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
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.