Where have the heady memories of the very first General Election called for 27 April 1994, through negotiated settlement, gone? Long, colourful, winding queues of almost 20 million generally overjoyed South Africans of all hues, beliefs and position waited patiently to cast their vote. Elections were extended to 29 April to cater for the more than 90% of first-time expectant voters. On 9 May 1994, the newly-constituted democratic Parliament unanimously elected Nelson Mandela as our founding President.
On 28 March, the IFP marched on the ANC Johannesburg headquarters protesting against the elections that they were boycotting. Nineteen protesters were killed, which the Nugent Commission found was unwarranted. Amidst a national and international sigh of relief, the IFP agreed a few days before 27 April to participate. As the ballots had already been printed, IFP stickers were hurriedly added to the already printed ballot papers. The elections were peaceful, although subsequent elections have had the spectre of terrible violence, with deadly contestation before and after the results.
These details reflect some of the anticipation and excitement when PsySSA was inaugurated in January 1994, after protracted negotiations began in 1991 between the white-dominated PASA and the black-dominated Psychologists Against Apartheid, with participation of the Professional Board for Psychology, the Organisation for Alternate Social Services and the Black Psychology Forum. PsySSA was the first national non-racial professional society to be formed in South Africa, in advance of the advent of democracy.
Those shaping PsySSA’s Constitution acknowledged up front “psychology’s historical complicity in supporting and perpetuating colonialism and the apartheid system” and committed us to, inter alia:
- Transform and redress the silences in South African psychology to serve the needs and interests of all South Africa’s people;
- Develop an organisational structure for psychology that reconciles historically opposed groups, amplifies the voices of hitherto excluded users of psychological knowledge and skills;
- Ensure that PsySSA remains an organ of civil society without an overt or covert loyalty to any political party;
- Advance psychology as a science, profession and as a means of promoting human well-being; and
- Actively strive for social justice, oppose policies that deny individuals or groups access to the material and psychological conditions necessary for optimal human development, and protest any violations of basic human rights so as to render and advance mental health services to all South Africans.
While all around us there is the shattered landscape of devastation, desperation and destitution – occasioned by official malfeasance, COVID-19 impacts, natural disasters that could have been mitigated, and declining education, health and professional training – we should pay tribute to those who truly gave their all so that we enjoy the fruits of democracy. As we should to those who led PsySSA – from its shaky beginnings, it’s fraught breakaways and strident diversions – and who grew the successive leadership, including many of psychology’s outstanding minds. While the late Rachel Prinsloo and Lionel Nicholas were inaugurating PsySSA three months before democracy, let us not overlook the students Sumaya Laher, Garth Stevens and Shahnaaz Suffla who went on to lead us! Their and our combined challenge is to ensure that psychology is more demographically representative, is seized with crafting policy and interventions that repair the fractured psyche that confronts us, and ensure that psychology plays its rightful role, becoming “more publicly accessible and expanding its role in SA society.” Together we should set “the tone for a psychology that reflects social concerns, transcends personal interest and group prejudice” and truly serves all of humanity.