Content warning: This post contains accounts of violence that may be distressing.
It was December, 1994, and 27-year-old Alison Botha had returned to her apartment after dropping her friend Kim home.
That day had been idyllic. She had spent the afternoon at the beach with friends in Port Elizabeth, one of the largest cities in South Africa. Afterwards, everyone had gone back to Alison’s apartment to eat pizza and play Balderdash.
The tall brunette had been head girl at her high school. She was confident and well spoken. After travelling for a number of years, Alison was working as an insurance broker, a job which she enjoyed.
That night, she had promised to drop Kim home afterwards, and now it was around 1am on Sunday morning.
Alison discovered she had lost her very convenient car spot right outside her apartment, and searched for another within walking distance.
Then, she found it. There was a space under a big tree; big enough to block the street lights on an already poorly lit road.
She was looking forward to getting into bed after a cool shower, and so pulled in and reached over to get her clean laundry out of the passenger seat to bring upstairs.
That’s when she felt a gust of warm air.
The car door had been flung open, and standing before her was a scrawny but tall young man with blonde hair.
Immediately, Alison spotted the knife.
“Move over or I’ll kill you,” the man said to her in a low, matter-of-fact voice. She did exactly what he said.
He climbed into the driver’s seat, and put his foot on the accelerator. After a few moments he assured her, “I don’t want to hurt you I just want to use your car for an hour.” At that point, Alison chose believed him.
She considered jumping out of the moving car, but found herself frozen. She begged the man, who called himself Clinton, to take the car and leave her. But he refused.
He had something he needed to do. Someone owed him money. He wouldn’t be long.
Clinton drove them to one of the main streets in Port Elizabeth and spotted the person he was frantically looking for. He told him – a man who he called Theuns – to jump in, and meet his new friend, Alison.
The three drove to the outskirts of Port Elizabeth, an entirely deserted area her family had always warned her to steer clear of.
What happened next was so violent, so unimaginably horrific, the details would be etched into the collective consciousness of South Africa for decades to come.
When they stopped in the bush, Alison knew something very bad was going to happen.
They told her they would have sex with her, and asked if she was going to fight. Alison, who had no idea how to fight, said no.
After the two men raped her, they attempted to suffocate Alison, at which point she became unconscious.
She was then stabbed upwards of 35 times, mostly in her abdomen. The two men assumed she was dead, but when her leg twitched, Theuns decided to cut her throat no less than 17 times.
There are additional gruesome details regarding the attack on Alison that Mamamia has chosen not to publish.
The men, who both had a history of extreme violence towards women, left her to die.
But Alison, miraculously, survived.
When she regained consciousness, Alison crawled to the main road, holding her denim shirt to her stomach which was bleeding intensely, and flagged down a car. She was on the brink of death when she finally arrived at hospital.
Alison’s injuries were unlike anything doctors had ever seen. But as weeks turned into months, Alison slowly recovered.
Her attackers, whose names and faces she had vividly remembered, were located and put on trial.
Theuns Kruger and Frans du Toit identified as Satanists, who enacted ritual abuse. “Satan really tried to steal my life…” Alison would later say.
They were both served life sentences in August 1995.
That wasn’t, however, the end of Alison’s story. She struggled with serious depression following her attack, and could not work. She knew this event had changed her irreparably, and did not know how to move forward.
So Alison began travelling around the world, telling her story. She became the first South African woman to speak publicly about the experience of rape, and in 1995 won the prestigious Rotarian Paul Harris Award for ‘Courage Beyond the Norm’.
In the same year, she received Femina magazine’s ‘Woman of Courage’ award, and was announced Port Elizabeth’s Citizen of the Year.
It was unclear for many years if Alison would be able to have children, given the extent of the injuries sustained by her female organs.
But then, in 2003, nine years after the attack, Alison gave birth to a son named Daniel. Three years later, she had Matthew.
Now, 24 years since she nearly lost her life in deserted bushland in Port Elizabeth, Alison is widely considered one of South Africa’s most inspiring figures.
“Life can sometimes make us feel like the victim – problems and hardships and traumas are dished out to all of us and sometimes they can be divided very unfairly,” Alison said recently in an interview with Good Housekeeping.
“Remind yourself that you do not have to take responsibility for what others do… Life is not a collection of what happens to you, but of how you’ve responded to what has happened to you.”
Many of the details within this story were drawn from ‘I Have Life: Alison’s Journey‘ as told to Marianne Thamm.
If this post brings up any issues for you, or if you just feel like you need to speak to someone, please call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) – the national sexual assault, domestic and family violence counselling service. It doesn’t matter where you live, they will take your call and, if need be, refer you to a service closer to home.