Teasing the mentally ill is absurd as we are all mad to a different degree

It's encouraging to see civil society fight for the dignity of the mentally challenged, the writer says, adding that some officials involved in the Esidimeni saga should have their heads examined.
It's encouraging to see civil society fight for the dignity of the mentally challenged, the writer says, adding that some officials involved in the Esidimeni saga should have their heads examined.

Teasing the mentally handicapped must be among the most insensitive of human pursuits. I also plead guilty to deriving morbid pleasure from teasing people who were different from me while growing up.

Kids can be cruel, and I was no exception. I distinctly remember the thrill we got when a man named Mohlouwa chased us after we teased him.

The only reprimand was from the elders, who warned that if we continued teasing them, we'd end up like them.

I stopped the pranks after one guy, who always had a newspaper tucked under his arm, told me: "We are all mad, but as far as the degree of madness is concerned, we differ".

That gave me food for thought. Who indeed among us can claim to be 100% sane, if ever there is such a level?

Indeed it is plausible that we are not as sane as we believe. Look carefully at the people around you and you'll notice that a lot of them are two sandwiches short of a picnic.

Some of them even hold high positions in society. They are even in parliament and even in the churches preaching.

Schools are also teeming with mad boogies disguised as teachers. Like the newspaper reader told me, it is the degree of madness that prompts us to draw a line in the sand.

The only people I know who beg to be classified are those who want the court to be lenient after they have committed a heinous crime.

That is one reason why Weskoppies Psychiatric Hospital has a long waiting list - all the beds are occupied.

The shoddy understanding of mental health issues continues to dog society to this day.

In fact, our vocabulary is woeful when it comes to differentiating between mental health conditions.

Names like "igeza", "ihlanya" and "setsenwa" are the default descriptions of all kinds of mental maladies.

Some families are known to hide their brethren behind closed doors to shield their plight and embarrassment from society. The lack of facilities for the mentally handicapped, as well as ignorance, can be blamed for it.

During the week when South Africa commemorated Human Rights Day, some also bristled after Judge Dikgang Moseneke awarded the families of the Life Esidimeni victims more than R1-million apiece.

Unlike the Marikana massacre, which happened in 10 minutes and was dramatically caught on camera, Life Esidimeni happened in slow motion, claiming 144 victims without a shot being fired.

The devastation was from the scale of cruelty the government subjected these vulnerable members of our society to - dumping them at ill-equipped facilities where many of them eventually succumbed to painful deaths.

South Africa's Constitution, which our democratic government swears by, was unfortunately forgotten when it came to our mentally ill citizens.

It was just like in the bad old days when the mentally ill were the butt of so many jokes.

I humbly submit that the officials and politicians behind this debacle need their heads examined.

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