Friday, 16 December 2011


Psychology describes self destructive behaviour as a combination of self harm and abuse to oneself. When repeated over a period of time, it becomes a habit. And how do you avoid such behaviour? Writing a letter to his son in July 1969, while still in prison Nelson Mandela advised Makgatho:
“Never allow yourself to be discouraged by difficulties or setbacks, and never give up the battle even in the darkest hour.”
Nelson Mandela -photo from Jokero Blog

Whether he listened to his father or not, Makgatho died in 2005 aged 54. Unashamed, Mandela revealed publicly that his second son had died of HIV. Fighting the stigma that has mystified African society, Mzee Mandela declared on television: “Aids is no longer a disease, it is a human rights issue.”
 Mandela’s life has been a brave fight against snags, snags and more snags. He was in jail for 26 years, lost his marriage, two sons and most recently his great grand daughter, Zenani.
Why did he not booze, take drugs and kill himself, i.e.  Self destruct?

Nelson Mandela is a rarity, but also a typical case of people who love themselves. A proverb about self- respect from the Ewe people of Ghana, Togo and Benin says: “The chameleon believes that others respect you if you respect yourself; and that is why it walks like a king.”
One of the best things to happen in 2011 was the wedding of the future king of Britain and the Commonwealth, Prince William and Catherine (Kate) Middleton.
Prince William and Kate. Pic from Lucindaville Blog

In a year filled with numerous disasters this was a torch shining in a year of dark sinister, spooky stories and news:  Tsunami in Japan, Riots in London and other European cities, ongoing Middle East uprisings, ongoing famine in East Africa; then the tragic deaths.

 Musicians Gil Scott Heron(USA) and Amy Winehouse(UK), footballer Socrates(Brazil); a long list of catastrophic suicide bombings ( Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan), the crazy murderer Anders Breivik who maimed  77 children and teachers in Norway; plus fathers who slaughtered their wives and children then killed themselves. Or lone the gunmen who shot a Brussels crowd on Tuesday.
Of all these 2011 deaths, taken in a facsimile, a quick scan, an impromptu catalogue, the self destructive ones holds my attention. Not the tsunami in Japan (that is Mother Nature at work), but the self destructive stars- Gil Scott Heron, Amy Winehouse and Socrates well educated individuals, brilliant; extremely brilliant, in fact. The African American jazz musician and writer, Gil Scott Heron, was one of my heroes, who I met and interviewed twice.
with the latejazz musician and writer Gil Scott-Heron, Jazz Cafe, London 1999. Pic by A. Macha

 He held a Masters Degree in creative writing from John Hopkins University, Maryland USA. He was articulate, so articulate that he released over 30 music albums, six books and films. He is considered the Godfather of rap. To this day I don’t understand why such a bright guy took cocaine so much it contributed to his demise aged only 62. Similarly was Amy Winehouse, well educated; attended highly regarded art colleges : Sylvia Young Theatre, Mount School, Brit School, South Gate and so on.

 She had a rich voice, wonderful musical abilities and a gift for great lyrics, a supportive father (also a jazz musician), but why the drugs and the alcohol and death at 27? Drugs and alcohol are regarded as salt and pepper of show biz, yes; but not so much that you have a liver transplant like Brazilian football legend, Socrates, who died last week.
Socrates was not just an athlete and amazing footballer playing for club and country (World Cup of 1982) he was also a qualified doctor. And he drank himself to death. He was only 57.
Socrates in action during World Cup 1982. Pic from Guardian UK

Self destruction of pop stars and celebrities might be a classical outcome of the pressure of fame and glory.  Maybe.
But what about fathers who bludgeon their families and commit suicide?  Welsh footballer, Gary Speed who allegedly hanged himself in November was said to have been self confident and happily married, father of two children.
And so was 37 year old Richard Smith from Pudsey, West Yorkshire, who killed himself, his wife, Clair, sons Ben(9) and Aaron (one) last weekend .
 “They were a lovely family with everything to live for. They seemed to have no concerns and were looking forward to Christmas and enjoying their new home,” a close friend was quoted grieving early this week.
How do you explain these kinds of self inflicted deaths? Is it a rich society malaise? Has it got anything to do with affluence, having too much and losing your soul? What is the secret of self destructive behaviour? Is there a link with materialism and lack of something higher than fame, fortune and intelligence? Is having too much necessary for us humans?

 Published in Citizen Thursday 15th Dember, 2011...


  1. Wow! Socrates was a medical doctor, did not know that!! AHA moment indeed! Mandela will always be my hero! I will have to read again his Biography and Autobiography to find out how he deals with stress? I have my self destructive behavior when stressed; maybe reading about overcomers might shed some light. Good article!

  2. Thanks for good feedback. Tis true, I totally agree. If you read or study those who have tried overcoming obstacles eg Mandela, Obama, Fidel Castro, Michael Caine, etc; you can learn one or two things. These are survivors, they dont give up...