In the throes of a fragmented identity
In one of our college classes we were introduced to a chap called Sigmund Freud.
It was in a Sociology lecture and the good doctor steering us through that course wanted us to learn to apply psychoanalysis to media theory.
On face value, it was difficult to see the connection: all that most of us wanted was to learn enough to answer the questions in the final exam (and we were fairly sure that Freud would not feature in the exams. We were subsequently vindicated).
So, it may have seemed like useless knowledge, coming to terms with the id, ego and super ego, but many of us were perhaps too young to appreciate that there is rarely anything like useless knowledge.
I heard enough about Freud to be sufficiently piqued to want to do a bit more research on his ideas a few years after college, especially in regards to personality and identity.
I was fascinated by Freud’s contention that the id, ego and superego – the three significant components of the human mind – had to work in harmony for the individual to function “normally”. Often though, there was conflict between the basic instinct and the need to show due regard to the rules of society.
Much of Freud’s work, naturally, focused on individuals, though it did make major references to the collective conscious and unconscious.
Other scholars after him, perhaps most famously Carl Jung, expounded on this work and needless to say, up to today the study of personality and identity is major contentious issue with competing theories jostling for primacy.
Inevitably, Freud’s work with individuals was to be applied to groups, communities and societies.
Hence, today we talk of “national identity” and “national personality”.
Africa, unfortunately, came very late to this show and thus we have all the contestation about national identity and what makes us African.
The liberation struggles were a forceful attempt to create a national personality and identity, and the quest to define ourselves by our own terms continues up to today.
Identity is a fragmentary, almost illusory, perception that quite often we assign to ourselves – and more often than we care, is assigned to us.
In some cases, personality and identity become so fragmented in the mind of the individual that we get what psychologists call a multiple personality disorder.
More often though, people are afflicted by a split personality, where two fragments compete to come to the fore. In sadder cases, the fragments are multiple and we get a real mental case.
This applies to individuals as it does to societies.
Societies can have a split personality, a conflicted identity that hinders the growth processes and leaves them in a state of near limbo.
An example of this dissociative identity disorder at national level is the situation that prevails in much of what we call Francophone Africa.
While mightily striving to assert their African-ness, they cling equally mightily to the apron strings of Mother France. And the results of that personality disorder have been all too apparent in Mali, Cote d’Ivoire and the Central African Republic among many other “Francophone” nations.
Then there was the case of the short-lived Zimbabwe-Rhodesia that subsisted from June 1, 1979 to December 12 of the same year.
It was a marriage between Ian Smith’s Rhodesian interests and Abel Muzorewa’s national pretensions.
The name alone of this nation tells of its dissociative identity disorder.<br /> Gladly, Zimbabwe shed off the Rhodesian fragment and asserted a unitary identity before things got out of hand.
I wish the same could be said of South Africa.
If there is a country with a debilitating dissociative identity disorder it has to be Southern Africa’s largest economy.
We talk of a Rainbow Nation knowing full well that there is no black in the rainbow. So what we get is that celebrated flag that tries far too hard to assert that this is an African country in which all people are equal even though the subsisting and powerful vestiges of apartheid tell us otherwise through the blood-soaked soil of Marikana.
On the one hand, we get the ANC telling us that it is fighting for the aspirations of the millions of poor black South Africans, but at the same time, it cannot conduct a half-meaningful land reform programme. The dissociative identity disorder is found in just about all things South African.
Consider the Mandela Rhodes Scholarship.
When and how did Mandela and Rhodes become one? How and when did their interests merge?
We will be told that it is for the sake of “reconciliation”.
I cannot help but laugh at that. For that betrays a gross misinterpretation of what the terms “reconciliation” means.
To reconcile means to become one again, it is a process that occurs between two or more people/groups, who were once friends but then had a falling-out and now want to resume their friendship.
At which point, can the ANC tell us, between Jan van Riebeeck’s landing on those shores in 1652 and Lonmin’s Marikana, were we friends and where did we have the fallout that now requires reconciliation?
South Africa’s national identity is one that has been founded on a fallacy and for that reason we get the personality disorder that holds what could be a great power back.
There is need for acknowledgement that the playing field in that country has never been even and then for corrective measures to be taken.
Talking of reconciliation without realising that non-whites in South Africa and many other African countries are still second-class citizens will only further compound the dissociative identity disorder. And left untreated, a split personality can manifest itself in the most violent behaviour imaginable.