Original Research

Psychological sequelae of political imprisonment, specifically post-traumatic stress disorder, in 491 Days by Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

Marisa Botha
Literator | Vol 39, No 1 | a1451 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/lit.v39i1.1451 | © 2018 Marisa Botha | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 25 September 2017 | Published: 19 July 2018

About the author(s)

Marisa Botha, Chair for Critical Studies in Higher Education Transformation, Nelson Mandela University, South Africa; Amsterdam School of Cultural Analysis, University of Amsterdam, the, Netherlands


This article analyses well-known anti-apartheid activist Winnie Madikizela-Mandela’s prison memoir 491 Days: Prisoner Number 1323/69 (2013) for depictions of suffering. This memoir reveals aspects of politically inflicted trauma, particularly the suffering sustained in prolonged solitary confinement and the resulting psychological sequelae for the prisoner. To move beyond a vague understanding of her traumatic experiences, this article draws on the field of psychiatry, specifically the diagnostic criteria for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) to gain greater insight as this tool may also be regarded as a type of narrative that could aid in the comprehension of traumatic events. References will be made to the three main cluster symptoms of PTSD: involuntary re-experiencing of the traumatic event, avoidance of reminders and an ongoing sense of threat. An interdisciplinary literary-psychological approach will probably lead to a deeper understanding of the mental consequences of political imprisonment, as PTSD was not an acknowledged disorder during Madikizela-Mandela’s detainment.


Winnie Madikizela-Mandela; autobiography; PTSD; trauma; 491 Days; psychological sequelae; politically inflicted trauma; political imprisonment; memoir


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