Monday, 8 August 2011

Gerard Hastings: Mandela points out dangers of smoking to prisoners on Robben Island

In this lecture on social marketing (discussed earlier here), Hastings describes how Nelson Mandela made his fellow prisoners aware that getting cigarettes in prison would involve making deals or exchanging favours with prison guards. I think Hastings is pushing the issue by presenting this as a simple attempt by Mandela to stop prisoners from smoking in the interests of their health. He was – I would expect – far more concerned with the vulnerability of prisoners and how this could be exploited by prison guards, than with the issue of smoking as a health concern. The Mandela clip is right at the start of this:

Actually I find his whole message hard to swallow. 'Doing things with, not to, people'? It takes an entire new academic discipline – social marketing – to encourage people towards behaviour change, and simultaneously to encourage them to believe that the changes in behaviour came of their own volition? It may make a kind of sense to some people – but it assumes that a common core of 'health-oriented' goals will motivate everyone, and this is far from being the case. To quote from our banner,
When health is equated with freedom, liberty as a political concept vanishes.
I find it hard to believe that Mandela, as a freedom fighter, would have espoused denormalisation as a strategy, as it is practised against smokers today. One of Mandela's followers, Steve Biko wrote extensively about what he termed 'Black Consciousness' – the necessity for blacks to think 'Black is beautiful', to take pride in black identity, way of life, economy and political cause. Under a pen name Biko wrote through the years after his banning at the age of 26, until his imprisonment and death in incarceration in 1977 aged 30. For example:
What of the white man's religion – Christianity? It seems the people involved in imparting Christianity to the black people steadfastly refuse to get rid of the rotten foundation which many of the missionaries created when they came. To this date black people find no message for them in the Bible simply because our ministers are still too busy with moral trivialities. They blow these up as the most important things that Jesus had to say to people. They constantly urge the people to find fault in themselves and by so doing detract from the struggle in which the people are involved. Deprived of spiritual content, the Black people read the Bible with a gullibility that is shocking. While they sing in a chorus of 'mea culpa' they are joined by white groups who sing a different version – 'tua culpa'. The anachronism of a well-meaning God who allows people to suffer under an obviously immoral system is not lost to young blacks, who continue to drop out of Church by the hundreds. Too many people are involved in religion for the blacks to ignore. Obviously the only path open for us now is to redefine the message in the Bible and to make it relevant to the struggling masses. The Bible must not be seen to preach that all authority is divinely instituted. It must rather preach that it is a sin to allow oneself to be oppressed. ... Black Theology seeks to depict Jesus as a fighting God who saw the exchange of Roman money – the oppressor's coinage – in His father's temple as so sacrilegious that it merited a violent reaction from Him – the Son of Man. (p. 45)
The abuse of power by whites under Apartheid was extreme and decades-old. Denormalisation of smokers and other groups, in its latest manifestation, is a relatively recent phenomenon. It is hard to imagine Biko or Mandela agreeing that health issues, as defined by senior civil servants and professors in social marketing, should define the aspirations of working people or the unemployed. It is particularly hard to imagine them being taken in by the rhetoric of social marketing – manipulating behaviour change of the powerless by the influential. It smacks too much of saying that the powerless want to be just like the influential (70 per cent of them anyway!). Starting with the missionaries long, long ago, says Biko:
Children were taught, under the pretext of hygiene, good manners and other such vague concepts, to despise their mode of upbringing at home and to question the values and customs of their society. The result was the expected one – children and parents saw life differently and the former lost respect for the latter. ...Yet how can one prevent the loss of respect between child and parent when a child is taught by his know-all white tutors to disregard his family's teachings? (p. 110)
 Hastings is correct to credit Nelson Mandela with leadership skills – but not to imagine that Mandela's heart was won over by an anti-smoking campaign that wasn't in progress when Mandela went to prison and was barely perceptible when he came out.

Excerpts from Steve Biko, I Write What I Like, Penguin, 1988 edition.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

If you watch the video on Youtube you can comment on it.