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06.09.2019 Feature Article

Reflections On South African Xenophobia And Mental Health

Reflections On South African Xenophobia And Mental Health
LISTEN SEP 6, 2019

The Xenophobic attacks in the Republic of South Africa and its reprisal attack in Nigeria must goad African leaders to factor mental health care into their healthcare policies and programs. Emotional injuries are damaging than the physical malady. Those perpetrating attacks on foreigners in the Republic of South Africa are suffering from what cognitive-behavioral therapists call cognitive distortion.

Alfred Adler called cognitive distortion mistaken beliefs or a private logic! Cognitive distortion connotes distorted thoughts that is the way an individuals' mind influence them to think about something that is not true. Individuals with cognitive distortion display auditory hallucination (false sensation), delusion (false beliefs), and paranoia (suspecting that someone is there to harm them) as well as grandiosity (Boasting to be what they are not). Individuals who have schizophrenia, psychosis, or schizoaffective disorder may display the symptoms as mentioned above.

The inaccurate or nonfactual thoughts caused by cognitive distortion typically generate negative emotions and thinking. Cognitive distortion rationalizes irrational and fallacious beliefs. A view like "everybody knows we cannot get jobs because of foreigners" is an example of cognitive distortion (overgeneralization: drawing a general conclusion based on only evidence or single incident). Individuals who have distorted thoughts have polarized thinking: we have to be perfect, or we are all complete failures. People with polarized thinking places people or situations in “either/or” categories, with no shades of gray or allowing for the complexity of most people and most situations. A person with black-and-white thinking sees things only in extremes.

Individuals with cognitive distortions always blame others for their emotional pains. Most South Africans blame foreigners for their joblessness, thus, triggering emotional hates. People with private logic display fallacy of fairness. People under the fallacy of fairness are always agitated because they think they know what is fair, but others will not agree with them. Life and every situation are not balanced, so looking at every situation to the standard of fairness will make us agitated. Some scholars do not think Xenophobia is the psychopathological case because psychopathology is more individualized, whereas hatred against foreigners is more social in nature! Since individuals form the foundation of society, mental illness cannot be ruled out from xenophobic attacks.

In 2003, I lived in Berea, Johannesburg, and I could attest to inveterate hate against foreigners. South Africans use the derogatory term "fucking Makwerekere" to refer to foreigners from other African countries! In 1994, the Republic of South Africa, otherwise known as the Rainbow Nation, came into being through a democratic election. The then Embryonic democracy symbolized a diametric deviation in the geographical, social, and political atmosphere of the past. Unity triumphed on the ruins of segregation while democracy replaced the institutionalized apartheid system. The joy of many South Africans at 1994 knew no bounds.

The erudite Kenyan historian, Ali Mazrui reminded the South Africans to be mindful of the four Vs. to wit: victim, victor, vanguard, and villain. South Africans were victims of the most loutish and brutish apartheid regime, they became victorious, and they must be the vanguard of new hope, not a villain. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has condemned the attacks, reportedly said there could be no justification for any South African to attack people from other countries. I think South African leaders must look at the whole issue from the mental health perspective to curb future similar happening. South Africans attack on foreigners is receding the pool of sympathy they received during the apartheid regime!

By Nana Yaw Osei, Minnesota, USA [email protected]

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