Professor Chabani Manganyi

Professor N C Manganyi - Moments of Awakening: Apartheid South Africa and the making of a Psychologist

Moments of awakening: Apartheid South Africa and the Making of a Psychologist is the story of a black South African clinical psychologist during the dark and somber days of apartheid. Thinking in terms of moments of awakening enables me to examine the story of my life in terms of the development of intellectual and professional attributes as well as the coming into being of self-realisation and a sense of professional identity. There were moments too when life seemed to take its own course, when it appeared as if my life had its own volition according to a higher law of predestination. But today I am thinking particularly of individuals, places, good and bad fortune and how these have combined to create the most unexpected outcomes and consequences for the course of my life. The inspiration for this account of my academic and professional engagement with psychology during the apartheid years arose from some outstanding precedents. I am thinking especially of A R Luria’s The Making of Mind , Jerome Kegan”s “An Argument for Mind” and “Lives of the laureates” edited by Breit and Hirsch1 . Telling a story about one’s engagement with one’s discipline has become an acceptable way of expressing appreciation for recognition by one’s colleagues such as is happening today. William Sharpe, one of the laureates featured in “Lives of the Laureates” started his lecture on his life as an economist as follows2:“ What an honor. What an opportunity. What a challenge. What temptation. To speak about oneself before a captive audience is a rare opportunity indeed. The possibility for self-aggrandizement boggles the mind. Why not abandon all pretense of false modesty?” 

Professor Noel Manganyi

I agree with him wholeheartedly. The saving grace when all is said and done is that the best autobiographical narratives are also stories about other people, places and institutions as well as the convergence of personal destiny and historical moment. Fortunately, this is not my first attempt at being autobiographical. The precedent is my fictionalized memoir, “ Mashangu’s Reverie” in a collection of essays of the same title published in 19773 .In the present installment of the story of my development as a psychologist in apartheid South Africa I pay special attention on experiences that had an impact on my academic and professional socialization. You will learn a little about the institutions at which I was trained and did my work, the kind of work I did at different times as well as the important interfaces between theory, practice and research.

I remember with some relief, a relatively happy childhood and adolescence in what used to be known as the far northeastern Transvaal; present day Limpopo. Later at a Swiss Mission boarding school, I developed an early love of books and reading after the discovery of books such as “Thirty Nine Steps”, and in my final matric year, “The Brothers Karamazov” by the Russian novelist Dostoevsky. During my matric years, I was involved in student resistance politics in protest against political indoctrination by our Afrikaans teacher. A former police officer, he spent the bulk of our class time talking about future black homelands rather than the intricacies of Afrikaans word order. At that time, I survived a failed expulsion by our renegade Pretoria appointed white school principal. Without intending it Douglas Laing Smit Secondary School prepared me adequately for student leadership roles at the University College of the North to which I, together with other African students were conscripted by the nationalist government through the Extension of Universities Act of 1959. With English and psychology as majors, I completed my bachelor’s degree in 1962. At the beginning of 1963, I failed a psychometric test during an interview for a junior position at the National Institute for Personnel Research (NIPR) in Johannesburg, a leading psychology research center of the 1960s. This setback saw me back at the University College of the North to study for an honours degree in psychology in 1963. A two- year degree, the University of South Africa honours psychology degree on offer at the college was as demanding a qualification as one could get during the early 1960s.

In 1965 I started my working career as a personnel officer at a company called Asea Electric in Pretoria West. Later in 1968, following the completion of a master’s degree in psychology at UNISA I was edged out of my second position as personnel officer by the machinations of the Ellerine brothers, the furniture moguls who were making millions selling furniture on credit to urban black South Africans. My life and work took a dramatic and unexpected turn at that time. Jobless yet armed with a master’s degree, I approached Professor Hurst, head of psychiatry at the University of the Witwatersrand with a view to serving an internship in clinical psychology at Tara Hospital in Johannesburg. My encounter with the Ellerine brothers alerted me to the need for a radical change away from “industrial psychology” to a career as a clinical psychologist. In taking this step, I started a chain of events that gave me a clean break with the world of business. However, barred by law from treating white patients, I could not be admitted for internship training at Tara.

Professor Hurst and the head of neurosurgery at Chris Hani- Baragwanath Professor Lipschitz put together a face-serving plan that allowed me to register for my internship in the neurosurgery department at Chris Hani -Baragwanath beginning in January 1969.The most unfortunate aspect of this plan was that, without ill-will on their part, I was destined to spend my internship year without supervision by a senior clinical psychologist. Fortunately, my admission into the diversity of professions and disciplines that the neurosurgery department housed in those days turned out to be a decisive moment at the beginning of my career as a clinician and academic psychologist.

Professor Noel Manganyi


In the neurosurgery department, I worked cheek and jowl with senior neurosurgeons, neurologists, speech and hearing therapists, physiotherapists, occupational therapists as well as medical specialists in other sections of the hospital. Senior members of staff had specialist South African and international qualifications including doctorates from some of the world’s most reputable universities. I developed an understanding of the workings of the doctor-patient relationship during the teaching ward round conducted by the head of department and attended by consultants, registrars and medical interns. One of the most important lessons derived from my participation in the ward rounds concerned the critical role of good history taking in the management of patients of various kinds. Fortunately I created learning opportunities that enabled me in time to work as a consulting psychologist in neurosurgery, paediatric neurology clinics and psychiatry outpatient clinics at Baragwanath and other general hospitals in Johannesburg. In this professional role during the post-internship years, I offered diagnostic psychological evaluations to the broader specialist medical community at the hospital. I read and worked myself into levels of proficiency in history taking, professional “listening” and report writing in medical settings. My experience at Baragwanath prepared me for work in general hospital settings in the diagnostic exclusion of psychosomatic illnesses (especially hysteria) from physical disorders of the brain and the nervous system. Drug therapy rather than psychotherapy (the talking cure) was the treatment of choice for a wide range of psychiatric illnesses.

I learnt a crucial lesson during the four and half years I spent as an intern and full-time psychologist at Baragwanath Hospital: the importance of belief in one’s self. I was singularly privileged to have found myself in the midst of such hard working, highly qualified, disciplined and talented professionals. There was no scarcity of role models! They supported me, challenged me and on occasion inspired me. Strange as it might seem, there were no signs of racism during the ward rounds and discussions in the neurosurgery department. One was dealing with professionals who were largely preoccupied with matters of medical science and the medical welfare of our patients. But the same could not be said for the hospital as an institution because at this level, the racist prohibitions and practices of the apartheid era reigned supreme. There were racially segregated toilets, dining rooms, staff residences and a four-tier salary structure for whites, so-called coloureds, Indians, and Africans in that perking order. In time I found myself engaged together with my black professional colleagues in running battles against racial discrimination with officials of the provincial department of Hospital Services in Pretoria.

In 1969, the year of my internship, I submitted my first article to the South African Medical Journal4.It was accepted for publication with the proviso that the offensive term “Bantu” be substituted for the politically correct term “African” which I had used in the title! Nevertheless, the article was published in May 1970.In this paper, I focused on typical cases of conversion hysteria, its prevalence and differential diagnosis within an urban African hospital setting during the 1960s.Broadly speaking, the 1969 case studies signaled the existence of ambient anxiety in urban African communities, insecurity and fear which in the majority of cases, presented in the form of physical symptoms such as paralysis of limbs, non-epileptic falling episodes that often resulted in admission at Baragwanath and other medical facilities. It was also during 1969, that my research proposal for the doctor’s degree at the University of South Africa under the supervision of Professor A S Roux was accepted5. The subjects of my research were paraplegic patients on long - term treatment and rehabilitation in a ward that was part of the neurosurgery department. I set out to study the body image experiences of a sample of these patients using the Draw-A-Person Test and a local version of the Thematic Apperception Test, projective techniques in our professional language. In neuropsychology the body image refers to the mental, that is, psychic representation of our bodily selves, a part therefore of our complex personal identity. The integrity of the body concept or image can be undermined by severe trauma such as paralysis or amputation of body parts. What is more, the wholesomeness or lack of it of an individual’s experience of their body can be affected by racial stigmatization and denigration in race supremacist societies. By the late 1960s, and early 1970’s there was increasing interest in the literature on psychological and cultural aspects of body image to such an extent that during the years following the completion of my doctoral studies, I developed a strong theoretical interest in this field6. My thesis was submitted for examination in December 1970 and I graduated early in 1971. I was admitted into the register of clinical psychologists of the Medical and Dental Council and worked as the resident clinical psychologist at Baragwanath hospital.

I believe that a well- earned doctor’s degree entrusts the recipient with a new voice; the voice of an expert in the making in one’s field of interest. The hope is that in due course one learns what it means to speak with authority. My life and work at Baragwanath taught me an abiding lesson about the importance of professional role models in the socialization of health professionals. It was on account of this early lesson that I remained committed to the investigation of the training experiences of clinical psychologists in South Africa and internationally. Encouraged no doubt by a tradition of scholarly publishing in the neurosurgery department, I was initiated into publishing through the publication in 1971 of two papers arising from my doctoral research on body image in paraplegia in the Journal of Personality Assessment.7 This early body of published work on body image and related questions was soon followed in 1974 by a related paper on body image in albinism.8 It was not long before I was tempted by the glamour of book publishing. I published “Being-Black-In-The-World” and “Alienation and the Body in Racist Society” in 1973 and 1977 respectively. In these two books, evidence of the theoretical and research questions that arose from my work at Baragwanth Hospital between 1969 and 1973 is not difficult to find.9
Translating the research findings and clinical experiences of the Baragwanath years into popular public knowledge especially in Being-Black-In-The-World was a daunting task even for a young man full of youthful intellectual exuberance. Popular as the book was in its day, it was not easy to read!

Surprisingly, the internship and employment as the first clinical psychologist at Baragwanath Hospital turned out well despite the fact that the placement had been professionally inappropriate and not of my own making. Following completion of my doctoral studies, I decided to pursue an academic career preferably in a South African university amongst my own people. But all efforts in this regard failed despite the fact that I had completed my doctorate at thirty years of age and showed promise as a researcher. Left with no choice other than to leave the country, I accepted an offer of a post-doctoral fellowship at Yale University beginning September 1973.

My departure to Yale University in July 1973 followed a sponsored coast-to-coast visit to a number of American universities including Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Emory, UCLA, amongst others during which I familiarized myself with the state of training of clinical psychologists. It was during that visit in 1971 that I used the occasion of my visit to Yale to conduct exploratory discussions with senior members of the psychiatry department at the medical school regarding admission to their post-doctoral fellowship programme.

Returning to Yale as a post-doctoral fellow in 1973 was like being thrown into the deep end once again. Much has been written about American life during the years of civil rights struggles and the Vietnam war; the political, cultural and intellectual upheavals of the late 1960s and the 1970s. What I remember most vividly are the daily doses of Watergate television public hearings; how American democracy and institutions put the political career of president Richard Nixon on the block. I was faced with new challenges because there I was amongst psychiatry residents and psychologists from America’s ivy-league universities. This time, the senior inner core of professionals was made up of psychiatrists and clinical psychologists. In the psychotherapy section to which I was assigned, each one of us was allocated a number of patients to treat soon after our arrival. We each worked under the direct supervision of two senior psychotherapists and one was expected to meet one’s first patient and get going as it were.

I had never worked in a psychotherapy unit before, never mind one deeply rooted in the psychoanalytic practice of psychotherapy. Here too, it was a question of finding one’s feet by working one’s way into Freudianism through reading and attendance at Seminars. It was necessary to do this because psychoanalysis was the dominant theoretical framework for the understanding of personality, mental illness and its psychoanalytic treatment. One of the gravest challenges of my first months at Yale involved the mastery of the use of free association as the centerpiece of treatment because it involved learning to come to terms with extended silences in work with some patients. However I soon discovered that Yale University and the department of psychiatry during the early 1970s was the place to be because there was such a rich variety of learning opportunities considering the number of world- renowned scholars at the medical school and the psychology department amongst others. One could not help feeling privileged in a situation in which there were so many talented people with national and international reputations. The kind of seminars and psychotherapy supervision we received were outstanding. There was an ethic of hard work that promoted scholarly publishing and it was as if there was an invincible hand that kept us going. I soon discovered that I could thrive at Yale and the Connecticut Mental Health Centre because people were serious about their work, about ideas and intellectual life in general. I learnt to work with patients in treatment at levels of complexity and psychological depth that were beyond my reach during the Baragwanath years. We learnt how to become adept at establishing working and treatment relationships with patients, sustain such relationships for long periods of time and become astute listeners and interpreters of linguistic and other symbolic behaviours within the treatment situation. The differences between my South African and American patients were stark. The primary difference was that back home patients suffered from psychological disturbances masquerading as physical illnesses. Palpitations, free-floating anxiety and fear of impending doom often accompanied these conditions. American patients were in the main struggling with a deeper warping of personality; the so-called borderline personality disorders that are so precariously close to the major mental illnesses such as schizophrenia.

There were ample opportunities for the deepening of my knowledge and understanding in my areas of research interest. These included body image studies, the “politics” of race and identity as well as the theory of life writing. In time and with increasing familiarity with the international literature I developed an understanding of the central place of the body in establishing notions of racial difference and identities, relations of superiority and inferiority and their roots in the socialization of children in western societies. In this regard, I benefited considerably from the work of Neumann, Becker, Norman O’Brown and Erik Erikson.10 I continued to advance my understanding of race and racism while working my way through new theoretical paradigms about society such as the psychohistory of Robert Jay Lifton, Erick Erickson and the social systems theory of Levinson and others. In time I extended my interest into the study of individual lives through biography within the context of C Wright Mills’ paradigm of the sociological imagination. However, it was Erickson’s psychobiographical studies of Gandhi and young Luther, and Levinson’s use of the biography interview in the study of adult development (Levinson) that triggered my long-lasting interest in life writing.11 The seed for the biographical study of lives in my career was planted at Yale.

Earlier I described my years at Baragwanath Hospital as my first moment of awakening. The second moment occurred during the period I have just described namely, between September 1973 and July 1975. It was a different kind of awakening because at Yale I was able to confront the rage that had accumulated during the first thirty-three years of my life in South Africa. The anguish, the endless questions and self-recrimination are still vividly etched in my memory. I am reminded (in thinking of those days) of the cry of the English poet Gerald Manley Hopkins when he wrote:

No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief …..
O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind…

In the United States I was a free man in the “land of the free” and could be self-consciously and shamelessly angry without looking over my shoulder. My anger in the face of the life I had left behind found expression in my writing, especially in “Mashangu’s Reverie” written in the winter of 1973 and the verse in “Alienation and the Body in racist Society”. In the preface to “Mashangu’s Reverie and Other Essays” I wrote12: “ There was in the beginning of my encounter with America a gross kind of suffering which was gradually transformed into angry anguish. So overwhelming were the fantasies of revenge, so terrifying in their stark clarity, that it became important for me to arrive at some internal resolution of the diverse impulses that were constantly invading my consciousness. I started to write Mashangu’s Reverie, which may be seen as a frivolous kind of “self-analysis” and in this way started to rid myself of disturbing impulses. Writing about them transformed them from the realm of the personal to that of the universal.” The fictionalized memoir is a prelude to the essay on violence, which follows, and the two need to be read together. Together, they tell the story of my struggles concerning violence against the self and violence as a social act.

The prospect of life in exile, race and identity politics back home and in the United States were matters that were close to the bone during my two- year stay at Yale University. Grappling with my own anger urged me on in different directions: writing poetry, a brief memoir, and a monograph on problems of the body in racist societies and the beginnings of my interest in biography. Nevertheless, the most alarming realisation at that time was the discovery of the anger I had haboured over the years and may be still habour today. At times I took refuge in the words of a novice poet and could write:13

I did nothing certain they tell me I believe it is a murder something radical a murder a physical negationa final no…no indeed there in his bath tub his cheeks heavecrying for mercy killed a prime minister not a non-descriptsaid no on the sharp edge of a dagger

The prospect of life in exile became an ongoing concern at Yale and it comes as no surprise to find that during my third moment of awakening (the years at the University of the Witwatersrand in the 1980s) I became preoccupied with life writing and the tribulations of black South Africans who had chosen exile rather than life under apartheid. My stay at Yale proved critical in shaping the range of academic and professional concerns that took center stage in my career during the late 1970s and the decade of the 1980s. It was to be a period during which I also became engaged in serious public commentary on South African issues through public lectures and other forms of community engagements.

At the end of my fellowship at Yale in 1975, I received an attractive offer from the University of Texas at Houston. I declined the offer for reasons that are too complicated to get into in the present context. Instead I accepted my first academic appointment as professor of psychology at the then Umtata branch of the University of Fort Hare. I returned home in July 1975. I established a psychology department amongst other initiatives and made arrangements to participate in the running of the psychiatry outpatients clinic at Umtata General Hospital between 1976 and 1980. I started the field research on the life of the South African writer and critic Es’kia Mphahlele soon after my arrival in Umtata. I wanted to tell the story of his life so as to bring out what the sociologist C Wright Mills called the personal troubles of individuals as a way of gaining a richer understanding of the overriding public issues of the societies in which he had lived as a South African exile. It is this deceptively simple idea, which has been at the heart of my life writing work since the late 1970s. I believe that Mill’s concept of the sociological imagination is one of the most powerful social science ideas of the previous century. In time and with the flourishing of life writing studies at universities in many parts of the world, we have learnt that there is much more to this field than meets the eye. Biography and autobiography can act as testimony and counter narrative for marginalized and oppressed populations in different parts of the world. A counter narrative can assert a people’s dignity in situations in which their dignity and identity have been systematically undermined such as was the case in black life under apartheid. There is no doubt that scholarly as opposed to” pop” biography, autobiography and other forms of testimony such as stories that are told in political trials and truth and reconciliation commissions are powerful ways of reading the past, creating new identities and registering the need for social change.14

I had hardly settled into my new position in Umtata when I had a foretaste of a future that was already on the horizon. Advocate David Soggot SC, leader of the defence team in the SASO-BCP trial of the late 1970s invited me to a legal consultation in Pretoria .The invitation came in the main because I was the author of “Being-Black-In-The-World”, one of the earliest statements on black consciousness at that time. In their preparations, the defence team engaged in a frantic search for some understanding of the motivation of the accused including the ideological and philosophical underpinnings of black consciousness as an evolving liberation philosophy. The consultation on the SASO-BCP trial in 1977 placed me on the threshold of a new area of professional practice that subsequently occupied a very significant amount of my time during the decade that followed. Following that consultation in Pretoria I worked regularly in the country’s higher courts as an expert witness in the defence of political trialists between the late 1970s and early 1990. It was a daunting task for which I had had no formal professional training in my career as a psychologist. In the course of time I studied the field of forensic psychology15. In the country’s courts, I worked under precarious conditions in the face of difficult questions about life and death, involving alleged killers and victims. Serious and perplexing moral questions were the order of the day and my standard answer was reliance on professional rigour, ethical integrity and the use of the best possible professional understanding of the issue at hand. I worked to find answers to questions such as: what is mitigation of sentence? What are extenuating circumstances? What is the nature of psychological evidence in the court- room? People say that experience is the best teacher. I took this folk wisdom to heart and in due course developed protocols for interviewing the accused in political trials as well as formats for the presentation of evidence in court. I engaged in a process of deliberate professional self-improvement to ensure a high level of professional expertise. Giving evidence in political trials was literally like walking into a lion’s den. One’s personal security was always at risk. I am thinking in particular about some of the highly charged trials that Professor Fatima Meer and I were involved in KwaZuluNatal16. It was not uncommon for one to feel that one was in hostile territory when prosecutors and the judge questioned one as though one were one of the accused or further still, a member of a banned political organization such as the African National Congress was at the time.

I left the University of Transkei in defence of a principle and returned to the University of the Witwatersrand during the first quarter of 1981. The years 1981 to1990 were the years of my return to Soweto and the university of Witwatersrand. I took up the position of Visiting Professor and Senior Research Fellow in the African Studies Institute and visited for about ten years! I arrived at Wits soon after my return from participating in the first international symposium on “ New Directions in Biography” at the University of Hawaii where I had been one of seven invited international presenters in January 1981.The symposium was both humbling and elevating because one rubbed shoulders with world acclaimed biographers such as Leon Edel and Michael Holroyd amongst several others.

I was delighted to discover that the Institute of African Studies at Wits was intellectually stimulating and collegial. My research on Mphahlele started during my stint in Umtata fitted well into the research programme of the Institute considering that both Professors Tim Couzens and the then director Professor Charles van Onslen were actively engaged in substantial life writing research projects. All of us were engaged in the early international convergence of disciplines concerned with life histories and social change during the 1980s. The important fields of enquiry included social history, sociology, literary studies, oral history, psychohistory, psychobiography and so forth. Some of the dominant international figures included C Wright Mills, Jean Paul Sartre, Paul Thompson, Daniel Levinson, Erik Erikson, and Daniel Bertaux amongst many others. Considering that my teaching obligations were very limited, I requested and received formal permission from the university authorities to open a limited private practice in the city.

The private practice of psychology is best thought of, in my view, as the promotion of public interest psychology, that is, using the personal troubles of individuals as a route towards the understanding of larger public issues. I once described my approach at that time as “an ascent to reality”. To me this meant being openly concerned and deeply interested in the politics of mental health: ethical issues and the social responsibility of health workers as well as the multifaceted daily problems of ordinary people. I characterized this approach as public interest psychology-an approach to psychology in which the central question becomes: what kind of theory and practice can move South African psychology beyond the shackles of an apartheid past? This question remains pertinent today. The opportunity to establish a practice on my own terms provided me with a rare opening for the deepening and broadening of my clinical and psychological evaluation skills. My clinical skills and judgment were required and tested on a much broader front than at any other time in my life. During this period a significant part of my work involved the clinical assessment of outcomes of traumatic brain injuries in children and adults in the resolution of personal injury disputes which often landed in the high court. As indicated earlier, I developed competencies in clinical neuropsychological assessment, and appeared as an expert witness in several political trials that were taking place throughout South Africa during the 1980s.

It was my great fortune to have managed to remain focused on my research projects despite escalating requests for professional assistance in the courts and elsewhere. 1983 witnessed the publication of “ Exiles and Homecomings – a Biography of Es’kia Mphahlele.”17 The companion volume, a collection of letters was published in 198418. Es’kia Mphahlele’s story is a story of one of South Africa’s most highly regarded literary scholars, fiction and non-fiction writer of the second half of the twentieth century. I chose an experimental narrative approach in the Mphahlele biography in that inter alia a first person narrative voice (instead of the conventional third person voice) is used throughout most of the text. During this period also, I followed up my paper on biography in Hawaii in 1981, with a second one on the nature of truth and interpretation in biography published in the Journal “Biography” in 1983”19. I undertook this work at that time so as to deepen my understanding of the theoretical and methodological problems encountered by biographers in the course of their work.

Life in our country during the 1970s and the 1990s was saturated with experiences of pain and suffering and yet intellectually and culturally there were evident signs of courage, vitality and hope. Writing, publishing and other forms of artistic expression were steeped in acts of resistance and thus it is that my work as well as that of many others found ready publishers in the likes of Sprocas, Ravan Press and Skotaville Publishers.

In 1985 I returned to Yale University as a guest of Professor Daniel Levinson of “mid-life crisis” fame. During my visit we conducted extensive weekly discussions on biography, and examined the life of the South African artist Gerard Sekoto who was living in exile in Paris at the time. Son of early Lutheran Christian converts at Botshabelo in Mpumalanga, Sekoto displayed a precocious artistic sensibility and graphic skills before and during his primary school days. After qualifying as a teacher, he abandoned a highly priced profession at the time to chart a career as an artist in Sophiatown, District Six and East Wood outside Pretoria before his departure in search of greater freedom in Paris in 1947. Today, he is regarded as one of the icons of South African art of all time. Our discussions were based on some initial life history data that I had collected in interview with Sekoto in 1984.

Following a six-month stay in New Haven, I undertook a short visit home in June 1985 and was alarmed by the violence and repression that had overtaken our country. I still remember 1985 as the year of blood and tears. People I had known professionally such as Matthew Goniwe amongst others were brutally murdered by agents of the apartheid regime both at home and in neighbouring countries. The gruesome murder of Maki Skhosana in Duduza in that year through the neck lacing method was widely reported internationally. The banality of the Skhosana murder left me feeling morally and intellectually challenged20.

Our country had reached unprecedented levels of psychosocial toxicity. The consequence in the main, was widespread desensitization of people, an unacknowledged cradle of widespread impunity in our society today. Whereas we were able to say then : “everyone against them” today we can only say : “ everyone against everyone”, the ultimate pronouncement of a national culture of impunity .It was my encounter with this horror of horrors in June 1985 that made me feel that something needed to be done by me and other concerned South African clinicians and academics. I returned to Yale determined to find the funding before year-end for the establishment of a project on my return to South Africa. The project would focus on the study and professional mediation of some of the consequences of violence in our country. We needed to find ways of helping the victims and survivors of violence in a professional and organized manner. There was a need too, to contribute through the results of rigorous research and analysis towards a greater national understanding of the mayhem that had descended over our people and country.

The Ford Foundation, a body that had supported me professionally once before, agreed to provide funding for the establishment of the unit that came to be known as the Political Violence and Health Resources Project at the University of the Witwatersrand beginning in 1986. Three clinical psychologists and a secretary were employed to work full time under my supervision . We initiated work with street children in Hillbrow, with families and victims of political violence, and I continued to provide expert evidence in defence of political trialists. I need to emphasise once again that the mid 1980s were a difficult time in which to undertake work of this kind. Apart from state intolerance, there were groups that had appropriated the political right to monitor such work as gatekeepers ostensibly on behalf of the people . Some members of my staff told me that the Detainees Parents’ Support Committee and the progressive medical group NAMDA did not approve of the fact that our work at the university was started without “political” consultation. Although I was open to discussion, if opportunities were created, I was unwilling to forego an opportunity to do professional work, which I felt more than qualified to undertake. Nevertheless, an early vindication of the work of the unit is the volume of essays by a distinguished cast of South African and international contributors entitled “Political Violence and the Struggle in South Africa” published in 1991 simultaneously here and in the United Kingdom21. In my view, the volume is a worthy tribute to an idea whose time had come. It is testimony to the seriousness, courage and selflessness with which many South Africans approached the bitter challenges of the 1980s. Like many other well-meaning South Africans, our initiative in the study and professional mediation of political violence was overtaken by far-ranging political developments that followed the sudden release of former President Nelson Mandela from life imprisonment in February 1990.

From the above account , one can see that the years following my return from a year’s stay at Yale in January 1986 were a period of considerable national misery, hard work and struggle by many South Africans in different walks of life. I continued to work at my practice, appeared in the Supreme Court on many occasions, taught a little, and continued with the research on the biography of Gerard Sekoto. It was also a period during which many of us were in constant personal danger on account of the kind of work we were doing in the courts. In retrospect, it is difficult to countenance and more still comprehend the sources of our courage and determination in the face of such naked state brutality and banality of its evil ways. My collection of psychological essays “ Treachery and Innocence: Psychology and Racial Difference in South Africa” completed during my tenure at the University of the Witwatersrand during the late 1980s, was meant to bring together in a single text, the most important theoretical ideas which I had developed and advanced in the course of the late 1970s and the decade of the 1980s22. By this time, I was ready following years of research and clinical work to pronounce on matters that were of concern to me such as the training of clinical psychologists, equity in service provision and the practice of psychology in our courtrooms. More importantly, I pleaded for a psychology free of race science and apartheid propaganda in our explanations of behaviour. Two essays, namely “Public Interest Psychology and clinical Practice in South Africa” and “To Create one’s own Capital: Reflections on Psychology and Society” were the most recent and were being published for the first time23. Most of this work is written primarily from a depth psychological point of view, that is from psychoanalysis and its later derivatives. I was also influenced significantly at the time by my encounters with Soviet neuropsychology and psychiatry especially the work of Luria and L S Vygostsky on higher mental functions in man including what Luria described as “the historical nature of psychological processes” 24. It was Luria’s world–book “ Higher cortical functions in man” that opened the path that led me to the study of disturbances of the body image. Much later I found the idea of “the historical nature of psychological processes” interesting and heuristic as an antidote to race and genetics inspired psychological explanations of racial differences in intelligence which were popular in those days25. I also strayed into Soviet psychiatry at a time when I was teaching courses at Wits and Yale (1985) on ethics and the social responsibility of health professionals. Soviet psychiatry was of special interest due to its reported uses, in those days, of psychiatric internment of political dissidents as an instrument of state disapproval and punishment26.

At this point I am able to say that I have spent a very significant portion of my life working in other people’s minds. I have listened to people’s stories, tried to make sense of their stories, have told my own stories through treatment related activities and the biographies I have published. Most of the stories were of sadness, unfulfilled hopes, despair, fear, ill- health and experiences of loss of one kind or another. Through dedication and experience I learnt the art of listening. Increasingly I was able to pick up the nuances that are often hidden in common every day speech. Talking and listening to people, young and old, has been the stock in trade of my work as a researcher, a biographer and an expert witness in the highest courts of our land. I return as I move towards a conclusion of my story to the subject of biography. I do so because from a research and writing point of view, it is life writing that has occupied most of my time particularly since my departure from academic work at the University of the Wiwatersrand in August 1990. Despite the fact that the research on Gerard Sekoto had largely been completed by then, the writing and publishing of the book “A Black Man Called Sekoto” only came to a close in 199627. The discovery of Sekoto’s substantial private documents following his death in March 1993 resulted in the completion and publication of an expanded second edition of his biography entitled “I am an African” in 200428.

There was much good fortune in my life; the benevolent hand of chance which saw me through my first awakening at Baragwanath Hospital. Equally, there was much good fortune and some adversity in my brief flirtation with exile in America during my first stay at Yale University in the 1970s. As we have seen, the awakening happened all the same yet, anger and anxiety about exile in America ,as well as anger due to the travails of life in apartheid in South Africa provided interludes of grave turmoil. Indeed, I have not paid much attention to adversity in the present narrative because that was not my primary focus.

I believe that it is fair to say that as an academic and a clinician, I always tried to be aware of where I was doing my work and the circumstances in which I was doing it. This helped me to identify the challenges along the way as well as the academic and practical skills required to come to terms with those challenges. By the beginning of the 1990s, the central idea was to think more fully about a psychology of everyday life for South Africa, a psychology for ordinary women and men, a psychology that is, to advance our society as a whole towards a non-racist and humane society. Such a public interest psychology had to be profoundly ethical, that is, anchored as I have argued elsewhere on distributive justice in respect of the public uses of professional knowledge, skills and access to mental and other psychological services.


1. See, A R Luria, The Making of Mind: A Personal Account of Soviet Psychology, edited by Michael and Sheila Cole, 1979, Cambridge Massachusetts, Harvard University Press; J. Kegan, An Argument for Mind, 2006, New Haven: Yale University Press and W Breit and B T Hirsch (eds), Lives of the Laureates: Eighteen Nobel laureates, 2005, Cambridge Massachusetts: MIT Press. See also, “ Stories and Theories” in R Coles, The Call of Stories : Teaching and the Moral Imagination, 199, Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.

2. In W Breit and B T Hirsch, ibid, p171

3. Manganyi N.C., Mashangu’s Reverie and other Essays, 1977, Johannesburg: Ravan Press.

4. See, Manganyi N.C., “ Neurotic compromise solutions and symptom sophistication in cases of Hysteria in the Bantu,” South African Medical Journal, May 1970, 607-609

5. Manganyi N.C, Body Image in Paraplegia, submitted in part fulfillment of the requirements for the degree D.Litt et Phil of the University of South Africa.

6. The reference is to contributions by S Fisher, Body Image in Fantasy and Behavior, 1970, New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, and Body Consciousness: You are what you Feel, 1973, Englewood Cliffs New Jersey: Prentice-Hall ; also Body Image and Personality, 1968 (2nd ed), Princeton New Jersey: D van Nostrand. See also, N O Brown, Loves Body, 1966, New York: Vintage Books; Becker E, The Denial of the Death, 1973, New York: The Free Press, and Neumann E, The Child: Structure and Dynamics of the Nascent Personality, 1973 New York: G P Putnam Sons. In his Dimensions of a New Identity, Erikson, E, 1974, New York:W W Norton & Co Inc, selects the body’s vertical dimension as the psychic and developmental springboard for the symbolisation of cooperative, antagonistic and superior-inferior relationships associated with being behind, ahead, side by side and above and below. Significant and at times polemical are to be found in the work of Sartre,J in Anti-semite and Jew, 1948 New York: Schocken Books, and Fanon, F Black Skin White Masks, 1967, New York: Grove Press.

7. Manganyi, N C “ Body Image Boundary Differentiation and self-steering behavior in African Paraplegics”, J of Personality Assessment, 1972, 36,1,45-50 and “ Projective Stimulus Ambiguity: Some theoretical and empirical considerations”, 1972,36,1,5-7.

8. Manganyi N. C, J G Kromberg and T Jenkins, “ Studies in Albinism in the South African Negro: Intellectual Maturity and Body Image Differentiation”, J Biosocial Science, 1974,6, 107-112.

9. Manganyi N. C, N C, Being-Black-In-The-World, Johannesburg: Sprocas-Ravan, 1973 and Alienation and the Body In Racist Society, 1977, New York: Nok Publishers.

10. Neumann,E; E, Becker, N ,O, Brown and E, Erikson, opcit.

11. See, C Wright Mills, The Sociological Imagination,1959, London: Oxford University Press, ; E Erikson, “ On the Nature of Psychohistorical Evidence: In search of Gandhi,” in Life History and the Historical Moment, 1975, New York: W W Norton, 113-168 and Levinson, D J, C H Darow, E B Kein, M H Levinson, B Mckee, The Seasons of a Man’s Life, 1978 New York: Ballantine Books.

12. Manganyi, N C, Mashangu’s Reverie and Other Essays, Preface, opcit

13. Manganyi, N C, Alienation and the Body In Racist Society, opcit , p 1

14. Eakin, P J (ed), The Ethics of Life Writing, 2004, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, especially M Gullestad’s “Tales of Consent and Descent: Life Writing as a Fight against an imposed Self-image”, 216-243.

15. The text, which set me on the road to professional confidence whilst working in the courts, is a 1981 book by Lionel Howard at that time\ a Professor of Clinical Psychology at Surrey University in the United Kingdom. See, Forensic Psychology, 1981, London: Batsford Academic and Educational Ltd.

16. I was an expert witness together with the sociologist, Prof Fatima Meer during the trial of Robert Mcbride and Greta Apelgren. They were facing 24 charges (including murder and terrorism) in the Maritzburg Supreme Court. Despite our best efforts to persuade the court against the ultimate penalty, McBride was sentenced to death three times for the murder of three white women at Magoo’s Bar in Durban plus 67 years on 16 additional counts of terrorism and attempted murder. Apelgren was acquitted on all charges relating to the bombing. She was found guilty on five other counts for which she was sentenced to a jail term of one year and nine months. An edited version of my evidence was published as “ The Final Choice” in Die Suid Afrikaan, December, 1987, 31-34.

17. Manganyi N C, Exiles and Homecomings: A Biography of Es’kia Mphahlele, 1983, Johannesburg: Ravan Press.

18. Manganyi N C, “Psychobiography and the Truth of the Subject”, Biography: An Interdisciplinary Quarterly, 1983,6.1, 34-52.

19. Manganyi N C, Bury Me At the Marketplace: Selected Letters of Es’kia Mphahlele, 1943-190, 1984, Johannesburg: Skotaville.

20. Although I did not appear in the trial of the accused for the murder through neck lacing of Ms Maki Skhosana, advocate David Soggott consulted me during legal preparations for the trial. Her murder, especially the senseless spectacle which was staged around it was one of the events that prompted me to establish the Political Violence and Health Resources Project at the University of the Witwatersrand in 1986. It was the preparations, which I undertook for the consultation with, advocate Soggott which found its way into the project’s main publication. See, N C Manganyi and A du Toit (eds), Political Violence and the Struggle in South Africa, 1990, London: Macmillan, 287-303. For a finding by the TRC on the neck lacing of Maki Skhosana, see TRC Report vol Three, 667-668.

21. Manganyi, N C and A du Toit, ibid.

22. Manganyi,N C, Treachery and Innocence: Psychology and Racial Difference in South Africa,1991 London: Hans Zell Publishers.

23. See A R Luria, 1979, opcit; also L S Vygotsky, Mind in Society: The Development of Higher Psychological Processes, edited by M Cole, V John-Steiner, S Scribner and E Souberman, 1978 Cambridge, Massachussets: Harvard University Press, and J V Wertsch, Vygotsky and the Social Transformation of Mind, 1985 Cambridge Massachussets: Harvard University Press.

24. Manganyi N C, “ Ethics and the Social Responsibility of Health Workers” in Treachery and Innocence, opcit, 92-99.

25. Manganyi, N C, A Black Man Called Sekoto, 1996 Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press.

Last Modified: Tue, 19 Sep 2017 12:46:01 SAST