South Africa

MindFreedom South Africa launched a new project in the summer of 2007, at the founding meeting of the Maitland Ubuntu Centre for Treatment: Alternatives in Mental Health and Psychrights Advocacy. The Ubuntu Centre was conceived as a means for helping to heal the racially-charged divisions of South Africa’s apartheid past, marked by suffering of the vast majority of people given racial or blood-based labels, many of whom are now consigned to suffering the further indignity of being branded by biopsychiatry,

Founding Meeting of the Maitland Ubuntu Centre for Treatment

25 August 2007

CAPE TOWN:  More than a decade after South Africa’s first democratic election, the country has yet to heal the racially-charged divisions of the past. “Apartheid gave the world more than just racial segregation, which was also experienced in various degrees in other nations, rather it gave the world an insane classification system administered by doctors and psychiatrists” says David Robert Lewis, a member of Article 12, The User/Survivor Network.

The results are plain to see, with little done to alleviate the suffering of the vast majority of people given racial or blood-based labels, and who now suffer the further indignity of being branded by biopsychiatry, which denies the individual, maintains all of existence is the result of biological determinism, and refuses to engage with either experience or consciousness.

A small group of individuals have committed themselves to changing all of this by setting up a project called the Ubuntu Centre, after a Xhosa phrase, Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu which translates roughly as people are people through other people. This conception of the self as defined by others and vice versa is integral to understanding a community philosophy in which no-one is devalued or cast out, since in doing so, one is casting oneself out into the wilderness.

“Of course there will be conflicts, and ubuntu isn’t everything, but it is a big part of the picture, and we need to take care that individualism exists and coincides with our sense of community.” 

Lewis and his colleague Moosa Salie, are creating a revolutionary new paradigm in which ideas propagated by the Freedom Centre in Mass, USA, the Icarus Project and elsewhere are given form and adapted to local conditions.

“The centre is an expression of our desire to create alternatives in our lives and the lives of other people. For the meanwhile and until we have funding, it exists as a temporary autonomous zone in a nearby hall but we have plans for a therapy bazaar, and psychrights fair, where user-survivors and consumer-survivors will be able to access alternatives at free or near to free, and subsidized rates as well as accessing other modalities of treatment.”

“We are doing it for ourselves following the DIY, peer support, self-help model and reasonable accommodation will be given to everyone,” says Moosa Salie, who is also co-chair of the World Network of Users and Survivors of Psychiatry

“What is it, you may ask, that makes it so important to highlight Article 12 rights, with regard to what is happening to people living with mental health problems and disabilities in general? The answer is, that for too long have the human rights of the so called  mentally ill, been abused. From the time when the British colonial  masters decided to banish the so-called lunatics to Robben Island  back in the 1800’s, to the present day where people are still being  deprived of their liberty in mental hospitals under the guise of  being helped. Psychiatry and society continues to grapple with the  problem of so-called mental illness.”

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