Review of Wahbie Long’s Nation on the Couch

Nation on the Couch

Wahbie Long

Melinda Ferguson Books

Review: Chantel Erfort

Wahbie Long’s Nation on the Couch is not an easy read, but it certainly is a fascinating one.

With racial and class inequality, and poverty still plaguing South Africa 27 years after our first democratic elections, and levels of corruption, unemployment and violent crime soaring, there has been much fodder for political, sociological and socio-economic analyses of South African society.

Long – a clinical psychologist and associate professor in UCT’s Department of Psychology – however, takes a psychoanalytic approach, putting the country, so to speak, on his couch and looking at our current societal challenges through the lens of a psychoanalyst.

He presents his case from the position that the primary problem in South Africa is violence – focusing his analytical eye on economic, symbolic and interpersonal violence, delving into what drives these and what their outcomes are.

Long presents thought-provoking arguments relating to class divisions, racism and violent crime and how these are manifestations of our collective experience as South Africans, rather than being limited to the results of individual encounters.

And while Long draws on our colonial and apartheid past and continuing experience to theorise how shame, envy and impasse contribute to our troubled present, he is at pains to point out that he is not doing so to condone crime and inequality that exist in South African society.

It is Long’s assertion that shame and envy, fostered by our divided past and further fuelled by unemployment, dire poverty and the gaping chasm between the haves and have-nots, contribute significantly to racial and class discord, and crime in South Africa.

Particularly interesting for me was Long’s unpacking, in the chapter titled Impasse, of South Africans’ relationship with dogs and how this is influenced by race and class.

Among these complex relations are the troubled one between black South Africans and dogs which had been used to protect – and subsequently became a symbol of the protection – of white property and power, and white people who seemingly treat their dogs better than they do their fellow South Africans of different racial or economic backgrounds.

Long presents some bold arguments in this book, which I believe all South Africans can benefit from engaging in.

However, I feel that the largely academic style of writing, places it outside of the realm of what “ordinary” folks would pick up and read, robbing the proverbial layman of some valuable insights into the troubles South Africa faces as a society traumatised by its past and suffering the consequences in its present.

● We received 41 entries in our competition for the book Pippo & Clara. The lucky winner was Stuart Collier of Clifton.