Almost every commentator agrees that the levels of South African anger are too high. Anger exists between ethnic (black/white) groups, men and women, and men and children. South African anger is a manifestation of splits in the “rainbow nation”. A critical developmental strategy is the integration of our towns and cities. But by keeping people apart, these splits undermine these developmental efforts. So there is good reason to try understand this anger that is tearing at our social fabric.
A good starting point is analysing the psychology of anger. Many months ago I was talking to Armien Abrahams. Armien is a long-standing friend and comrade. He analyses the psychological drivers of identity of different social groups. The barbaric murder of criminals in Masiphumeleni (Fish Hoek) (2015) prompted our discussion.Today I publish a paper that Armien presented earlier this year. It explores some theoretical catgeories for understanding anger. Psychological understanding is important for a holistic analysis of human settlement strategies. I want to stimulate further debate about this.
Psychology and activism
Armien Abrahams, Clinical Psychologist and Psychoanalytic Psychotherapist, delivered a paper on anger at a psychology conference, based largely on his observations since returning home after 20 years in Ireland. Drawing on his experiences of revolutionary activism and psychoanalysis, he provides an interesting analysis of socio-political issues about which pervasive anger is seen as both symptom and treatment of the current malaise in South African civil society. Symptoms refer to the legacy of infrastructural racism, sexism, oppression and exploitation with a vision of nation building on anti-racism, anti-sexism and anti-capitalism as strategy to secure treatment of the symptoms. Besides left wing theory and psychoanalysis, Fanon is also used to guide his methodological and ideological orientations.
Armien trained at UCT in Clinical Psychology with further training at Trinity College, Ireland in Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy. Before this training he worked at SACHED and was deeply involved in community struggles in the Western Cape as part of the Cape Action League and the Disorderly Bill Action Committee. Neville Alexander was a mentor, comrade and close friend who encouraged his involvement for tactical purposes, with the Black Consciousness Movement. Armien was appointed by Peter Jones as Director of a BPC factory in the Western Cape. He was greatly involved in that fateful night when Steve Biko left Cape Town and drove into the clutches of the security police and ultimately to his gruesome murder.
Before we look at Armien’s paper I would like to remind you the readers about manifestations of anger in our society.
Violent manifestations of South African anger
South Africa has disturbing levels of social violence. In 2012 the South Africa’s murder rate ranked eight out of 167 countries. Those most at risk are young black men. A smaller percentage of women and children are also at risk of murder. Masiphumelele is but one of many areas that have suffered from this. However, women and children are at very great risk of domestic violence. There are shocking levels of domestic violence against women.
Violence is not restricted to criminal activity. Social protest can often also turn violent. But compared with crime social protest violence has been minimal. Since 2004 thousands of South Africans have protested against their socio-economic marginalisation. The frequency of protests in democratic South Africa is as high as under apartheid. Yet only a small proportion of these turned violent. At least until 2008.
In May 2008 large scale xenophobia emerged as a form of social protest. Local mobs terrorised hundreds of thousands of foreign African nationals to flee townships. Xenophobic tropes reflected a notion that South Africans are exceptional. A cut above our African compatriots….. These tropes blamed foreign African nationals for the socio-economic marginalisation of South Africans. The myth about the ‘rainbow nation’ fell apart then. Xenophobia reared its ugly head again after the 2010 World Cup. And also more recently.
Since 2008 there have been extreme instances of violence in post-apartheid South Africa. The most egregious was the police massacre of 34 mine workers at Marikana in 2012. Starting in 2015 there have been rolling student protests. These were by and large peaceful but many turned violent. The result was destruction of public property to the value of R600 million.
Armien’s paper follows. It hopes to lay a framework to understand the drivers of violence. And how we could begin to address it at the individual level. And collectively.
Anger and its South African vicissitudes.
“I don’t know how to silence the part of me that is shocked every time my humanity is erased, no matter how many times it happens.” Dominique Matti, July 2016.
Anger appears to be part of the shock in the quote above and often a core element in most issues affecting South Africans, including the current malaise of corruption. Indeed it is revealed by several political analysts that widespread corruption, particularly in the top echelons of government, is the cause of many socio-political and economic problems in the country. What is often lacking in these accounts, is an analysis of psychological factors which underlie such phenomena, especially anger and trauma.
To quote again, this time at some length, from the young journalist quoted above whose following remarks are apt:
“I keep getting comments and emails from white people about my anger, about my bitterness, in regard to racial injustice.The fire that injustices stirs in me burns me. I suffer a lot of anxiety, I often feel despair, it’s difficult for me to enjoy many things. But my suffering has its roots in societal trauma – trauma I am working to heal, work fueled by the same fiery anger that sometimes eats me up. My anger is functional, my bitterness rational. My anger sparks a fierce determination in me, an urgent commitment to creating change”
Proliferation of anger in South Africa
It would thus be hard to ignore the manifestations of anger and its escalation in almost every aspect of life in South Africa. There is also anger about the polarised divisions in society and the lack of attempts at homogeneity. Subsequently and on foot of the “fees must fall” protests, and lack of direction due to poor leadership by government, students have posted ‘Decolonising the Mind’ on social media as a pathway toward understanding the question of ‘black lives’, racial injustices, exploitation and inequality.
This talk will attempt to analyse the changing character of anger in our polarised and divided nation.
It is fitting that anger should be the focus of this presentation. In the social, anger conceals more than it reveals. In South Africa its escalation into protests and violence appear to aggravate the already polarised relationship between blacks and whites. I shall attempt to explore this tension in this presentation.
Indicators and issues of South African anger
Empirical evidence in support of anger abounds with daily occurrences of road rage incidents, crime, frustrations with bureaucracy to name a few. South Africa is not the angriest nation in the world but it does take number one spot for the nation with the highest number, about 30 per day, of protests. (Wikipedia). Not a day passes without an occurrence of protests fuelled by anger, either against: university fees, unemployment, exploitation, oppression, racism, sexism, corruption or for: land, housing, health improvement, safety, free education and amongst other issues, raising of living standards.
In her book Protest Nation (2016), Jane Duncan argues that protests and demonstrations are essential elements of democracy. In my opinion, whilst a prerogative of democracy angry protests might also be its Achille’s heel. June 1976, Marikana 2012, and the prevailing crisis in education are examples of this point.
From an individual perspective, anger requires an understanding especially of its many concealed layers including developmental pathways. For man (or woman) the tragedy, as the great philosopher once said, is that (s)he was once a child. (Nietzsche, 1978) Childhood development of anger and aggression are core aspects of psychoanalytic theory. Social issues such as racism, culture and politics also fall under psychoanalytic scrutiny. Davids provides a good account of how internalised racism can effect clinical work. (Davids, F, 2011) Rustin explored social issues like culture, politics and with persecution, projection, placed them under psychoanalytic examination. (Rustin, M, 1991)
Notwithstanding these contributions, there appears to be a paucity in research that deals with anger per se, hence the focus of this presentation. This lack of focus on anger raises several questions: why is anger so studiously ignored?; can black-white anger be allowed ventilation in debate or discussion?; why should ventilation of anger raise insurmountable safety and containment issues?; can the boundaries for debate and discussion on anger not be adequate to contain anxiety? In my opinion to skip presenting anger as a focus due to the above questions, would be counter productive and unwise.
I shall thus proceed with a definition of anger. I will then attempt to describe how it unfolds in the country, with an attempt to demystify its complex layers. I introduce the decolonising movement to highlight the role of Fanon not only in providing an operational overview of violence to which anger is linked, but also what needs to be done to overcome conflict and how it might be transcended. The last two parts of my presentation will be on subjectivity and psychoanalytic perspectives on anger.
Definition of South African anger
According to the dictionary anger is defined as an extreme or passionate displeasure. (Oxford) In most dictionaries of psychology anger is seen as an affect of aggression, as a symptom of frustration and anxiety which may manifest as troubled behaviour. Beyond these references anger is lumped with several pathologies in classification manuals. In the authorative Diagnostic Classification Manual, (DSM5), it does not even have an official listing. Psychoanalytic definitions according to: A dictionary of Kleinian thought, (Hinshelwood, R.D.); or The Edinburgh International Encyclopaedia of Psychoanalysis, (Skelton, R.M), or The Language of Psychoanalysis, (LaPlanche and Pontalis) or The New Dictionary of Klenian Thought, (Bott Spillus, E et al) do not fare much better as anger falls under aggression instead of having a separate listing.
So as far as definitions go, the above is the current state of affairs on anger. Perhaps anger should be defined in terms of context-specific failed expectations that triggers volatile, emotions which may service destructive and creative functioning.
Context of anger
How does anger unfold in South Africa? To emphasise the obvious, anger does not occur in a vacuum. Whether individual or social, it occurs in specific contexts laden with ideology and history. Besides potential triggers of constitutive developmental trajectories, context may also reveal precipitants of ideological or historical persuasions, such as power relations, political affiliation, economic imperatives, culture, tradition, justice, ethics, morality and so on.
On an expressive cognitive-behavioural or emotional level these complex layers of socio-economic phenomena may simply be reduced by anger, around for or against positions.Those privileged by a certain economic situation for example, may be angry by those who attack it because of exclusion and deprivation. Anger without redress usually escalates into conflict often with violent outcomes. Perpetual social violence may in turn polarise individual perceptions to the extent that they can get stuck in mutually propelling antagonisms. This may go somewhere to explain underlying aspects of anger in South Africa and its unfolding pathways. Anger in the present therefore occurs with history and ideology.
History of African and South African anger
This history can be traced to slavery and the European conquest of colonies in the 17th century. Apartheid ideology has its origins in colonialism. It is a significant factor in the complex layers of precipitants. This system abolished two decades ago, spread the disease of racism over decades which today still remain as symptoms of anger. It is this ideology and history of anger which, mutated from fighting (or defending) toxic Apartheid to defending (or fighting) the present inept government, that is pertinent to my task in this presentation. Pertinent for understanding the source of black-white relations fuelled by anger.
In this respect all protest activities might constitute a form of anger ventilation. However, without direction protests may generate endless violence and lose its impetus for reconstruction. With the current cycle of protests in the country direction seems to be more spontaneous rather than strategic, with the exception of the ‘decolonising the mind’ movement. By raising consciousness of the history and ideology of racism, oppression and exploitation this movement has captured decolonisation as a concept useful for providing direction to the present crisis. Its activities appear to be informed by anti-capital, anti-sexist and anti-racist positions.
Decolonisation, however, has become centre stage as a rallying call in the present crisis. It refers to the dismantling of colonialism. The historical roots of decolonisation lie in the struggle against slavery. As a revolutionary movement it gained prominence only after the second world war. European hegemony ended with either negotiated settlements or revolutionary overthrow of colonial regimes.
This revolutionary movement produced many luminary figures. Among them were Fanon who wrote the influential Black Skins White Masks and The Wretched of the Earth. Both he and his contemporary Albert Memmi who wrote The coloniser and the colonised, provided the movement with intellectual and strategic leadership.
Fanon lived a very short life, trained as a Psychiatrist in France and was exposed to influences from Phenomenology (Sartre); Psychoanalysis (Freud); Power (Nietzsche) and Economic-Social theory (Marx). Besides theoretical contributions, he was also deeply involved in the Algerian revolution. The full extent of Fanon’s work and influences are beyond the scope of this presentation. Three areas of his work will, however, be summarised. They are his position on violence, views on social reconstruction-transformation and lastly disalienation.
Violence begets violence, according to Fanon. Imposed colonial hegemony, he argued introduced and maintained violence. A Manichean world of white violence and black retaliation was how he described the colonial situation:
“On the logical plane the Manichaeism of the settler produces a Manichaeism of the native. The practice of violence binds them together as a whole, since each individual forms a violent link in the great chain, a part of the great organism of violence which has surged upwards in reaction to the settler’s violence in the beginning.” (Wretched of the Earth p.73)
Contrary to some opinion he certainly was not a prophet of gratuitous violence. Faced by the brutality of state violence, the colonised without any other recourse uses violence as protection: “When the native is tortured, when his wife is killed or raped, he complains to no one” (Wretched of the Earth p. 73)
Social reconstruction and transformation
Violence was thus to be used as a means to an end, as an essential tool for both liberation and reconstruction. Transformation in the hands of a new leadership with decolonisation, was therefore key to his theory on violence.
Fanon with uncanny prescience in the late 1950’s foresaw the new post-colonial leadership potential for corruption in their quest for power. He cautioned that without a committent to transformation, the new leadership seduced by power alone will not repair the damage caused by colonialism. Black aspirations and white domination he argued, were neurotically tied to each other in repressed alienation. He elaborated the Marxist concept of alienation to include psychical functioning:
“Whenever the man of colour protests, there is alienation. Whenever the man of colour rebukes, there is alienation. …the Negro enslaved by his inferiority, the white man enslaved by his superiority alike behave in accordance with a neurotic orientation. Therefore I have been led to consider their alienation in terms of psychoanalytic classification. – Obsessive neurotic.” (Black Skins White Masks,p. 44)
He used the terms Affective erethism and Affective ankylosis to explain this neurotic condition. The former describes the black person’s sensitivity and aspirations to white materialism and the latter, the white person’s attitude of superiority. Inferiority and Superiority thus fuel antagonisms with anger at its roots.
In my view early development processes of primary narcissism, ego ideal and superego are severely undermined in blacks due to deprivation and oppression. With transformation, Fanon argued, a new leadership without insight to overcome these difficulties, will more likely succumb to avarice and self-aggrandisement at the expense of reconstruction.
Transcendence was to be sought in dismantling alienation, a process he called disalienation.
This process requires introspection and analysis of past trauma, conflict, anger and resentment. Without this process past experiences might sustain anger and undermine transcendence:
“Those Negroes and white men will be disalienated who refuse to let themselves be sealed away in the materialised Tower of the Past. For many other Negroes, in other ways, disalienation will come into being through their refusal to accept the present as definitive.” (Black Skins White Masks p.161)
He provides a good example of how his internal anger undermined his writing of Masks: “This book should have been written three years ago…But these truths were a fire in me then. Now I can tell them without being burned. (Black Skins White Masks, p.8 ) Of significance of his work and often not grasped by his followers is his emphasis on humanity, respect which includes black and white, not only black people. One of his conclusions often not cited or ignored, is: “However painful it may be for me to accept this conclusion, I am obliged to state it: for the black man there is only one destiny. And it is white. (p.9)
Psychology of South African anger
What has Fanon’s position on violence and his views on transformation to do with anger and its South African vicissitudes? Well nearly everything may be the short answer since his views appear to be as relevant today as when it first appeared on the local scene in the late sixties and early 1970’s.
Not that Black Consciousness then or decolonisation now drew on Fanon without criticism. His theories have been criticised for their anti-whiteism, encouragement of violence and lacking in structure or strategy. Despite these criticisms, he remains an inspiration for those involved in fighting colonial domination. The clamour for nation building today has his ring to it, as well as vociferous demands for black opportunity, black lives that matter and being black which have become clarion calls of workers, students and communities.
Of note is the shifting tones in these calls which also reveal the mutation of anger. For the call of Black Consciousness to build ‘one nation’ had a different anger resonance to the four nation, UDF Freedom Charter. The former probably addressing black anger more directly whereas in the latter it was diluted.
Nation building silenced
It is beyond the scope of this presentation to discuss all these issues in detail. However, whatever the reasons for the major changes in the liberation movement’s direction and leadership in the 1980’s, the BC movement and nation building strategy was effectively silenced. The neglect of national consciousness raising and absence of visionary programmes to transform the legacy of Apartheid, left the new leadership open to temptation when it took over power, as Fanon had prognosticated. Immersed in careerist, political advancement or raiding the national coffers, the leadership today appears absent from the people thereby waves of new anger are unleashed nearly every day. This caused a leading political analyst to comment after the last local elections: “Where was the ANC leadership, could they not read the anger of the nation?”
Another shift in anger appears to be the government’s attempts to deflect it away from its failed policies to a third force, or that of opposition meddling and other scapegoats.
Instead of listening to the anger usually communicated first by peaceful demonstrations, state response tends to ignore it with perilous consequences.
What aggravates such tense situations appear to be attempts to redirect the anger, without redress, into moribund channels of state control. This change in the dealing of anger is described aptly by NeoCosmos as the systematic depoliticisation of subjectivity. (Michael Neocosmos, 2011) In other words anger is turned away by the state for demands of living standards improvement to the previous system which it blames for its poor rate of service delivery. The attacks on its erstwhile liberators, the present government therefore reveals a significant change in people’s anger. The response of the state to reverse the political consciousness of militancy gained through anti-Apartheid struggles, lies at the core of the depoliticisation of subjectivity.
Subjectivity is defined as the constitution of the subject by a range of ideologically determined factors, including the family, political, social, economic and significantly, psychological influences. As a concept it is useful for analysis because it embraces the complex social layers of anger including patriarchy.
Wendy Hollway argues cogently for the theorisation of subjectivity to deconstruct anger, to recalibrate black white relations as well as gender relations. Subjectivity is about being. Being-black-in-the world framed by Manganyi (1973), and inspired by Fanon, poses several questions about rejection, identity and injustices. Samantha Vice (2010), posed similar questions of Being white in the world but focused on guilt, shame and morality. In her paper titled, How can I live in this Strange Place?, she asks:
“What should White People Do?”; “I am a white South African, undeniably a product of the Apartheid system, and undeniably still benefiting from it.”;
“I want to ask how white people can be…”
“For white South Africans, work on the self, done in humility and silence, might indicate the recognition that any voice in the public sphere would inevitably be tainted by the vicious features of whiteliness. It might be one way of saying that I am not merely a product of what is worst about me and a refusal, to finally, be fully defined by it.”
If this type of being, of white guilt and shame contrasted by black rejection and deprivation can be aired by both agents in as many forums possible with open contact for debate and discussion, then it may forge a new subjectivity. It may offer scope for anger to be overcome based on understanding of white superiority and black subjugation. Besides major initiatives by the state and other pillars of social support, a progressive subjectivity would go somewhere to realise the consciouness raising and disalienation that Fanon recommended for transformation. Psychoanalysis can continue to play a key role in aiding the process of disalienation and transformation.
Psychoanalysis as instrument of anger exploration
It is in the practice and theory of psychoanalysis that support is made available for identification, rejection, shame, guilt and associated difficulties.
Understanding defensive behaviours and the way defences operate in the psyche are also psychoanalytic tools useful for the treatment of anger.
Projection of anger and its retaliation in both social and individual functioning, are also core issues in psychoanalysis.
Therefore psychoanalytic activity in South Africa should open its doors wider to accommodate anger fuelled conflict. Contemporary Kleinians see aggression in the service of multiple defences including projection and introjection. Within social settings the ideas of Bion, of containment and raised anxiety with an absent leader, would also be useful to deal with aggression in groups.
Instead of taking flight or scapegoating, anger in these contexts should be processed with conviction and redress as aims to learn from failures and experience. The changing faces of anger in South Africa can therefore benefit greatly from psychoanalytic support.
In conclusion, in this presentation I have explored anger and its changing character in South Africa. My task was to desmystify the concealed nature of anger by revealing some of its ideological underpinnings. How it sustains black-white polarities and through understanding improve them towards, their transcendence, hopefully.
Whilst the crisis in the country looks grim it is my belief that by confronting our demons, by analysing anger, we will transcend the bitter legacies of the past.
Bott Spillius Elizabeth. The New Dictionary of Kleinian Thought. Routledge. 2011
Davids Fakhry. Internal racism – A psychoanalytic approach. 2011. Palgrave
Duncan Jane. Protest Nation. University of Kwa Zulu Natal. 2016
Fanon Frantz. Black Skin White Masks. 1968, Paladin.
Fanon Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. 1963, Penguin.
Hinshelwood, R.D. A Dictionary of Kleinian thought. Free Association Books. 1989
Hollway Wendy et al. Changing the Subject. 1984, Methuen.
La Planche and Pontalis. The Language of Psychoanalysis. The Hogarth Press. 1983.
Manganyi Chabani. Being black in the world. Penguin. 1973.
Memmi Albert. The Colonizer and the Colonized. 1957, Beacon.
NeoCosmos Michael. Transition, human rights and violence: rethinking a liberal political relationship in the African neocolony. Journal for an about Social movements. 2011.
Rustin Michael. The Good Society and the Inner World. 1991, Verso.
Nietzsche, F. Human, all too Human. Wordsworth, 1978.
Skelton Ross. The Edinburgh International Encyclopaedia of Psychoanalysis. Edinburgh University Press. 2009.
Vice Samantha. How do I live in this strange place? Journal of Social Philosophy. 2016.