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 have often wondered what gives President Thabo Mbeki special access to the experience of racism — access those of us who lived under the apartheid regime all those dark years somehow seem never to have had. Race has such a privileged space in the president’s thinking that no ordinary personal experience has any autonomy. The irony of this apparent radicalism is that black experience is always explained in terms of white experience. In this over-racialised framework, HIV/AIDS does not have any autonomy — it is white people who see black people as “germ carriers”.
In the same way, corruption does not have any autonomy — it is a figment of white people’s imagination. Crime does not have any autonomy — it is white people fixated on black people as the “swart gevaar”.