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Psychiatric Slave Camps

In the 1970s, a traveling windowpane salesman lost his way in the semirural countryside outside of Johannesburg, South Africa. Stopping to ask directions at what seemed to be a desolate mining compound, he happened upon a troubling sight: a naked and obviously terrified native woman was attempting to flee a uniformed guard.

The salesman was a Scientologist and reported what he had seen to the Church. As the South African edition of Freedom began to investigate, what emerged was a story that would long stand as a dark symbol of psychiatric greed and inhumanity.

That apparently abandoned mining compound was one of thirteen psychiatric facilities owned and operated by the Smith-Mitchell Holding Company, a group that by the mid-70s was absorbing about one-third of the South African mental health budget. Nine of these facilities were for black patients, four for whites.

What CCHR uncovered was shocking. In 1976, more than 70 percent of all black certified mental patients in South Africa were in the hands of this group. The Smith-Mitchell hospitals had a patient population of more than 10,000. And the blacks were treated little better than animals, providing twelve-hour-a-day forced labor to line the pockets of their keepers. Nutrition was minimal, patients slept on mats on bare concrete floors, and in some institutions there was only one nurse on duty for anywhere from 300 to 1,000 patients. Nor were there equipped medical facilities, and at least one patient died a day. Accurately described by media as “hidden slave camps” and “human warehouses,” most of these Draconian camps were hidden from view and surrounded by spiked fences.


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