chapter  3
28 Pages

Patient Accounts: Life in State Institutions and Challenging Exile, 1939–1961

This letter written by Anne Waterson, a young white women housed in a mental institution in the 1940s, draws our attention to the impact of being designated as mentally disordered in South Africa. One is immediately struck by her depth of alienation, longing, and feelings of persecution. Waterson’s letter is merely one of many that show these thoughts of isolation. Poor conditions, separation from family, and constricted life within institutions meant that for most patients, the feeling of alienation loomed. Life within South African mental institutions, like in the rest of the world during this period, was a lonely and diffi cult experience. Relegated to the outskirts of society, the institutionalized patient was both metaphorically and physically exiled. State institutions were on the outskirts of society, away from urban centers. This institutional barrier between the sane and the mad meant that patients were consigned to new marginal spaces where their rights and entitlements were extremely limited.