Breast envy ex­plains why paras­tatals suf­fer at­tack

Apartheid’s de­nial of the fruits of the state leaves a legacy of de­struc­tive greed, writes FRAN­COIS RA­BIE

Business Day - - REVIEW & OPINION -

THE con­tin­ued demise of ma­jor paras­tatals such as South African Air­ways (SAA), the South African Broad­cast­ing Cor­po­ra­tion (SABC) and Eskom is a dis­turb­ing el­e­ment of our so­cioe­co­nomic malaise. The re­cent down­grad­ing of SA to a neg­a­tive out­look is in part at­trib­uted to th­ese en­ti­ties’ per­sis­tent drain on the fis­cus.

Or­gan­i­sa­tional and sys­temic anal­y­sis paints a dis­turb­ing pic­ture of se­nior con­trol struc­tures in dis­ar­ray, which then fil­ters down along the en­tire man­age­ment chain of the com­pany. Fi­nan­cial haem­or­rhag­ing, ex­ec­u­tive and op­er­a­tional in­com­pe­tence and po­lit­i­cal in­ter­fer­ence are the sta­ple diet in th­ese in­sti­tu­tions.

To at­tempt to understand this tra­jec­tory of rot, psy­cho­an­a­lyst Me­lanie Klein’s the­o­ret­i­cal in­sights pro­vide some il­lu­mi­na­tion. Ac­cord­ing to Klein, an in­fant uses the mother’s breast as an ob­ject that feeds, but also con­trib­utes to ei­ther psy­cho­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ment or fix­a­tion and re­gres­sion — along with the emer­gence of envy and greed.

As a start­ing point, apartheid cre­ated race tension be­tween those who have and those who do not. For white South Africans, apartheid pro­vided a struc­tural foun­da­tion for eco­nomic sus­tain­abil­ity and growth. Mid­dle-class life was some­thing that could be achieved rel­a­tively eas­ily.

The state de­signed all its eco­nomic poli­cies to up­lift Afrikan­ers from be­ing “poor white” to val­ued mid­dle-class cit­i­zens. For a pe­riod in the 1970s, white South Africans en­joyed mid­dle-class stan­dards higher than their peers in the US.

For black South Africans, gov­ern­ment pol­icy was de­signed to cause gross de­pri­va­tion, ex­clu­sion and rel­e­ga­tion to the hin­ter­land — both ge­o­graph­i­cally and psy­cho­log­i­cally.

For whites, the apartheid state as­sumed the role of a good, benev­o­lent mother. In Klein’s ter­mi­nol­ogy, a “good-breasted mother”. As­sum­ing the sym­bolic role of in­fant and child, white SA was di­rected, in a na­tion­al­is­tic fash­ion, to take all de­sire to the sym­bolic breast and to drink from it.

The state-breast be­came a source of nour­ish­ment, emo­tional nur­tur­ing and of life it­self. The white pop­u­la­tion viewed the state as the ob­ject that would pro­vide all that was de­sired, and the state be­came a love ob­ject. They there­fore in­vested in the breast and in the struc­tures of the state and coun­try.

The state-breast is able, with vary­ing de­grees of suc­cess over time, to pro­tect the pop­u­la­tion from un­pleas­ant ex­pe­ri­ences, which al­lows a par­tic­u­lar psy­cho­log­i­cal de­vel­op­ment to oc­cur. The apartheid state­breast pro­vided its nour­ish­ment along with the threat of ex­com­mu­ni­ca­tion if strict apartheid scrip­ture was not fol­lowed. The fear of be­ing torn away from the breast and de­nied the joys of be­ing fed and nur­tured was om­nipresent.

WHILE the African Na­tional Congress (ANC) pro­vided the role of nur­tur­ing mother to black SA, the apartheid state re­mained an ob­ject of dis­tant de­sire.

It was the longed-for ideal mother — it con­jured up fan­tasies of never-end­ing re­sources and of a breast that could never run dry. Its pro­vi­sion would be abun­dant, and there was a fan­tasy that ac­cess to the state-breast would cor­rect the de­pri­va­tion of apartheid.

But the state-breast re­fused to pro­vide its sus­te­nance to black South Africans, with dev­as­tat­ing con­se­quences years later — in our paras­tatals.

To feel that the breast has been with­held in a chronic and patho­log­i­cal man­ner leads to the emer­gence of envy and greed. Envy is the ex­pe­ri­ence of want­ing some­thing an­other per­son pos­sesses and en­joys. Greed is the wish to empty the breast out and suck it dry un­til noth­ing is left but a hol­low shell.

The good breast, the one that pro­vides, is as­so­ci­ated with good­ness, gen­eros­ity and cre­ativ­ity. The bad breast, the one that does not pro­vide, is as­so­ci­ated with all that is de­struc­tive.

If the mother is able to min­imise frus­tra­tion and pro­vide suf­fi­cient good­ness, then de­struc­tive im­pulses are suf­fi­ciently con­tained. This al­lows for a bal­ance to be es­tab­lished be­tween the in­nate un­con­scious con­flicts of love and hate, of life and death.

The de­vel­op­men­tal achieve­ment es­tab­lished un­der th­ese con­di­tions is that the in­fant knows that, even if he loses the breast at times, he will re­gain it. The breast that pro­vides be­comes in­ter­nalised, it is part of psy­chic struc­ture.

In its most trou­ble­some man­i­fes­ta­tion, the chron­i­cally bad or ab­sent breast leads to feel­ings of oblit­er­a­tion and of grat­i­tude and hap­pi­ness not be­com­ing part of the psy­chic sphere. Hate and envy are then formed and di­rected at the out-of-reach breast as sur­vival anx­i­ety rules the mind.

Eskom, a world leader and global bench­mark en­tity in en­ergy pro­duc­tion. SAA, the mag­nif­i­cence of the Fly­ing Spring­bok, and the SABC, known for its tech­ni­cal com­pe­tence and pro­fes­sion­al­ism. Th­ese were flag­ship in­sti­tu­tions for the apartheid state and were de­ployed as nar­cis­sis­tic props to pro­mote the su­pe­ri­or­ity of Afrikaner na­tion­al­ism.

To­day, SAA is bat­tling to ward off liq­ui­da­tion. It ap­pears to be in an al­most psy­chotic col­lapse. Eskom is be­set with com­pounded crises of fi­nan­cial and op­er­a­tional fail­ures and the SABC is warp­ing into a dis­as­trous be­he­moth of dis­ar­ray that func­tions only to trans­mit the voice of the ANC. Why? Be­cause th­ese paras­tatals have be­come the site of en­act­ment of pro­found hate, envy and the wish to de­stroy.

The man­age­ment struc­tures are staffed by po­lit­i­cal de­ploy­ees. who are, for the most part, mem­bers of the ANC and veter­ans of the lib­er­a­tion strug­gle. Peo­ple who feel his­tor­i­cally de­prived of the good state-breast and who carry in­di­vid­ual and col­lec­tive trauma. Love has made way for hate.

PARAS­TATALS are tar­gets for oral­sadis­tic at­tacks. The good con­tent of th­ese en­ti­ties is vi­o­lently re­moved and eaten out.

The emo­tional think­ing runs some­thing like this: “If I could not have it, I will de­stroy it.” As the good is ex­tracted, what is put back is the ex­cre­ment of an anal-sadis­tic at­tack. There is a wish to en­ter the “body” of th­ese or­gan­i­sa­tions and con­trol them from within. There is pro­found para­noia.

Part of the fail­ing is that the ANC has yet to re­gard paras­tatals, and by ex­ten­sion all gov­ern­ment en­ti­ties, as ob­jects un­der their sphere of benev­o­lent in­flu­ence. Paras­tatals are sites of at­tack be­cause they are “other”.

Th­ese com­pa­nies are not ob­jects that have been in­ter­nalised as some­thing good that can be sites of cre­ativ­ity and growth. They are sites of at­tack and of en­vi­ous rage.

Th­ese en­ti­ties are still seen as apartheid struc­tures. Even race-based quan­ti­ta­tive trans­for­ma­tion is psy­cho­log­i­cally in­ef­fec­tive be­cause the ob­ject it­self is ex­pe­ri­enced as with­hold­ing and for­eign.

The state to­day, via paras­tatals, is demon­strat­ing a pro­found split­ting where ha­tred of the apartheid state is be­ing pro­jected and per­formed in the cor­ri­dors of SAA and the like as if apartheid were still alive and de­priv­ing the pop­u­la­tion.

As long as the gov­ern­ment views the rem­nants of apartheid SA as with­hold­ing for­eign bod­ies that must be emp­tied out and the breast sucked dry, no sta­bil­ity will be achieved. The en­vi­ous and de­struc­tive rages that emerge from de­pri­va­tion have a pro­found ef­fect on SA.

The gov­ern­ment has to find the mech­a­nisms to process the envy of in­her­it­ing white SA. The envy was born out of de­pri­va­tion and ex­clu­sion, but now the psy­cho­log­i­cal lan­guage of in­clu­sion and of cre­ativ­ity has to be found.

Ra­bie is a clin­i­cal psy­chol­o­gist in pri­vate prac­tice and a graduate of the Univer­sity of Johannesbu­rg.

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