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Bertoldi, A. (1998). Oedipus in (South) Africa?: Psychoanalysis and the Politics of Difference. Am. Imago, 55(1):101-134.

(1998). American Imago, 55(1):101-134

Oedipus in (South) Africa?: Psychoanalysis and the Politics of Difference

Andreas Bertoldi

I Introduction

In South Africa today the medical and psychological professions are being called to account for their conduct under apartheid. At stake is their failure to counter racism and its institutional manifestations, or worse, their active collusion with the government apparatus of the period. Already in 1985, Dawes, in a paper entitled “Politics and Mental Health: The Position of Clinical Psychology in South Africa,” has suggested that mental ill-health (primarily in black patients) should be understood as a consequence of apartheid which he sees as “psychopathogenic,” and which clinicians had failed to address (1985, 15). In his 1986 keynote address to the annual congress of the Psychological Association of South Africa, Simon Biesheuvel countered Dawes' assertions, and thus sets the stage for the rest of this paper.

Biesheuvel's response was that Dawes had overlooked the “importance of power in group relations, the humiliation of being totally dominated by a white minority and the identity problems created thereby” (1987, 4). Furthermore Biesheuvel, although professing his opposition to it, argued that apartheid should not be immediately removed or opposed because, “as a statutory system it … [was] … only a proximate cause” of the crisis (4). Rather underlying the crisis was group prejudice and conflict—a conflict that was both primordial and universal, and must “be sought deep down in the nature of man” (4).

The financial assistance of the Centre for Science Development (HSRC, South Africa) towards this research is hereby acknowledged. Opinions expressed and conclusions arrived at, are those of the author and are not necessarily to be attributed to the Centre for Science Development.

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