18 Pages


In 1975 the Johannesburg Sunday Times published a one page opinion article by Fleur de Villiers entitled “Millions Out of Madness.” Basing her expose on testimony given by Jan Robbertze, head of Clinical Psychology at the University of Pretoria and Chairman of the South African National Council for Mental Health, she claimed that a private company was making a profi t from the mental illness of black individuals and operating “Dickensian workhouses” that were “an uncomfortable reminder of the bad days of Bedlam.” De Villiers argued that expenditures on patients were minimal and suggested that the company had a vested interest in keeping patients within these “human warehouses.”1 A few months later, the Church of Scientology’s Peace and Freedom magazine investigated these allegations further. They claimed that thousands of Africans were forced to work and die in these mental health “labour camps,” abuse was rampant, and patient well-being was usurped by economic profi t.2 They then sent press reports to various news outlets in the world. This was merely the beginning of investigations of South African state and private mental hospitals. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, reports emerged of South African mental institutions housing black political opponents to the government, excessively using electrotherapy, conducting pharmacological experiments on patients, forcing them to work as slave labor, and allowing high rates of sexual abuse by staff against patients.3 Academics, politicians, journalists, ex-political detainees, international organizations, and religious groups documented human rights abuses by mental health practitioners during apartheid South Africa. The World Health Organization, the American Psychiatric Association, the International Red Cross, individual psychiatrists, patients, and newspapers worldwide all condemned the inhumane treatment of black patients within South Africa’s mental hospitals. Their conclusions are somewhat analogous to reports of psychiatric abuse in colonial Africa, Soviet Russia, and Nazi Germany.