We all need psychological healing

2009-03-05 00:00

The 1994 reconciliation project, as championed by Nelson Mandela, was a noble project that not only touched the soul of the nation but went on to inspire the universal body politic. So noble was this project that in the minds of other nations South Africa became the epitome of the triumph of human wisdom over barbaric crime against humanity.

So numerous were the positive results of the reconciliation project that even today, South Africa is a respectable guest at the dinner table of other nations.

However, the negative impact of that reconciliation project is that it never provided the former oppressor and the former oppressed the opportunity to deal thoroughly and honestly with the psychological and sociological impact of their experiences together.

Today their relationship can be likened to that of a couple who, after many years of divorce, have been forced into a reunion without being afforded space to talk about what it is that made them loathe and resent each other in the first place.

The story is the same everywhere. We live peacefully side by side as long as we don’t talk about the deep-seated pain, the psychological and sociological impact of racism, slavery and apartheid.

In doing so, we are all, no matter what group we belong to, denying ourselves the opportunity to heal. The majority of white people unconsciously hold on to the belief that black people cannot meaningfully contribute to global advancement. This, in spite of the evidence of the oppressed’s contribution to world civilisation. The former oppressor is still holding on to what the 20th-century European historian, Hugh Trevor Phillips, believed about Africa and her offspring.

He wrote: “Perhaps in the future, there will be some African history to teach, but at present there is none: there is only the history of Europeans in Africa. The rest is darkness … and darkness is not the subject of history … we cannot afford to amuse ourselves with the unrewarding gyrations of barbarous tribes in picturesque but irrelevant corners of the globe.”

The truth as I perceive it, is that the majority of former oppressors and the generations after them are zealous believers in the the derogatory sermons of Phillips, albeit subconsciously. This means that we all need psychological therapy, healing and serious debriefing. The pain of thinking you are superior when you are not or that you are inferior when you are not, cannot be left unattended.

Another sad indication of how the former oppressor still needs seriously to debunk the erroneous notion that successful black people are the result of white intelligence, was demonstrated in how they painstakingly attempted to deny Barack Obama’s blackness after his victory. In order to perpetuate the lie that black people cannot amount to anything significant, white people said, quite spiritedly that Obama is not black — this, despite the fact that he refers to himself as such. They wanted to claim Obama’s success as their own by stressing the impact his mother had on his life and how he was raised by his maternal grandparents.

And an indication of how the former oppressed need the same healing as their former oppressor, was demonstrated by how Obama in his campaign, with surgical precision, avoided the issues of race and racism in the United States. In order to win and appeal to the American voters, Obama had to show that he is a better black — not a bitter black. He is a black who, despite the negative impact of racism and slavery, especially on African-Americans, is intelligent enough to know that harping on racial issues has avaricious consequences. He too, as a grandson of the former oppressed, is in need of serious therapy. Denying Obama’s blackness is in the same vein as the former oppressor in South Africa loathing Nelson Mandela’s association with the African National Congress. In their eyes, Nelson Mandela is a rare find — a better black. No wonder the venom when Mandela publicly identifies with the party for which he spent 27 years of his life in jail.

• Sihle Mlotshwa is an independent social commentator. He writes in his personal capacity.

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