Corridors of Death Extract
“Firstly, the discourse on racism in higher learning institutions in South Africa is often centred on the material. We often focus on such things as inequalities among historically Black versus historically White institutions, inequalities pertaining to infrastructure, quality of academic staff, research grants etc. We focus also on racial demographics. What we do not pay great attention to is how all these affect the mental and emotional wellbeing of Black students, who are dominantly on the receiving end of these realities. Secondly, mental health in the Black community in general is a subject we do not speak about enough, and as a result, narratives around it being a ‘White people’s sickness’ continue to find expression. What this does is perpetuate problematic ideas about how Black people who suffer from mental illness are strange, or even worse, attention-seekers. As a microcosm of our society, universities become sites of this perpetuated violence, and therefore sites of mental trauma for Black students, most of whom do not have coping mechanisms or a support structure to negotiate their debilitating conditions. Thirdly, and just as importantly, understanding mental health challenges in Black students and youth would allow us to engage an aspect of justice that we do not often speak about: humanisation. I am in no way claiming that mental health problems are unique to Black students in historically White universities, as the chapter on the struggles of the Tshwane University of Technology students will demonstrate. I am contending only that there are specific experiences that students in these university confront, and that institutionalised racism expresses itself in specific ways that demand critical reflection and engagement.
Because of our history of dispossession and dehumanisation through such processes as colonialism and apartheid, where draconian laws were implemented to disenfranchise and de-civilise Black people, our language of justice revolves greatly around expropriation. This is not wrong. Taking back the land and economy that were violently dispossessed is one of the important ways of seeking justice. This is why movements such as #RhodesMustFall and #FeesMustFall are so important. They were struggles for more than just free, decolonised education. They were struggles about belonging, about space and place, about seeking spatial justice. But we must remember, always, that it was more than the land and economy that were taken from Black people. The very essence of what makes us human, our dignity and our humanity, were also taken from us. And so, in seeking justice, we are seeking, above all else, our humanisation. To reclaim this, we must reclaim, first and foremost, our mental health, which has been battered by systematic constructs spanning centuries. This book seeks to document and to humanise Black students, and I hope it will contribute to the urgent and necessary discussion around the many ways in which racism gives birth to mental pathologies in Black people.”