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 sometimes find the hypocrisy in the white community quite astounding on these matters. The very same people calling for Jacob Zuma to be prosecuted for the sake of the rule of law or for Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe to be taken to The Hague turn around, without batting an eyelid, and plead forgiveness for Adriaan Vlok and Johann van der Merwe.
But where is the sense of justice for the families of Siphiwo Mthimkhulu and his comrades? Does this not reveal a certain callousness about black life if consideration is given only to the perpetrators.
I am not big on punishment, but if we are to have it then we must be evenhanded in its application.