Raising Awareness of Human Rights Within The Field of Mental Health
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Apartheid and Psychiatry in South Africa

Apartheid and Psychiatry in 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. So who started apartheid in South Africa? The answer: South African Prime Minister and psychologist Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd. Using psychiatric influence he began apartheid's violation of human rights.

Prime Minister and Psychologist Dr. Hendrik Verwoerd: The Man Who Started Apartheid in South AfricaThe link between apartheid and psychiatry in South Africa 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 the troubled country. He was appointed a lecturer in psychology at Cape Town'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 Blacks in Apartheid South Africa

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 they received, have expectations in life which circumstances in South Africa do not allow to be fulfilled immediately, when it creates people trained for professions not open to them..." (emphasis 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.

Apartheid: Child of Psychiatric Eugenics

In 1976, CCHR exposed psychiatric "slave labour" camps in South Africa where thousands of blacks were imprisoned in former mining camps. The inmates were forced to labour for private companies and were treated so atrociously that media, decades later, dubbed it "mental genocide."

Psychiatric Apartheid Slave Labour Camp
CCHR referred its evidence to the United Nations, which led to the camps being investigated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in 1977. WHO's 1983 report concluded that, "in no other medical field in South Africa, is the contempt of the person cultivated by racism more concisely portrayed than in psychiatry."

However, psychiatric and psychological groups were not mere passengers under apartheid; they started, designed, built and navigated the apartheid ship. South Africa's Prime Minister, Hendrick Verwoerd, a psychologist, had studied in German universities in the 1920s when these institutions were energetically forwarding race betterment theories.

When apartheid ended in 1994, CCHR presented submissions to the government on the atrocities committed against blacks in psychiatric institutions. A Health Ministry inquiry into malpractice and racism in psychiatric hospitals found gross patient abuse, falsified death certificates and general mistreatment of patients. Innocent children, "whose only offence is merely being ill are made to bear conditions from which we protect even the worst criminals in society," the report stated.

In 1997, CCHR presented oral and written testimony to the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission about apartheid crimes committed by both psychiatrists and psychologists. The Psychological Society of South Africa finally admitted that psychological studies had aimed at discrediting blacks as intellectually inferior and, in 1998, called for legislation to scrap all racist psychological tests.

"It is a joy to work with CCHR and it is my fervent hope that we succeed in keeping the flame of freedom burning brightly for our children and our children's children so that some day we have a real future, without psychiatry," said Dr. Patience Koloko, national president of the Traditional Healers Association of South Africa, who attended the conference.

Apartheid and ECT

The excruciating pain that would be felt from electroshock without anaesthetic was not an issue to some South African psychiatrists. "It's simply too expensive, too slow and too risky... because we treat more Africans than Whites, we would have to double our staff if we used anaesthetics."  Dr. P. Henning - Chief State Psychiatrist, South Africa - on why blacks receiving ECT were not anaesthetized.

Apartheid Electro Convulsive Therapy Abuse
Many of apartheid's concepts were spawned from the German nationalist psychiatric philosophy that "life devoid of value" or "inferior stock" justified the mass oppression and killing of individuals. In South Africa, psychiatrists, psychologists and other eugenicists callously categorized blacks in this fashion, offering the government a "scientific" means by which to deny them employment. Primary architect who began apartheid, psychologist Dr. Hendrick Verwoerd, furthered his studies in German universities at a time when these institutions were energetically forwarding psychiatric genetics (race betterment). He later became Prime Minister of South Africa.

Eugenicists argued that the "brain capacity of natives" was far less than Europeans. In 1934, H.L. Gordon claimed that there was a ranking order for brain capacity as follows: 1) European, 2) educated native, 3) psychotic native, 4) normal native, 5) criminal native and 6) idiot native. Dr. Dunston, a psychiatrist and South Africa's first Commissioner of Mental Hygiene, suggested that blacks "even of the best tribes, possibly belong to a race which is mentally inferior to ours..."

Based on this fraudulent premise, tens of thousands of black South Africans were incarcerated in "special" psychiatric institutions and treated so atrociously that media, decades later dubbed it "mental genocide." The callous disregard psychiatrists have for blacks is displayed in a 1971 study published in the South African Medical Journal in which the author reported that 100 South Sotho males had been given electroshock without anaesthetic on eight consecutive days. Only a tranquilizer was used to block out the searing pain from the shock. The treating psychiatrists would have known that medical literature throughout the 1960s had detailed how shock given in this way could fracture the spine and even kill.

In 1976, CCHR exposed how blacks held in private psychiatric institutions and used for slave labour were being given shock without anaesthetic. The chief state psychiatrist, Dr. P. Henning, felt this was appropriate because "It's simply too expensive, too slow and too risky. Africans appear to be more susceptible to the effects of anaesthetics and because we treat more Africans than Whites, we would have to double our staff if we used anaesthetics."

The excruciating pain that would be felt from this application of electricity was not an issue, reminiscent of Benjamin Rush, the "father" of American psychiatry, who in 1797 theorized that blacks - being descendants of lepers - had a morbid insensitivity to pain and, compared to whites, were able to endure surgical operations with ease. Rush recalled cases where blacks had actually held their upper part of a limb during amputation without anaesthetic.

Psychiatrists railed against public exposure of their electroshock methods. The apartheid government, bowing to their demands, passed a law prohibiting the reporting on or photographing of conditions in any psychiatric facilities in South Africa. Those who violated this law were fined or jailed for up to one year.

When apartheid ended in 1994, the new Health Ministry ordered a full inquiry into malpractice and racism in psychiatric hospitals. The inquiry's report, released in February 1996, found that because the above law had prevented public scrutiny of psychiatric facilities, "culprits have committed gross abuses of patients with impunity." This included frequent use of ECT.

In some hospitals, "death certificates [were] falsified to camouflage the real cause of death." The general treatment of patients, including commitment, isolation and drugging violated their "right not to be subjected to cruel, degrading and inhumane treatment."

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CCHR South Africa DVDFree Information Kit

Restoring Human Rights and Dignity to the Field of Mental Health

What should you know about psychiatry’s “cures” in the name of mental health? How valid are psychiatrists’ diagnoses—and how safe are their drugs?

The answers are contained in this information kit, which is provided free to legislators, government officials, medical and legal professionals, and human rights and advocacy organizations.
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