DURBAN – Apartheid activist and clinical psychologist Saths Cooper believes that majority of poor people, especially those who have largely been invisible and taken for granted, will emerge stronger from this pandemic than most professionals in the middle class.
He says this is a result of their more resilient psychological make-up.
“The higher your education and your social status, the greater your risk for stress, isolation and mental health problems than the majority, who have no opportunity for that. However, the worry about the psychological make-up of the upper class is misplaced because they also do have that inner strength to survive,” Cooper said.
As an anti-apartheid activist, one of Cooper’s longest detention terms in isolation and solitary confinement was from September 1974 to December 1982. At the age of 22, Cooper was banned and restricted to the Durban magisterial district for five years for his role in political activities. Restrictions included that he could not be in a gathering of more than 2 people, even though he was living with his three brothers and mother.
“The gaps between the haves and have-nots will continue. But the have-nots have greater psychological strength because the deprivation of things taken for granted will impact the haves more than ever before in society,” he said.
Cooper was instrumental in the formation of the Black Consciousness Movement and organising the Viva Frelimo rallies in 1974, for which he was arrested under the Terrorism Act and sentenced to 10 years in prison. He served his term in various prisons, including Robben Island. When asked how he dealt with isolation and solitary confinement, he said intellectual strength and being aware of why he was in prison helped him to rise above the situation.
“I created a routine for myself. The only available literature that I was able to read was the bible. I read the bible through and through, from cover to cover. I kept this rigid discipline and I began to understand that whatever can be thrown at you, you have the ability to look at differently because of the circumstances. I had to make peace with my situation,” Cooper said.
Cooper encouraged South Africans in lockdown to realise that they are not alone in this, unlike the apartheid detention policy confinement.
“Here, everybody is in the same boat.
“Now is the time to really share intimate spaces and initiate issues to get a better understanding not only of ourselves but of others we purport to hold close. Give yourself an opportunity to do new things and read. This is the time for better understanding, better relationship building and also reconciliation,” concluded Cooper.
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