequently , low morale, it is no wonder that psychiatric institutions could be established or that the justifiable and normal reactions to this oppression be further defined in psychiatric or psychological terms.

And this, of course, only served to justify further oppression.
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