Academic journal article Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, comparative linguistics and literary studies

Psychological Sequelae of Political Imprisonment, Specifically Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, in 491 Days by Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

Academic journal article Literator: Journal of Literary Criticism, comparative linguistics and literary studies

Psychological Sequelae of Political Imprisonment, Specifically Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, in 491 Days by Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

Article excerpt

Author(s): Marisa Botha (corresponding author) [1,2]

'They destroyed your being; you are made to feel a nobody.' Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (2013:62)

Introduction

This article continues the discussion on psychological sequelae of political prisoners during a pre-democratic South Africa. Lionel J. Nicholas (2014) has also published on the psychological sequelae of political imprisonment during apartheid, but he focused on the Mandela and Sobukwe families, specifically the men, with only a few references to Madikizela-Mandela's 491 Days (2013). His article 'explores the psychological injuries sustained during apartheid and the role of psychology in its amelioration and exacerbation' (2014:1). In contrast to Nicholas' article on a few psychological aspects of political imprisonment, the purpose of this article is an exploration of one woman's torment as political detainee.[sup.1,2]

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela shares her personal trauma in her memoir, 491 Days (2013), but her story is also illustrative of the fate of other political prisoners and by extension may be read as representative of South African history. By analysing representations of mental suffering in her memoir and making comprehensive correlations between her experiences and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), it becomes clear that the aftermath of political imprisonment and other heinous human rights violations committed under apartheid rule has left a mental mark on the South African society. A wider understanding of the PTSD symptoms and their manifestations prevalent in South African communities, such as anger, violent tendencies, hypervigilance and anxiety, may contribute to a greater understanding of the dynamics within our society. The value of this cross-disciplinary approach, whereby literary, specifically autobiographical, and psychological tools and theoretical frameworks are utilised, may be seen in the revisionary reading and comprehension of Madikizela-Mandela's autobiographical narrative, which as a South African icon is interweaved with this country's political past.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela (1936-2018), arguably the most prominent woman liberation fighter of the 20th century in South African history, was arrested by the South African Security Police, a specialised unit dedicated to national security, in 1969. This arrest, one of many, was politically motivated as Madikizela-Mandela was an influential affiliate of the African National Congress (ANC) and the South African Communist Party (SACP). Her husband at the time, Nelson Mandela, leader of the ANC and of its military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, as well as a key member of the SACP, was incarcerated on Robben Island during her arrest.

Madikizela-Mandela was a complex person who fascinated and appalled the public. Her conduct has elicited strong reactions, deemed by some as heinous and others as heroic.[sup.3] The enigma Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, has been explored in books, articles and films. The latest attempt to tell her intriguing life story is the recently released documentary Winnie (2017) in which the viewer is given access to lesser known details of her life. The film does not offer excuses for her involvement in controversial acts, but it does provide much needed context for her decisions. Similarly, her memoir 491 Days (2013) provides the reader with insight into her life and the psyche of a political prisoner. The most astounding facet of this prison memoir is that Madikizela-Mandela wrote its afterword over four decades after her incarceration. This offers the reader a rare opportunity to read the author's reflections on her imprisonment and gauge her lasting reactions.

As a survivor of imprisonment, her testimony will not be interrogated for narrative truth (see Smith & Watson 2012; Young 2013).[sup.4] The experience of trauma is personal and accordingly the British Pain Society defines pain as follows: 'Pain is what the person feeling it says it is' (Norridge 2011:209). …

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