The Mad in their Midst: Accommodating Insanity in Natal, 1868-1920
In December 1916, James Mkize, a kholwa (Christian) peasant farmer and preacher submitted a deposition to the Resident Magistrate of Umzimkulu, southern Natal, South Africa, detailing at some length the reasons why he believed that his brother, Bennie, was insane and should be legally detained in an asylum. James Mkize told the Magistrate: ‘My brother Bennie Mkize is of unsound mind. He first developed insanity while a youth. …’ 1 He went on to list examples of Bennie’s insanity: for instance, Bennie was given to interrupting the Congregational services conducted by his brother. He was publicly committing ‘intimate acts’. More worrying, he had
also resorted to self–harm, deliberately chopping his right thumb off with an axe. James also recounted occasions of random, unprovoked violence. Once, Bennie had attacked his sister–in–law, Lena Mkize, ‘by hitting her on the face and shoulders with his fists and caused her to bleed through the nose and mouth.’ Only when James intervened did Bennie release Lena. James was then ‘smashed about the face.’ The children were becoming afraid of him; and his howling lasted through the night. In closing, James Mkize noted that Bennie’s madness was becoming more frequent, more violent, and more burdensome to his family. He was also unambiguous in his demands that the state and its psychiatric institutions take responsibility for the restraint of this disturbed and dangerous family member: we are now tired of him [Bennie] and ask the Government to look after him. I and my brothers are unable to support him whilst in hospital and cannot afford to look after our own families and himself. If Bennie will be allowed to be at large it will cause much trouble to one of the families of the abovementioned kraals. If he would be taken into custody at once it would be much better ... He used to be tied up for about a year before.
We consider that his insanity and derangement increases as he gets older. Formerly he ∗ An earlier version of this paper was presented at the conference ‘From Western Medicine to Global Medicine: The Hospital Beyond the West’ hosted by the Wellcome Unit for the History of Medicine at the University of Oxford, 18–19 March 2004. It is to be submitted for consideration for inclusion in an edited collection of conference papers. I am grateful to the Wellcome Trust and to colleagues, friends and family for making my attendance at the conference possible. This is a draft, so please do not cite.
1 Pietermaritzburg Archives Repository (PAR) Registrar Supreme Court (RSC) 1/27 /1, Attorney General to Registrar of Supreme Court, Minute RSCN (M) Mental Disorders Act, No. 38, 1916 (M) 8/16. ‘Bennie Mkize of Rasmani’s Location, Umzimkulu.’ 21st December 1916.