Launch
of
Traumatic
Stress
in
South
Africa,
by
Debra
Kaminer
and
Gillian
 Eagle
 
 21/9/2010
 
 Let
me
begin
with
a
warm
congratulations
to
Debbie
and
Gill
on
producing
this
 wonderful
book
–
and
to
thank
them
for
inviting
me
to
contribute
to
its
launch,


which
I
am
honoured
to
do.


 
 And
congratulate
and
thank
the
Book
Lounge.

 ‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐‐
 
 This
book
opens
with
a
sobering
–
if
not
utterly
alarming
–
reminder
of
the
ubiquity
 of
trauma
in
this
country
–
be
it
in
the
form
of
direct
or
indirect
trauma
–
so
much
 so,
say
Debbie
and
Gill,
that
the
idea
of
trauma
and
being
traumatized
has
become
 part
of
the
contemporary
South
African
common
sense.

Who
would
deny
that
this
is
 a
widely
traumatized
society?

It’s
widely
acknowledged
and
spoken
about
–
the
 stuff
of
dinner
conversations,
talk
shows
and
journalistic
investigations
as
much
as
 it
is
the
subject
of
serious
scholarly
and
professional
inquiry.


Trauma
is
a
festering
 sore
in
the
social
body
of
our
new
democracy
–
and
the
bodily
metaphor
is
itself
 widely
insinuated
into
our
collective
consciousness,
as
we
know,
from
the
TRC
and
 its
discourse
of
healing

(which
I
say
more
about
in
a
moment).


 
 But
in
fact
the
bodily
metaphor
is
only
partly
useful,
because
festering
sores
heal
 more
readily,
with
appropriate
medication,
than
the
experience
of
trauma.

As
 Debbie
and
Gill
emphasise
in
their
text,
there
is
no
quick
fix,
no
psychological
 antibiotic,
that
will
rapidly
erase
the
effects
of
traumatic
experiences.



 
 All
of
which
makes
their
book
so
important,
as
much
in
professional
and
academic
 circles
as
within
an
intelligent
lay
readership:

firstly
in
helping
to
frame
an
 intelligent
and
well‐informed
discussion
about
the
manifestations
and
effects
of
 trauma,
and
secondly,
in
presenting
robust
yet
sensitive
pointers
to
those
who


devote
their
lives
to
trying
to
deal
with
trauma,
or
those
who
are
trying
to
survive
 amidst
the
aftershocks
of
trauma
in
their
own
lives.

 
 I’m
here
as
a
bit
of
an
outsider
to
the
gathering:

I’m
not
a
practitioner,
nor
do
I
work
 within
the
discipline
of
psychology
–
but
Debbie
assures
me
that’s
exactly
why
I
was
 invited
to
speak
at
their
launch.



I
am
a
social
researcher
(working
at
the
interfaces
 of
sociology,
history
and
cultural
studies)
and
they
have
asked
me
to
speak
briefly
in
 ways
that
give
that
sort
of
perspective
on
the
issue
of
trauma.



 
 Which
is,
in
fact,
how
they
frame
the
issue
at
the
outset
of
their
book.

In
SA,
the
 growing
interest
in
trauma
during
the
apartheid
years
was
driven
by
a
political
and
 moral
activism,
among
people
alarmed
and
outraged
by
accelerating
levels
of
 political
violence
during
the
1980s
and
early
1990s
–
along
with
mounting
concern
 and
anger
in
feminist
organizations,
such
as
POWA,
about
rates
of
rape
and
sexual
 violence.


This
is
one
of
the
profound
strengths
of
the
book
and
their
approach:
 while
writing
as
psychologists,
with
therapeutic
interests,
they
are
always
mindful
 of
the
social
and
political
genesis
of
the
problems
they
dissect.



 
 The
idea
of
trauma
is
indeed,
in
key
respects,
a
social
and
political
invention
–
which
 is
not
to
say
that
it’s
a
myth,
rather
it
is
to
point
to
a
very
particular
global
history
 which
has
constituted
trauma
as
a
category
of
knowledge
and
experience.

So
let
me
 start
my
remarks
there,
with
the
global
context
into
which
particular
South
African
 experiences
of
trauma
are
inserted.


 
 As
Didier
Fassin
and
Richard
Rechtman
point
out,
in
their
recent
book
The
Empire
of
 Trauma:
An
Inquiry
into
the
Condition
of
Victimhood,
‘trauma
has
become
a
major
 signifier
of
our
age’
–
in
ways
that
help
to
differentiate
our
age
from
previous
ones.
 If
we
now
accept
that
trauma
is
a
fact
of
life
and
major
circuit
of
psychic
and
social
 experience,
it
wasn’t
always
that
way
–
not
because
terrible
things
didn’t
happen
to
 people,
but
rather
because
the
category
hadn’t
been
brought
into
visibility
with
such
 frequency
and
acuity.





 In
the
professional
and
scholarly
circles
of
psychiatry
and
psychology,

they
argue,
 trauma
was
a
late
nineteenth
century
idea
–
drawing
powerfully
on
the
work
of
 Freud.


But,
in
the
last
25
years,
we
have
seen
a
sea
change
in
the
way
trauma
has
 been
understood
and
popularized
–
the
beginnings
of
what
we
take
for
granted
now
 –
that
is,
the
idea
of
trauma
as
part
of
our
collective
common
sense.



 
 This
journey
in
the
life
of
the
idea,
they
say,
was
shaped
by
a
series
of
critical
 moments

in
our
global
history
–
World
War
1,
World
War
2
and
especially
the
 Holocaust,

Vietnam,
the
rise
of
the
women’s
movement.
Each
of
these,
in
one
or
 other
way,
confirmed
and
extended
a
concept
of
trauma
as
debilitating
the
psyche,
 with
powerful,
sometimes
indelible,
traces
in
an
individual’s
personal
and
social
life.

 But
it
is
in
the
last
25
years
that
there
has
been
popular
embrace
of
the
idea
that
 societies
can
be,
and
have
been,
collectively
traumatized
–
and
therefore
that
 psychiatrists,
therapists
and
others
in
counseling
professions
are
now
key
players
in
 the
management
of
collective
crises.


 
 Their
book
opens
with
the
aftermath
of
9/11
attacks
in
the
USA:
 ‘in
the
days
following
the
attacks
on
the
World
Trade
Centre
in
New
York,
an
 estimated
9000
mental
health
specialists,
including
700
psychiatrists,
intervened
to
 offer
psychological
support
to
survivors,
witnesses
and
local
residents.’

 A
far
cry
from
the
perceived
collective
impact
of
episodes
of
calamity
in
previous
 times
–
when,
if
anything,
the
families
of
the
war
dead
–
for
example
‐
were
enjoined
 to
be
strong
and
calm,
and
the
ex‐combatants
were
expected
to
adapt
and
get
on
 with
life
with
as
little
fuss
as
possible.


 
 So
there
is
a
new
conceptual,
moral
and
political
universe
associated
with
the
idea
 of
trauma
that
has
made
its
mark
globally,
albeit
in
somewhat
different
ways
in
 particular
places
and
times.


 


The
‘new’
South
Africa
is
no
stranger
to
this
new
paradigm
of
trauma
–
in
fact,
it
 played
an
absolutely
fundamental
role
in
the
ways
in
which
we
made
sense
of
the
 transition
from
an
apartheid
to
a
post‐apartheid
society.

And
I
here
I
want
to
return
 briefly
to
the
TRC.



 
 On
one
level,
the
TRC
was
about
the
accumulation
of
knowledge,
the
truth
about
the
 past,
for
the
sake
of
national
reconciliation.


But
this
process
was
in
turn
 understood
in
profoundly
psychological
terms:
truth‐telling
was
rendered
as
a
 personal
and
collective
catharsis,
of
the
sort
that
could
heal
the
wounds
of
the
past.


 In
Tutus
words,

‘
we
are
a
wounded
people,
all
of
us’;

apartheid
had
created
a
sick
 society,
the
healing
of
which
would
require
a
confession
of
the
ugly
secrets
of
the
 past,
that
had
festered,
as
sites
of
moral,
psychological
and
national
infection
or
 contamination.

The
healing
process
would
require
an
individual
and
collective
 unburdening
–
a
recognition
of
the
enormity
of
the
damage
inflicted,
so
as
to
 promote
us
to
recognize
our
shared
humanity,
in
our
collective
frailty
as
a
wounded
 nation.


 
 The
language
is
very
much
the
language
of
trauma
–
indeed,
the
TRC
represented
 apartheid
as
a
collective
trauma
–
so
that
the
transition
from
apartheid
would
 require
a
series
of
post‐traumatic
interventions
to
promote
our
psychic
and
 collective
well‐being.

 
 At
the
time,
many
of
us
who
wrote
about
the
TRC
were
skeptical
about
this
language
 of
collective
healing
–
can
nations
heal?
–
and
were
doubtful
of
the
possibilities
of
 dealing
with
the
damage
of
the
apartheid
past
in
these
kinds
of
ways.



 To
some
extent,
I
think
such
doubts
were
well‐founded.

But
now,
in
retrospect,
and
 speaking
personally,
I
think
I
under‐estimated
the
traction
that
the
trope
of
 traumatic
damage
and
healing
would
gain,
within
the
collective
imagination
of
post‐ apartheid
society.




Unexpectedly
perhaps,
a
notion
of
the
democratic
citizen
as
a
victim
of
trauma
with
 the
freedom
to
heal,
seeped
into
the
newly
forming
social
order,
across
a
range
of
 sites
of
discourse
and
debate.


 
 There
are
many
such
examples;
I
only
have
time
to
speak
briefly
about
one
of
them:

 an
period
of
increasingly
vociferous
and
angry
public
concern
about
rape,
and
more
 specifically
baby
rape
(which
I
have
researched
and
written
about
–
see
eg
my
 chapter
on
rape
in
Walker
and
Reid
(eds),
Men
Behaving
Differently).
 
 We
know
that
unacceptably
high
rates
of
sexual
violence
have
a
long
history
in
this
 country,
even
if
it
is
difficult
to
produce
robust
and
reliable
measures
thereof.

We
 know
too,
that
it
took
a
long
time
for
sexual
violence
to
be
something
that
excited
 public
debate,
let
alone
popular
mobilization.


As
if
sexual
violence
was
an
 unfortunate
but
ultimately
marginal
feature
of
political
and
social
life.


 
 That
had
started
to
change
in
the
late
1990s;
by
2001,
we
were
suddenly
a
nation
 confronting
a
crisis
of
sexual
violence
that
challenged
the
very
meaning
of
our
 newfound
democracy.


You
may
recall
that
it
was
in
October
2001
that
baby
 Tshepang,
a
nine‐month
old
baby
girl
in
Louisvale,
in
Northern
Cape,
was
raped.


 Initial
reports
suggested
(falsely
as
it
turned
out)
that
the
baby
was
gang‐raped.
 Suddenly,

rapes
dominated
the
headlines

and
various
fora
of
political
and
social
 debate.


We
read
of
many
more
baby
and
child
rapes,
country‐wide;

as
peoples’
 attention
and
horror
intensified,
we
found
ourselves
in
the
midst
of
a
moral
panic,
 holding
a
mirror
to
the
new
nation
that
evoked
shock,
insecurity
and
massive
 anxiety.

Talk
shows,
parliamentary
hearings,
newspaper
articles,
television
debates,
 as
much
as
private
dinner
parties,
found
people
grappling
with
the
question:

how
 do
we
make
sense
of
this?


It
quickly
became
a
public
debate
about
who
we
were,
as
 citizens
of
the
‘new’
South
Africa.


One
journalist
asked:
‘who
are
we
that
we
can
do
 such
things
to
our
children’.


Men
in
particular
came
in
for
harsh
and
unflinching
 moral
scrutiny:



‘Men
of
South
Africa,
why
do
we
allow
lust
and
greed
to
turn
us
into
beasts
without
 emotions?’
 
 Then
deputy
president
Jacob
Zuma
played
a
leading
role,
inaugurating
the
Moral
 Regeneration
Movement

with
direct
reference
to
the
rape
of
Baby
Tsephang:

‘there
 is
a
consensus
that
something
is
seriously
wrong
in
our
society.

We
are
still
haunted
 by
the
news
of
6
adult
men
having
raped
a
nine‐month
old
baby,
and
there
are
many
 other
cases
that
display
barbarism
and
moral
decay
of
the
worst
kind’.
 
 In
short,
within
a
new,
intensely
anxious
and
angry
public
outcry
about
sexual
 violence,
with
many
people
struggling
to
make
sense
of
the
rape
of
a
9month
old,
the
 language
of
trauma
rapidly
provided
an
apparatus
within
which
to
name
and
 confront
the
problem.


We
were
a
traumatized
nation,
so
much
so
that
we
were
 wondering
who
we
were,
and
how
to
come
to
terms
with
our
collective
damage.


 
 And
this
facilitated
one
of
the
most
sustained
and
open
engagements
with
the
 problem
of
sexual
violence
that
the
country
has
experienced.


The
Sowetan
called
it
 a
‘national
emergency’;
parliamentary
hearings
were
immediately
convened;
protest
 marches
and
public
vigils
were
held;
various
NGOs
heeded
the
call
for
social
 activism
with
a
new
emphasis
on
sexual
victimization,
including
fledgling
men’s
 groups
that
protested
against
the
scandal
of
their
manhood.

(The
outcry
was
one
of
 the
reasons
for
Mbeki’s
denialism
about
rape:

‘hysterical
estimates’,
as
he
put
it,
So
 along
with
the
heightened
awareness
and
outrage,
was
a
counter
politics
of
secrecy
 and
denial).

Still,
the
point
I
want
to
make
here
is
how
a
language
of
trauma
 completely
infused,
and
in
fact
enabled,
an
episode
of
intense
political
mobilization
 and
public
argument
–
well
beyond
the
parameters
of
the
individual
pysche.

 
 But
with
what
effects,
you
might
ask?


You
know
well
enough
that
sexual
violence
 remains
an
inordinately
enormous
problem;
that
the
intense
public
flurry
of
anxiety
 soon
receded,
and
life
returned
largely
to
our
pathological
norm.




Solving
the
problems
is
a
lot
more
complex;
our
attention
spans
too
limited;
our
 anxieties
too
fickle.


 
 As
if
to
underline
this,
all
too
poignantly,
you
probably
don’t
know
–
because
it
 didn’t
hit
any
headlines
nor
provoke
much
anxiety
or
outrage
–
that
on
12
April
this
 year,
a
3
month
old
baby
girl
was
raped
in
the
Eastern
Cape.

I
happened
to
be
sick
 with
flu,
watching
TV
news
during
the
day,
and
stumbled
upon
a
brief
report
on
a
 young
mother
who
was
cooking
in
another
room
of
her
house
while
a
man
was
 raping
her
daughter.

She
then
walked
into
the
room
and
caught
him
in
the
act.

She
 screamed
for
help,
alerting
others
in
the
area.

A
mob
soon
assembled
and
the
man
 was
beaten
to
death.

Nothing
was
said
about
who
the
man
was
or
how
he
got
into
 the
house;
nor
was
any
judgement
passed
on
the
actions
of
the
mob.

The
incident
 made
one
news
cast,
then
faded
away,
with
no
lasting
public
imprint
whatsoever.




 The
mirror
that
was
held
up
to
the
scourge
of
rape
in
2001
has
clouded
over.


 
 So
that
leaves
us,
I
think,
with
a
renewed
sense
of
the
importance
of
the
sorts
of
 questions
that
Debbie
and
Gill
are
raising
in
their
book:

as
they
say
in
their
 introductory
chapter,


 ‘
 ‘just
because
trauma
is
common,
does
this
normalize
it?

Do
South
Africans
 who
live
with
daily
violence
construct
traumatized
identities
or
subjectivities
 for
themselves,
in
the
absence
of
trauma‐free
norms
against
which
to
 measure
their
experience?’

 The
brief
discussion
of
baby
rape
suggests
that
there
isn’t
go
to
be
a
single
or
simple
 answer
to
these
questions
–
which
in
turn
underlines
the
importance
of
this
book,
as
 a
powerful
and
provocative
survey
of
the
field
of
trauma
studies,

and
its
resonances
 in
a
country
such
as
ours.



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