chapter  2
18 Pages

The “Disordered” State: Government Policies and Institutions for the Administration of the Mad During Apartheid, 1948–1973

Between late May and early June 1948, just days after the National Party won the general election, Johannesburg police offi cers arrested six black men for strange behavior. The police called in a district surgeon, that is, a state employed doctor, to examine them. He deemed them mentally disordered and transferred them to the Newlands Police Station, which frequently housed black mentally disordered individuals. As they had no registered relatives in Johannesburg, a magistrate ordered their continued detention, pending admission to a mental hospital. No beds for black men were available in any mental institution in South Africa, so they remained in police custody for the statutory maximum of twenty-one days. On the evening of July 9th, they were due to be released unless the commanding offi cer at Newlands could make alternative arrangements. That afternoon, he telephoned a fi eld offi cer in charge of repatriation at the Native Commissioner’s court to inform him that the men did not have the necessary passes and therefore could not be released. He wanted to know his options. The Additional Native Commissioner instructed one of the messengers of the court to bring the men to the pass offi ce and lock them up for the night in the large wire and metal shed outside in the yard that was commonly used for temporary accommodation for those awaiting repatriation. It was bitterly cold that winter evening, and the shed, with its broken windows and wire door, off ered little protection. Two of the men apparently became extremely agitated and demanded to be released. Their appeals were ignored. At around 11 p.m., one of the clerks at the court reported hearing an “alarming” noise that sounded like “the beating about of an instrument the sound of which could be attributed to noise caused by beating an empty tin.”1 Knowing that night duty guards were responsible for looking after the mental patients, he did not bother to check on the noise. The next morning, one man lay bruised and dead. Another died in a nonEuropean hospital in Fordsburg while awaiting transfer.