Dickason: assumptions reveal the true state of a nation


Dickason: assumptions reveal the true state of a nation

Assumptions about what made a South African doctor kill her three children in New Zealand are based on white arrogance and entitlement if not downright racism, writes NEIL SONNEKUS.


A JURY of eight women and four men has found Lauren Dickason guilty of murdering her three daughters. She will be sentenced on December 19.

Whether she will spend the rest or most of her life in prison or a psychiatric institution will depend on the judge. Her chances of a successful appeal are more or less zero.

Some peculiarly South African assumptions are seeping out of this macabre affair, most of them based on white arrogance and entitlement, if not downright racism.

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First, Dickason was stressed by the pro-Jacob Zuma (ie, black) riots in South Africa, and she and her husband wanted to get their children out of such a violent milieu. Covid lockdown and the process of emigration also weighed heavily on her.

Fair enough. Most South Africans, however, deal with that stress and some of them leave. But they don’t wipe out their own children or others — even if the murder rate in South Africa is atrociously high.

Second, aggravating factors included the family's house in Timaru being too small and Dickason not having a support system — would that mean she didn’t have a black domestic worker to do all the dirty work? — and that she found the place depressing.

True, Timaru is not the most uplifting seaside town in New Zilland, as the clench-jaws around here pronounce it. When we were there just before lockdown in 2021, every third shop in its steep main street was empty.

Still, its inhabitants deal with things or move on. You can do that here.

But excuse me, how about a little gratitude that you have a work visa, that your husband has a job at the local hospital, that you have a house at all, that your precious blonde girls are safe from the marauding savages of Africa?

Were the locals expected to fall over themselves to serve her, when they have stresses of their own? In fact, one can’t help getting the impression that whites here are so traumatised by their privilege that if they aren’t seeing a therapist, they are one.  

There have been white South Africans who have tried to get citizenship here on the basis of political persecution. Read: the genocidal blacks were out to get them. I am happy to report that they invariably fail.

An accountant from Roodepoort moaned to me that white rugby players weren’t getting a fair chance to play for the Springboks, and the game had suffered because they had to try their luck overseas. This was immediately after a very representative team had won the World Cup, a feat it might repeat in the next few weeks.

One man was even quoted as saying he didn’t leave South Africa to get away from blacks but now his daughter had to sit next to a Chinese child.

Talking of Asians, one can’t help comparing what seems to be one of their modus operandi to the professional white whingers from the southern tip of Africa, meeting with stiff, All Blacks-like competition as they arrive here not in boats but by aeroplane.

Many young Asians take one or two menial jobs neither white Kiwis nor South Africans will do — such as tending to the aged for low wages or vacuuming office blocks while the rest of the country plays or sleeps — and they move up the ladder that is stacked against “non-whites”, as we shall see.

There is also the misguided, possibly universal assumption that if professional people such as doctors, lawyers, accountants and engineers are so highly qualified, they are therefore knowledgeable about and thus empathetic towards the human soul. That is laughable.  

A cross, a teddy bear and flowers were placed outside The Wilds where the Dickason family lived before moving to New Zealand.
A cross, a teddy bear and flowers were placed outside The Wilds where the Dickason family lived before moving to New Zealand.

Dickason was self-medicating in South Africa — the rather arrogant if not tight-fisted assumption being that as a GP she knew what was best for her psyche — but couldn’t self-prescribe once here. Was she suffering from cold turkey as well when she finally started asphyxiating her girls, one by one?

Her lawyer, Kerryn Beaton, told her to plead insanity and infanticide, which was clearly the only way to go. Dickason couldn’t have strengthened her counsel’s case by having an internet history of searching for information on how to dispose of children, her medical training notwithstanding.

Nor did her lawyer seem to instruct her on how to present herself. Though this has to be seen through the filter of what TV and picture editors select, Dickason looked haggard at worst and stunned at best.

Might it not have been better for Beaton to tell her client to look — or at least to act — what she allegedly felt: contrite? Surely a little visible remorse would have more easily swayed the jury towards compassion, doubt, and therefore division, rather than rational, legalistic argument?

But three psychiatrists found Dickason was of sound mind when she committed her troika of atrocities. And yet, for all their psychometric tests and against my own better judgement, I don’t think they or the jurors had the faintest idea what they were talking about.

Since when does any right-minded woman go to so much trouble to have children by way of IVF treatment, losing one on the way, then kill them on the preposterous premise that they were getting in the way of her relationship with her husband?

Did those respected practitioners of psychiatry think she was making up stories when she said the devil on her shoulder swayed her to cross the final frontier between sanity and madness?

Just looking at her, I think — like her perfectly decent parents — that she’s a sick, lost woman who will have to live with her gross darkness, behind bars and under supervision, for the rest of her days. Her only salvation will probably be drugs and/or God and death.

Tough, said an ex-South African prosecutor I bumped into in that fine drinking establishment, Galbraith’s, here in Tamaki Makaurau, aka Auckland. She said in the typically pugnacious manner of her profession that Dickason was guilty as sin, and should do her time in South Africa and not waste our (Kiwi) taxpayers’ money.

Ja, well, no fine. But like so many killers, Dickason gave clear indications of what she was going to do, which were nothing but calls for attention, pleas for help. Nor did she try to hide what she’d done.

But what she was saying was so outrageous that no one took her seriously, and when the deed was done it didn’t provoke compassion but its opposite: disgust.

What we then do is place someone like her (and that little terrorist Brenton Tarrant) outside the human spectrum, labelling them freaks, because to admit that they also belong to the human family somehow implicates us. And it does, however minimally.

Dickason’s violence was turned against herself via her daughters, which is the most extreme form of depression you can get, hence that dazed gaze, that look of seeming to be displaced not only from her country but from her self

Another assumption is that running away from your problems is going to solve them. On the contrary, as Dickason and so many others have proved, it will compound them.

Which brings us to another assumption. You will be safe in Aotearoa-New Zealand, even though it has some of the highest divorce, domestic violence and suicide rates in the world.

While it is certainly safer than South Africa — and you can have almost nothing to do with other races, especially those violent Maori who are always up to no good, if the TV news is anything to go by — there are no guarantees.  

As an example, take Carmen Thomas, who came here from Benoni via London, where she met a Pakeha (white) Kiwi engineer, had a son with him, then settled in his home country. They lived in upmarket Remuera in Auckland.

But things went wrong and he battered her to death with a baseball bat. Then he chopped her up and buried some parts of her in the bush outside the city and some in the wet cement of a building he was working on in the CBD.

He was jailed for 13 years and a few months, due to provocation, and one wonders what he’s going to say to their son, who will be in his late teens or early twenties when his father gets out. One also wonders whether if Dickason had been directed to show true (or even false) remorse, she might not have received a ridiculously lenient sentence too.

There is yet another way of looking at this whole affair. There have been increasing calls by Maori to deal with their criminals in their own, traditional way. That is, by social engagement and inclusion rather than the cause-and-effect isolation of ostracising freedom or violent incarceration.

One of those practices would be to let Dickason face her husband, in the company of their and other firm but compassionate elders, and  having that terrible conversation.

In other words, the law (and therefore the psychology that feeds it) of this land is a white, Western construct, not a Maori one, nor even a marriage of the two.

Lastly, there is the assumption that only white South Africans are flocking to New Zilland. I have met three black chefs just on this tiny island where I work, and one day a techie walked into our “mainland” home to install the fibre for our internet. It didn’t take much to work out he was a South African.

“So what’s your story," I asked him. No, back home he and a white friend worked for the same company in the same trade he was in now, and they both applied for home loans. This was in the late noughties, so well after the fall of apartheid.

The white friend got a 90% loan, David (not his real name — he’s quite comfortable with his Venda name) got 10%. So he decided he wanted an equal chance at life, no matter where it was.

David has one of those long, consonant-rich surnames that isn’t as easily pronounced as Ramaphosa — a distant relative — and arrived in Aotearoa with a technical skill and $50. He found work, met a woman, fell in love, got married, and they have two children. Normal, middle-class stuff. They seem happy, as the clenchers here say.

Then things got tight and she, as a qualified teacher, applied for work. She was turned down at a prestigious school she had set her sights on. Then she applied for the same position at the same school but under her white (Pakeha) surname. “And got the job,” David said, bemused.

Welcome to non-racist, non-sexist New Zilland, where you can even get a “fair go” with a Lauren Dickason-like attitude in this violent, migrating world.

♦ VWB ♦

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