South Africa is a country of extraordinary contrasts: Fertile savannahs and teeming cities, immense wealth and terrible poverty, multiracial idealism and ethnic violence. It’s also a place of striking contrasts in Scientology’s history. In the past few weeks, I’ve been traveling in this vast country and consulting state archives to piece together the story of Scientology in South Africa before the end of apartheid in 1990. They reveal a picture of how Scientology enthusiastically supported South Africa’s apartheid regime while walking a fine line in opposing the government’s favourable views towards psychiatry.
The decades-long freedom struggle of South Africa’s non-white majority gained attention and support from across the world. It’s easy now to forget, though, that many in the West supported the apartheid government as an ally against communism, or – all too often – out of simple racism. Scientology was no exception.
Apartheid might have seemed like a challenge to Scientology’s ideology. After all, L. Ron Hubbard had posited that we are all “thetans” – immortal beings temporarily housed in physical bodies. Skin colour, race, gender and physical age should have been irrelevant considerations. Yet for South African Scientologists, and Hubbard himself, race and politics were defining issues.
Scientology had an early start in South Africa. Dianetics had spread there on a small scale in the early 1950s, likely transmitted by South Africans who had encountered it in the UK or America. Scientology was brought there in 1954 by Albert and Jean Low, a newly-married Canadian-British couple. They had decided to join Hubbard in London for a nine-month evening course in lieu of a conventional honeymoon. While there, they were invited to set up a Scientology training center in Johannesburg by two South Africans attending the course.
Hubbard was eager to sponsor the project. He sent the Lows to South Africa in March 1954 to establish a South African branch of the Hubbard Association of Scientologists International (HASI), later renamed the Hubbard Scientology Organisation in South Africa. It proved hugely profitable.
Scientology expanded rapidly across South Africa, establishing further orgs in Durban, Cape Town, and Port Elizabeth by 1962. Satellite Scientology orgs were also established across the border in white-ruled Rhodesia. Graduates of the South African Scientology orgs later played very senior roles in Scientology. Jane Kember, a Kenyan-born British citizen, performed outstandingly in the Durban org and was personally selected by Hubbard to head his newly-formed Guardian’s Office in 1966. A Rhodesian Scientologist, Charles Parselle, worked alongside Kember as Scientology’s head of legal affairs from 1966 to 1983.
Despite Hubbard’s ostensibly colour-blind teachings, racial domination lay at the heart of South African Scientology in the 1950s and 1960s. The HASI envisaged white Scientologists using Hubbard’s teachings to dominate the country’s oppressed black majority, as the only way of ensuring a stable future for South Africa. Indeed, Scientology promoted itself under the slogan, “Scientology is Security for South Africa.”
- Retrieved from https://tonyortega.org/2019/06/06/scientology-is-security-for-south-africa-how-l-ron-hubbard-sought-to-prop-up-apartheid/ ↩