Our first webinar of 2021 featured Leslie Swartz, a Professor of Psychology at Stellenbosch University, South Africa. Leslie researches in the fields of mental health and disability studies.
In what has become known as the Esidimeni tragedy, at least 144 people with intellectual disability and/or mental disorders died after being transferred to unregistered care centres in Gauteng province, South Africa. This happened not under apartheid but in a democratic country feted for its commitment to human rights. As a way of trying to understand this tragedy, Professor Swartz will outline surprising continuities between the abuse of the concept of cultural relativism as a tool of oppression under apartheid to contemporary invocations of culture in South Africa to justify abandonment, and abuse of people with disabilities, with fatal consequences. He also suggests that awareness of the political use of concepts of culture remains a key imperative for people concerned with disability rights, especially in the context of global neoliberalism.