My colleagues and I often care for patients suffering from hallucinations, prophesying, and claiming to speak with God, among other symptoms—in mental health care, it’s sometimes very difficult to tell apart religious belief from mental illness…. Our conclusions frequently stem from the behaviors we see before us. Take an example of a man who walks into an emergency department, mumbling incoherently. He says he’s hearing voices in his head, but insists there’s nothing wrong with him. He hasn’t used any drugs or alcohol. If he were to be evaluated by mental health professionals, there’s a good chance he might be diagnosed with a psychotic disorder like schizophrenia. But what if that same man were deeply religious? What if his incomprehensible language was speaking in tongues?
I am visiting Egypt, a country whose transition to full democracy is precariously poised. The military is currently ruling the country after the Tahrir Square “revolution” and it is unclear how this transition will end. Everywhere we go, we hear Egyptians expressing anxiety about the transition and asking whether the lessons of South Africa might be of relevance for the situation in Egypt.
“We do not have a Nelson Mandela here,” some academics tell us rather wistfully.
But it is far too early to understand what is happening in Egypt and to know whether our own experience of transition from an authoritarian to a democratic state would be of any relevance here.
What strikes me forcefully though, is that the South African transition was quite unique. Why did the apartheid military not revolt when FW de Klerk started the negotiating process? How close did we get to a military coup? How did we end up with a strong social democratic constitution when large sections of our society are deeply conservative and seemingly opposed to the liberal aspects enshrined in the Constitution? Why did the ANC show such an agile ability to strike the necessary compromises required to ensure the relatively smooth transition? Would President Jacob Zuma and the current leadership of the ANC have been as wise and canny as the leaders around Nelson Mandela? What are all those apartheid generals now think about the transition?
I have no time to try and answer these questions now. I am back on Saturday when I will Blog again on my return.BACK TO TOP