Psychiatric Abuses in the South African Defense Force during Apartheid

At the end of this post is the scanned copy of a report written by Australian forensic psychiatrist Dr. Robert Kaplan on the systematic abuse of patients, personnel, gays and lesbians by the psychiatrist Aubrey Levin during his time at the South African Defense Force.

What is incredibly damaging and baffling, is that even after knowing all this, the Canadian government continued to cover up and made excuses for his presence and safe existence in Canada. Albeit, truth be told, and as the UK Guardian had written, whenever anyone tried to bring up Levin’s South African  past in Canada, he would swiftly silence them and even silence media personnel by threatening lawsuits or threatening to report them to the police.

Will the CBC Fifth Estate (documentary series) ever do a feature on how or why this criminal was allowed in Canada in the first place, and not only not punished, but “rewarded” with a medical license, a teaching position at the University of Calgary and worked as a court-appointed forensic psychiatrist? Or will the acknowledgement of brutal truth that many institutions, individuals and systems allowed this to occur and those responsible are as corrupt/apathetic/don’t-give-a-damn/complicit with evil, be  something too introspective to acknowledge, and therefore everything simply smoothed over, as though nothing had happened. (Never mind, that a man who was threatening to shut this very site down by threatening to contact the  server administrator and get the police to silence a commentator- due to his own skeletons getting exposed – was a South Africa-born “consulting forensic psychiatrist” for a current ongoing CBC prime-time entertainment show and a former graduate of the same University of Calgary psychiatry department currently working in a prominent hospital.)

I sometimes ponder on the narcissistic self-centredness of the above-mentioned forensic psychiatrist, who only thought of his own reputation, without one iota of empathy for the victims of Levin’s abuse, and that this site was for them and for those who have faced abuse from others who are seen as authority figures in their field of work. It was his colleague that he got to write in, that sent a second mail to say he had a great deal of empathy for the victims and supported this site.The shrink – who probably dictated his first mail to the colleague, did not even once say that he felt bad for Levin’s atrocities, but just how great and reputed and blameless he was (which of course, got completely overturned when several people sent me substantiated proof of his skeletons. Not just them, even the therapists of two of those people, indisputably agreed that what those two had experienced at the hands of the Toronto shrink was termed as Narcissistic Abuse, or abuse by someone with a Cluster B personality disorder.) But no, at the height of Levin’s conviction, this shrink’s own skeletons mattered more than having a platform that systematically covered news stories from valid sources outlining Levin’s atrocities.  Very, very telling. Red flags like these do not escape my attention and analysis.

Systematic abuse of power in factions of authority and institutions continue, and somehow in Canada, smoothing over ruffled feathers and looking the other way, or worse, silencing the whistle-blower is the norm, not the exception. Only when the truth is blatantly out there – like in this case – a video by a patient, only then the tiniest acknowledgement was made, i.e., yes,  Levin is a criminal. A sentence of 5 years now; which is minuscule to a lifetime of crime, which again will be appealed, citing various judicial technicalities and so forth. Goodness, do these people know how to play the system!  I strongly suggest people read Barbara Oakley’s excellent book Evil Genes: Why Rome Fell, Hitler Rose, Enron Failed and… which looks into why entire systems often shield evil leaders and the quiet or docile among them are too afraid to speak up, even when they know what is going on. Her follow-up book Pathological Altruism shows how people’s optimism or faith make them continue showing misplaced compassion to and enable those who are irreparable in their evil.

Today, as the Pope steps down, is a perfect day to post this. Just as the Catholic Church for centuries hid their abuses, so do many systems in power. Even when those higher up in the church knew that young boys were sodomized, raped and abused by priests, they looked the other way, and rather than think of the victims, thought first of saving their own skin and reputation. They would send off these predatory priests to other dioceses as though nothing had happened. The lives of the boys were damaged and no one, no one cared. Occasionally they would be brought up by the media – sometimes by well-meaning journalists, and sometimes by some media-people more focused on cashing in or showing themselves as some great hero/story-reporter, rather than focusing on the lives of the victims.

You will notice that people who want to cash in on others’ victimhood often ask for cash or money for their own “causes.” Therefore, there are “professional victims”, and the real victims. True empathizers want the victims to heal, to have their side told, to have the peace of retribution of seeing the criminal brought to justice, or to just have their own peace. Rarely does this occur. The victim is left in the puddle of his own wounds, blood,devastation and tears; often just another pawn in the system. Those who are evil – be it an evil psychiatrist, priest, leader, authority figure or even relationship partner attribute all the victims’ misery to being their “own fault,” as though they deserved it. In their warped existence they themselves are blameless. They are not out to get others, others are out to get them. This is called DARVO (Deny, Attack, Reverse (role of) Victim and Offender.) The Cluster B’s and the sociopath’s crutch. Evil. To.The.Core. Irreparably. Irreversibly. Pathologically. Pure. Evil.

Jerry Sandusky. Sir Jimmy Savile. Col. Russell Williams. “Dr.” Aubrey Levin. and every single one of those in power who knew about them but did not expose them out of apathy and opportunism.

It is because of these injustices that whistle-blowers exist. For when systems we are supposed to trust turn their faces away, the only way justice is served are through activists who prefer to remain anonymous, but know how to effectively hit the abuser where it hurts them the most: at their own black hole, which covers their masked, narcissistic exteriors, for they certainly have neither a heart nor a conscience. Perhaps, that’s why Abusers, Machiavellians,  Narcissists seek out work in complex systems even more – where they can hide and which will protect them, beneath all the bureaucracy, and layers of papers, legal jargon and levels of personnel. The abuser’s only fear is of being exposed for the monsters they truly are. Yes, the abuser’s greatest fear is of being exposed. Of being seen. Of having their fake facades ripped away to expose the black hole of a lack of conscience underneath. Of facing REALITY.

THE AVERSION PROJECT - PSYCHIATRIC ABUSES IN SADF DURING THE APARTHEID 1_Page_1

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THE AVERSION PROJECT - PSYCHIATRIC ABUSES IN SADF DURING THE APARTHEID 1_Page_2

Click on the image to view it in enlarged print

The text in the above file (pardon the formatting – it was copy/pasted from the original PDF):

THE AVERSION PROJECT PSYCHIATRIC ABUSES IN THE SOUTH AFRICAN DEFENCE FORCE DURING THE APARTHEID ERA 

– Robert Kaplan

Dr Robert KapLan is aforensic psychiatrist and medicaL writer based in WoLLongong, NSW, AustraLia.  March 2001

During the long years of apartheid in South Africa, doctors

were part of a system of systematic state abuse of prisoners.’ In

the most notorious example, doctors claimed that Steve Biko

was shamming when suffering from extensive brain damage as

a result of severe beating while in custody.’ There were

allegations of abuse of black patients in mental hospitals. Now

a report has revealed bizarre psychiatric abuse in the South

African Defence Force (SADF) over several decades.

The Aversion Project’ claims that there was extensive

psychiatric abuse directed at homosexual and, to a lesser

extent, drug-abusing conscripts in the SADF. The report was

publicised in a series of articles in the Mail & Guardian.’ The

revelations have cast a pall on a profession trying to establish

credibility after the apartheid era.

According to the report, over a period of close to 2 decades,

homosexual conscripts of both sexes were culled from the

military ranks and subjected to crude electric shock therapy

based on rudimentary behaviour therapy principles. Male

subjects were shown pictures of men to arouse them, then

given electric shocks followed by colour pictures of nude

women in Playboy magazines.s When – predictably – this

failed to change sexual preference, some of the subjects had sex

change operations. It appears that most female subjects were

spared the shock treatment but still went through the sex

change procedures.

According to the MaiL & Guardian article, possibly 900 sexchange

operations were carried out (a rate of about 50 a year

for 18 years) under the auspices of the SADF. In the half

century since sex reassignment surgery was first performed, it

must be unique for such operations to be done under the

auspices of the military, with many, possibly all, of the

procedures performed in military hospitals. Once the

operations were completed, subjects were discharged from

military service; their birth certificates were chmged and they

were given new identity papers. Some were discharged before

the sex-change had been completed, leaving them in an uneasy

state of limbo; they are now trying to get the military to pay the

cost of completing the procedure. Others are petitioning for

subsidisation of the expensive hormone treatments which are

required for maintenance of female or male characteristics.

Investigation of the claims is difficult in view of the passage

of time. In many cases records have been lost. Tracing the

doctors involved in the treatment has proved contentious. A

central figure in the allegations has been psychiatrist Aubrey

Levin, who had the rank of Colonel in the SADF. Dr Levin is

believed to be one of 24 doctors who have been warned by the

Truth and Reconciliation Commission that they may be named

as perpetrators of human rights abuses. From 1969 to 1974, Dr

Levin ran the notorious Ward 22 at 1 Military Hospital in

Voortrekkerhoogte, where most of the subjects were treated.

After he left the military, Dr Levin continued treatment of

conscripts in Bloernfontein while professor of psychiatry at the

University of the Orange Free State.

Dr Levin, now based in Calgary, Canada, has strenuously

denied that any abuse occurred with conscripts under his care

in the military and threatened to sue for defamation. Dr Levin

said the Health and Human Rights Project’s submission was

‘based on distortions of the fads, and raises doubts about not

only my credibility but also about several other doctors who

worked with me’.’ He claims he only used drugs and a ‘batteryoperated

device’ on patients, and denied that electric shock

treatment or gender reassignment surgery was conducted by

the military.

The approach followed by the SADF to homosexuals has

shocking overtones of coercive and punitive treatment.

Homosexuality was officially regarded as subversive and

unacceptable by the SADF but, in practice, attitudes were

ambiguous and inconsistent. Some homosexuals in the SADF

established relationships and were accepted by their

heterosexual counterparts. An all-homosexual unit operating

from Upington was regarded as highly efficient and was

praised for its combat record. Yet many other homosexuals

were mercilessly persecuted and professional soldiers denied

promotion.

At the time the aversive treatments were used,

homosexuality was no longer regarded as a psychiatric illness

in European or American psychiatry. And, while aversive

therapy had a brief vogue to assist homosexuals who wanted to

change orientation (without success) or reduce potentially risky

behaviour such as cruising (often helpful), it was only

performed with consenting adults.’ Furthermore, the electrical

shocks used in treatment were of pinprick intensity; by

contrast, an intern psychologist, Trudi Grobler, described the

shocks administered to a female subject at 1 Military Hospital

as so intense that the shoes came off her feet.

The approach followed in the SADF appears to have

developed in complete ignorance of the scientific literature on

homosexuality and transsexualism, going back at least a

century if one uses Krafft-Ebing or Havelock Ellis as a guide.

The attitude was simplistic, crude and stereotypical to an

extreme: male homosexuals were perceived as effeminate and

passive, inadequate males who wanted to be female; female

homosexuals were the reverse – butch women who aspired to

be male. Considering that the first sex change operation

occurred in the 1950s and that there has been a flood of

literature on the topic since then, the only conclusion that can

be reached is that the psychiatrists involved were not only

woefully and balefully ignorant, but functioned as an extension

of the military ethos.

The requirement for transsexuals going through gender

reassignment surgery, in addition to involvement with

disciplines such as endocrinology, is to have extensive

psychiatric assessment and a period of supervision lasting 2

years to show that they can successfully adapt to their new

identity. This is in marked contrast to the procedure reportedly

followed in the SADF, where counselling was minimal or nonexistent

and no follow-up was provided. Whether subjects

selected for the operation were even given a choice is unclear.

According to the report, it is doubtful that the sex-change

operations proceeded with consent that would be regarded as

fully informed on an ethical or legal basis; some conscripts

were below the legal age of consent. By any standards, to

advise a subject that a sex change operation will change their

sexual preference is so egregiously misguided that it must

constitute gross medical negligence.

The belief that sex-changes would alter homosexuality is a

profound misinterpretation. Homosexuality is a matter of

sexual preference; transsexualism is a disorder of gender identity.

While some homosexuals (and heterosexuals) may engage in

cross-dressing, chiefly for sexual purposes, the vast majority

are comfortable and do not wish to change their gender.

Transsexuals, by contrast, have a sustained unease with their

biological gender and see cross-dressing and reassignment

surgery as facilitating their desired identity.

Drug abusers were also subjected to unethical psychiatric

treatment in the SADF.’ With homosexuals, political and

conscientious objectors and the seriously mentally ill, they

were regarded as ‘deviants’ in need of psychiatric cure,

shOWing ominous similarity with psychiatric ‘re-education’ in

the Soviet Union. arco-analysis was a favoured treatment in

addition to electric shock therapy. Drug users (the majority

were using cannabis or Mandrax) were incarcerated in the

notorious Greefswald camp, located in ~e far north and

unapproachable except by air. Here they were subjected to

extreme discipline, amounting to hard labour, the logic

apparently being that this would cure them of their drug

problem. Once again, there was an issue of informed consent,

resulting in complaints to the then-South African Medical and

Were the allegations confirmed, they would rank among the

worst psychiatric abuse since the azi era, exceeded only by

the systematic state abuse of dissidents in the Soviet Union. A

more recent and comparable event is the Chelmsford Deep

Sleep scandal in Australia. From 1963 to 1979, several hundred

patients were subjected to a discredited, dubious and

dangerous treatment, Deep Sleep therapy, in a private Sydney

suburban hospital. Flattened by huge doses of sedatives, with

little or no supervision, patients were left to wallow in their

excretions, resulting in severe morbidity and numerous deaths.

It took at least a decade before the media revelations and

public uproar led to a Royal Commission. By then, the chief

proponent, Dr Harry Bailey, had committed suicide.

In 1995, the Medical Association of South Africa issued a

public apology for past wrongdoings.1O As recent television

footage of police setting attack dogs on illegal migrants

showed, torture continues to be used by some elements of the

police in criminal cases. The South African medical profession

needs to demonstrate unambiguously that there will never

again be medical complicity in torture or other human rights

abuses. Until there is a comprehensive and public investigation

of medical abuses in the SADF, psychiatry in the new South

Africa will remain deeply compromised. To maintain

credibility there must be a full and open inquiry, the offenders

brought to justice and a regulatory system established to

ensure that such atrocities do not occur again. Anything less

will be a serious injustice.

1. Human Rights Commission Fact Paper FP’7. Deaths in Detention. Braamiontein: HRC, August

1990.

2. SiJove D. Doctors and the state: lessons from the Biko case. 50c Sd Med 1990; 30:. 417-429.

3. Van Zyl M, de Gruchy 1, Lapinsky S, Lewin S, Reid C. The Aversion Project: Human Rig1lts

Abuses a/Gays and Lesbians iT! the SADF by Health Workers During the Apartheid Era. Published

by Simply Said and Done on behaH of Gay and Lesbian Archives Health and Human Rights

Project, Medical Research Council, National Coalition for Gay and Lesbian Equality. Cape

Town. October 1999.

4. Kirk P. Mutilation by the Military. Mail & Guardian 2000; 28 July· 3 August.

5. SAPA report. SADF used playboy centrefolds 10 ‘reprogramme’ gay recruits. 16 June 2000.

6. Thiel G. It wasn’t torture, says ‘Or Shock’. EIectronic MDil & Guardian 1997; June.

7. McConaghy . Saual Behoriour: Problems and MJznagement. New York: Plenum Press, 1993:

347-352.

Kirk P. Mutilation by the Milita,ry [and related articles). Mail & Guardian 2000; 4 August ·10

August.

9. Barrel! H. Levine used drugs and electric shocks to ‘cure’ gay men. Mail & Guardian 2000; 28

July· 3 August.

10. Van der Linde I. Sometimes having to say you’re sorry ews). SAMjl995; 85: 715-716.

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16 thoughts on “Psychiatric Abuses in the South African Defense Force during Apartheid

  1. Quote:
    According to the report, over a period of close to 2 decades, homosexual conscripts of both sexes were culled from the military ranks and subjected to crude electric shock therapy based on rudimentary behaviour therapy principles.
    End quote.
    Only white males were conscripted.

  2. Aubrey Levin, then calling himself Levine, was the chief psychiatrist of the South African Defence Force’s 1 Military Hospital in Pretoria in 1971 when I was conscripted. He used the hospital’s psychiatric ward to identify and channel (white) gays, drug addicts, conscientious objectors and other deviants to the Greefswald gulag on the Limpopo River where a brutal regime of hard labour was supposed to cure them. We were divided into three groups, Psychopaths, Sub-normals and Deviants. We were entirely cut off from the outside world – no letters, telephone calls or any other contact. There were no Saturdays or Sundays, there was no recourse to appeal against our incarceration, and there no qualified medics, psychiatric or otherwise. The typical length of stay was nine months to a year. Levin would fly up to the camp in a military helicopter every five or six months to inspect his work. Stories of his predatory sexual behaviour were legion, but few of the boys had the courage or the means to defy him or the SADF. I know of one suicide the resulted directly from abuse at Greefswald. The camp was closed some time around 1977, reportedly after several murders, none of which are documented. Some time in the eighties I was called before a military tribunal and given an unconditional discharge from future conscription on the understanding that I didn’t talk about Greefswald or what happened there.

    Greefswald, and Levin’s activities there, was clearly only the beginning. His conviction in Canada is some sort of ending, but it’s no solace for his South African victims. The story that’s worth exposing right now is how the hell the Canadian authorities let him into Canada when even the most cursory glance through his record would have revealed that he had blood on his hands.

  3. Martin and Gordon,
    Thank you for your input and insights.
    It is incredulous how this carried on unchallenged, and how Canada – priding itself on its human rights and LGBT rights – allowed this monster to live on free. If there was justice in the world, Levin himself should be put through everything he put others through and be given electric shocks and chemical castrations. Alas, not only will that never occur, he will now be coddled and cocooned as a ‘frail old man’ who should be “forgiven” for “past mistakes” I’m sure. Erica Levin tried bribing a juror, because I’m quite certain this is not the first time they have been able to buck the system through bribes, threats, money, powerful connections etc. These are seasoned conmen. Only this time it didn’t work. Their narcissism goes full forth when you see they even made some Aubrey Levin “like” page on facebook years back with his Wiki article that then read “prominent professor”. Currently it has two likes. It is easy to guess who those two are.

    Journalists in Canada – independent, objective, well-meaning ones, and those in whom I have faith – are you taking note? You have to do something.
    Will Levin’s atrocities be shown – not “glorifying” him into some dashing monster – but the reality of his victims, and exposing him for what he was/is – a remorseless, worthless piece of (add whatever word *truly* describes him.) No wonder the Aversion Project is listed among the top 10 evil human experiments. And this man was allowed to *teach* students?? and allowed to practice?? Unbelievable. Disgustingly so, I’m ‘fraid.

  4. He also has civilian victims in South Africa (I know of a few), when he was head of psychiatry at Addington Hospital in Durban after he left the army. That was in the late 70s.

  5. Pingback: Basic Training | Graham Leslie McCallum

  6. I was transcripted in 1972 to voortrekkerhooghte, rumours went around of ward 22 go there for evaluation for 3 weeks, by then your basics is finished then just enrol back into the system, well that didn’t happen instead were subjected to rigorous therapy drugged and eventually sent off to Greefswaldt without being told why, I t was hell from the time we got there for the whole 9 months day and night, there are still some of us still around today. When we had completed the 9 months and left there was no follow up therapy we were just pushed back into society without direction, a lot of the guys I know including myself turned rather violent and ended up making a hell of a lot off trouble. If you would like to know more, please reply.
    Thanks

    • Hello Greg Smith,
      I am sorry to hear of your ordeal.
      If you would like to share your story, you can join the Facebook group “Greefswald.” As well, if you wish you can contact independent film maker Tarryn Crossman whose co-ordinates are on this message board.
      Rgds.
      J

  7. Nothing on Levin yet; the courts and the media have been fairly quiet as of late considering what is going on with Mr. Levin. Its to my understanding that he is currently at a trial within a trial and then when he’s finished with that, he will be in another one and that will go on for probably 3 or so months and then when that is all concluded, he will appeal any or all those decisions but hopefully the courts will put him in jail for the 3 that he has already been convicted of, then, if he wants to appeal his new conviction(s), he can do so in jail where he belongs. Then the college of Physicians and Surgeons will launch a investigation, question everyone who had a complaint against this doctor and grill them/us all over again, just like the trial and that will probably go on for another 4-6 months as they will question EVERYONE with a complaint against this X doctor. Do not be surprized one bit if Aubrey and his defence make an attempt at the Supreme Court of Canada with some regard to how they were mistreated or denied at the provincial level. All in all, I can see this going on for another 2-3 years, if this guy continues to defy the odds and live another 10 years, he could in turn tie up all the civil issues surrounding this idiot for years to come and there is actually the possibility of this guy never again going to jail for what he has done because he could die before the courts EVER come around to making any decisions with regards to Aubrey Levin and that’s really convenient for Aubrey Levin, shitty for all the victims including myself and there you have it, that’s Justice served up hot for ya, open up and take a bite.

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