man-made memories; 16 days? not enough!

it’s the last day of the 16 days of activism and i planned on posting here every day since day one. life is a river that runs its own course though, and other things have taken precedence. suffice to say, look out for a survivor website,  being put together by myself and akhona over at akmosaic.

for some reason i woke up at 01h40 last night, started reading the first paragraph of jonathan franzen’s new book, the corrections, then instead spent the next few hours writing down something which came to mind while i was getting a much-needed massage earlier in the evening.

i’m not sure if i’m going to leave it here as it seems to be the beginning of something much longer, but in my continued insistence on breaking the silence for myself and all the other all too real nameless and faceless statistics out there, here is what i’m calling, for now,



Man-made Memories.

I’m about  3. It’s a gorgeous day in Franschhoek, fabled valley of the Hugenots. The sun beats down strong on the fig trees and grapevines outside. Inside, in the kitchen of the gabled house my grandfather long ago built with his own hands, it is cool. Mercifully dark and shady. Friendly. Familiar.

I’m care-free, perched on my knees on a chair, happily leaning over the table, eating my pap. The sugar, which has melted on the meniscus of the porridge, is deliciously liquid, a sweet little planetary ring along the edge of the plate which I am almost loathe to disturb.

I’ve just learnt a new word.

My grandfather, whose sight is failing, walks past me into the cooler depths of the house and  I run after him to test my new vocabulary: “Pa, wiet Pa wat? Pa’s ‘n moerskont!”. For those unfamiliar with the colorful and highly communicative language that is Afrikaans: I’ve unknowingly just called my grandfather a c*nt!

I‘m so proud. I’ve not only learnt a new word, I’ve used it in a full sentence!

Almost instantly I’m torn from the sweet, white world that is my breakfast and ejected from the cool womb of the house. My bare feet dance on the hot cement of the stoep and the leather from Pa’s sjambok does not need sight as it sting-sings against my skinny legs. I am weeping with both humiliation and consternation. An early lesson in things I will not understand.

My first memory….

Though maybe I lie, memory being  fickle, shifting sand-dunes in a snow-ball desert constantly jostled by some careless hand.

Maybe my first memory is being unbearably excited at being discharged from hospital when I’m about two. I’ve just been operated on to remove a hernia i was born with. Though even this memory is unreliable as I remember no pain, just looking at the world outside the window in anticipation.

I’m waiting for my mom to come and get me. With this memory is associated a dress so beautiful, I still wish to recreate it. It makes me feel like a princess. Precious. It’s lacy-pretty. Grey on a white background, with strands of interwoven yellow. At least that’s what I think, though when I try to recreate it in my mind’s eye, it’s like an unfocussed film reel.

Like the tattered, scratchy reels brought by the guy all the way from Cape Town on a Friday night to project against the wall in my grandpa’s dilapidated , but large garage.

Early Friday evening it was our job to sweep the garage. We’d put out rows and rows of benches and people would come from all around  the neighborhood and pay a few cents’ admission. Sometimes the lamp burnt the reel and then the lights would be turned back on while the two ends were summarily spliced back together. Sometimes the projector would break down. Irreparably. Which was a huge disappointment, but for most people it was the weekly entertainment. The only entertainment.  Before the classic spaghetti westerns, we’d get to see black and white movie-serials like Johnny robot, a huge clunking, in retrospect obviously fake military robot commanded by a little boy. Johnny robot obviously made a huge impression on me because it’s the only one of the movies I really remember from back then.

So that fuzzy second memory might not be entirely true either because it morphs with another of me walking down the street holding my mother’s hand. I’m probably all of 4 and I’m wearing shorts. Suddenly there’s a wolf-whistle from some guy on the street and my mom’s grip increases in irritation. I’m so confident and full of myself, I think she’s irritated because he’s whistling at me.

Another memory: it’s the middle of the night. My mom is working night shift at the hospital and I’m left in the care of  the man she recently married, my new stepfather. We’re living in Harrington street in Cape Town.

I’m 4.

A small pool of light from a lamp casts shadows as it tries to wrestle the dark, but it’s not a fair fight. The dark wins.

From the night stand comes the smell of yellow hair pomade. Yellow hair pomade which my stepdad whom I adore,  is rubbing “down  there”…

Astonishing how odors hold memories. Train cars that come whooshing into stations of one’s life . Nice. Neat. Contained high-speed gautrains. Next moment they,  shocking  you to a frozen standstill, disgorge unexpected hordes they’ve brought along for the ride. No matter where I am, the smell of yellow hair pomade will still instantly shock me back to that night. Strange that a smell so innocent can signal to me the searing loss of innocence….

Another memory to which I cannot place an age , 5 perhaps – in the pantry of that same house between the groceries and cleaning supplies, on the dusty floor : being held down and rubbed up against by the teenaged sons of the woman from whom we were renting the room. They’d cottoned on to what was happening in that impotent pool of light in the middle of the night. Realizing I believed it to be my fault, they used it against me.  They threatened to tell on me if I didn’t let them have their way.  The beginnings of blackmail. Secrets. Lies. Maybe if there’d been videotape, I’d have been saved sooner. But redemption was a distant island that lay across a wide ocean that stretched many years into the future.

a dubious anniversary

my phoenix woman image

my phoenix woman image

at 02:45 a.m., on this day in 1992, right here in johannesburg, a man came flying through my door while i was lying sketching  in bed and over the next half hour, proceeded to rape me at knife-point. 

it was the yeoville rapist, at the time, on a spree terrorizing the women in my neighborhood (now in jail due to his fingerprint on the glass of water i handed him). the police had put out a profile saying that he was targeting young white, blonde women. i certainly wasn’t white (the government at the time made sure i was aware of that) and i wasn’t blonde and being a 12 year incest survivor, i certainly didn’t think the universe had this ordeal in mind for me as well. so when the neighbor’s dogs barked all night, i ignored them. when i heard the creaking of the floorboards, i thought that i really should ask my tenants in my duplex next door, to be a little quieter at this time of night. little did i know.

half an hour later when my friend who was staying with me for the week, came home, preventing the threatened encore to my involuntary experience, the guy finally took off over the back wall and any plans for my immediate future came crashing domino-down. the worst violation was not being raped, it was that he stole my sense of immunity, that thing we all need to get through the day, past the horrendous leading news stories, the thing that helps us believe “it won’t happen to me”. once it does, it’s as if you can never let your guard down. every noise you hear is the warning you didn’t heed, every person you see who looks vaguely like the guy, is a threat. the only night i spent alone in the house after that night, was spent walking from the front door to the back, investigating every little rustle. and i was probaby right, because 2 weeks later when i flew to new york to be with the man who would become my husband, he broke into my house again and attacked 2 women who were house-sitting for me.

6 months later i had, even though i didn’t yet know it at the time, moved to the states, gotten married and developed both ovarian cysts and grave’s disease, a hereditary hyper-thyroid condition which i didn’t even know i had, but which can manifest itself after a major trauma. i walked away from my house, my career, my life, my family and friends and i did not come back till i got the role on this soap 3 years ago. i really never envisioned myself coming back to jhb ever again.

it took me years to recover from that night. in fact i don’t know that i will ever be fully “recovered”, but coming back to jhb forced me to stop running and face the demon, acknowledge it and say “namaste”. for many years this day would bite me. i spent at least the first year in bed with the duvet pulled over my head. a measure of my recovery is that i only remembered what day it was as i was driving to work this morning. a far cry from the constricting dread that would overcome me in the weeks leading up to this day in other years.

i drew this around the 1st "anniversary"

i drew this as therapy that first year



man with a gun (lyrics to a song i wrote)
it was almost 3 a.m.
a quarter to, to be exact
i heard a noise above the music
but i didn't face the facts

then through the door you came
your knifing eyes foretold my pain
and though it wasn't for my life you came
now it will never be the same

it was almost 3 a.m.
a quarter to, to be exact
i heard a noise above the music
but i didn't face the facts

now i never can again
look the same at other men
though they didn't lie me on the floor
to take what they had come there for

even while i hid inside my head
imagining you in pools of red
i remember staring at the carpet
the one i'd chosen from the market

it was almost 3 a.m.
a quarter to, to be exact
i heard a noise above the music
but i didn't face the facts

3.15 you took with you
my feeling of immunity
and in it's stead you left in lieu
hell in perpetuity

it was almost 3 a.m.
a quarter to, to be exact
i heard a noise above the music
but i didn't face the facts
 – my site for survivors 

letter to a survivor

when i first moved back to johannesburg to act in the soap i’m now working on, it felt like there was a much bigger reason for my return.  i decided that i would go public about being a rape and incest survivor. i felt like i’d been running for so long and that i’d finally turned around, faced the demon and gone, “BOO!” i did a number of interviews, set up a website with resources for survivors, called phoenix flying and though i’d really rather not be the poster girl for rape and incest survivors (there’s so much else that defines me), from time to time i am contacted by women who make me realize that there will always be a huge need for someone like me. i got a letter from someone on face book and this was my response to her.

thank you so much for sharing your story with me. you know, i tend to think that the only use for experiences like you and i have gone through, is to be there for the next woman it happens to, to be an example, to say, “you’ll be ok. you can survive this.”

i too fled johannesburg after what happened to me – 10 000 miles away, to be exact and it took me 12 years before i was strong enough to come back here. i’m amazed that it’s taken you so little time to get to this point where you can say that you’re over it. it took me much longer, but the path of healing is one we walk our entire lives and we go through different stages on our journey.

you say you’re trying to make sense of what happened to you. i can tell you, what happened to us makes no sense. it’s not something you or i deserved, it’s not because of something you or i did wrong. we were victims of someone else’s lack of morality and lack of humanity, but the thing that sets us apart is that we can choose to be SURVIVORS and not victims. 

how are you and your family after this? did your husband cope? and your child – does he have any idea what happened and how are they dealing with it? 

you say you want to help other women – the best way is to make sure that you’re ok first. you know, all we can do is be there for the women who come after us in whatever situation we come across each other. 

Sunlight in Knowth's western passage on the Equinoxi went public with my story because i thought it was important for people to know that this can happen to anyone. i thought it was important for other “victims” to see that we can survive anything. that we can transcend the dark night and come out into the light and that’s all i can hope for any of us, to come out of that long dark tunnel and out into nurturing sunlight.

by the way, after 3 years back in johannesburg, i’ve revised my perception of my return. instead of turning round, facing the demon and saying, “BOO!”, i’ve clasped my hands together, bowed and said “namaste”.  

i’m making peace with it.

bite me!

this has been one of THOSE weeks where the actual events blur, but the emotional hang-over remains. days have blurred into each other – working hard, lots of scenes, long days at the studio, little time to write. 

tuesday started with a huge blow-up between the head of the make-up department and i. we are usually friends, but i’ve been experiencing a really snippy tone from her on and off and on tuesday it turned out to be that straw by which this camel’s back refused to be broken. all i’ll say is that it involved knee-highs and hairdryers and time constraints, and took all week to (almost, but not quite) resolve. i suppose when one works with people for such a long time in such proximity, the fit sometimes begins to chafe and needs some adjusting. i also think that when one first meets people, the possibility for friendship exists, and you go on that presumption and you work at creating a friendship. one day down the line you wake up and you suddenly realize, “wait a minute! we’re NOT friends – and it’s okay!”. and you stop trying.

oh man, self-righteous anger… it feels so good, but really who does it serve? reminds me of that other 12 step maxim, “resentment is the poison we take expecting the other person to die”. there’s some sage advice.

i realize that my many years of childhood abuse have shaped me in so many ways i’m not always aware of. that the past from time to time comes back to bite me in the butt.  it took me 12 years to realize that what was happening to me wasn’t my fault, but when i finally did, i got really pissed. for a really long time. and at that time it was what i needed to recover. now that’s no longer necessary, but i still have the same pattern. i’ll take people’s shit for the longest time and then one day it’s like i have an epiphany of outrage and explode. and the reality is that it’s no longer necessary. i’m not that helpless little girl anymore. i am a strong and empowered woman and i need to speak out at the little things which bother me – you know, deal with the mole-hill before it turns into mount everest. because i can.

and the past can bite me!

wow, i didn’t know i was going here when i sat down to write today. so maybe it’s appropriate that i add this here:

it’s always been my intention to do hoop workshops with abused women and children and just over a year ago, i got the chance with a group of school-girls and another group of women, organized by FAMSA. it was a very emotional week-end which started with me racing from the studio where i film to get to a town 2 hours away in time to get to the girls before their school day finished. these girls have so little that their gratitude towards me for showing up, talking to them and hooping with them was overwhelming. they couldn’t believe they could keep their hoops (even though i was somewhat disappointed at the crappy quality that we managed to get donated for them). the average age is about 12 and many of them have been either raped or molested or abused in some way.  

the workshop with the women happened the next day. i gave a 20 minute talk about being a rape and incest survivor and we then had a huge hoop taping session so the women could personalize their hoops, followed by a hoop demo and then a hoop jam/teaching session. it was overwhelming how many women would sidle up to me, whisper their thanks and then proceed to tell me their stories. and all i could do was listen, hug them and tell them it does get better. 
just as i’m reminding myself right now – it does get better.

hostages down the rabbit hole

an item in the news caught my attention this morning and would not let go. i first heard it on the radio as i was driving to work, then when i opened my online e-mail at work, there it was as the main headline.trapped

3 rescued US hostages arrive safely in Texas

Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell were in a plane which went down in the columbian jungle and were kidnapped and held for 5 years by FARC, Ingrid Betancourt was kidnapped while campaigning for president and held hostage for 6 and a half years. i don’t really know the details of the story, other than what’s in the article and the snippets i seem to recollect from the occasional news story over the years.

what strikes me and makes my mind boggle, is the thought of anybody being held captive for SIX YEARS! can you imagine 6 years of your life spent at the whim of others? not seeing your family or loved ones, not having any say? (yes, i know jail is the same, but when you go to jail, you’ve generally broken society’s laws).  the stories of natascha kampusch and elizabeth fritzl also freak me the f@#$ out! 24 years in a dungeon?! i’ve realized over the years that i have a rabid reaction to anyone trying to exert control over my actions, so the thought of this sends me into paroxysms of revulsion, frustration and anger. i tumble headlong down a very dark rabbit hole leading to a warped warren of memory. my mind recoils.

maybe being an incest and rape survivor has something to do with this. maybe one can liken 12 years of molestation by someone you trust, as being held hostage.  i’ve been trapped in rooms against my will too many times in my life and i do not wish the experience upon my worst enemy.

or maybe i do. may my stepfather rot under the earth and wonga ndungane rot in jail.

and i wish those rescued hostages a wonderful and extended reconciliation with their loved ones.


this afternoon the green room at work saw a few of us actors sitting around watching the news –  aghast at the details being revealed about the austrian who imprisoned his daughter for 24 years, fathering 7 children with her.
Josef Fritzl and Elizabeth Fritzl

i’m speechless.  i can’t allow myself to dwell on it too much. at least i wasn’t imprisoned – i managed to escape… that poor woman wasn’t as lucky. so many other women aren’t as lucky. all i can do is shake my head at the fact that the devil comes in so many different guises. first natascha kampusch, now this… once again a reminder why i have such a strong reaction to men who try to control me.

never again. never again. never again.


Pederast, paedophile –
you sick fuck!
You suck!
or at least
that’s what you made me do –
and more.
much worse.
I was only four –
how much more innocent could I be?
And yet, like a vile snake, you defiled me!

No, I take it back.
That image of the snake
is my totem now,
though not like yours;
no violent, hissing thing,
but the one, tail in mouth –
the orobourus,
symbol of strength and rebirth,
now my defense,
my familiar….

You took so much.
Your touch left me besmirched,
and lurching
into what’s supposed to be a life.
Well, enough!
It’s time to shed this grimy skin –
I’ll reveal the one,
untouched, within
and like the phoenix, I shall rise.
The only ashes left,
are yours.

I am a slave,
joyfully dancing on your grave.
I’ve escaped the crack and lash
of your whip
and my sisters are joining me.
The ones, head-shaven,
are growing their medusa-locks
and others you thought inside ripped,
not anymore –
we’ve slipped this yoke
with our phoenix-feathers flying,
You’ll see….
We are setting ourselves free.
(phoenix image and poem COPYRIGHT – SANDI SCHULTZ)