Alison has life - and she truly cherishes it

Published Dec 2, 2006


By Tash Reddy

People are inspired by her story. Many find it hard to believe that Alison Botha survived. Twelve years ago, Alison was raped by two men, stabbed repeatedly and disembowelled. They slashed her throat 16 times and left her for dead in a deserted clearing kilometres away from her home.

But, with exceptional courage, she has dealt with the intense physical and emotional trauma of that night.

In fact, she has done more than that; she has managed to rise above this horrific experience and transform it into something life-affirming.

And she has just given birth to her second son, Matthew.

Her refusal to give up still inspires people all over the world. But who is she and what makes her a woman of such strength?

Alison was born in Port Elizabeth on September 22 1967.

"I grew up there with my dad Brian, my mom Claire and my brother Neale, who is 18 months older than me.

"My parents divorced when I was about 10, and thereafter my brother and I lived with my mother.

"I matriculated in 1985 as head girl at The Collegiate High School for Girls in Port Elizabeth."

Alison worked as an insurance broker before and lived in a quiet complex in the city. She was just 27 at the time of the attack, with her whole life ahead of her.

In December 1994, Alison was abducted outside her home by two men.

They raped her. They stabbed her so many times that doctors couldn't count the number of wounds.

They then disembowelled her and finally slashed her throat 16 times to make sure she was dead.

In her best-selling book I Have Life, she describes her gruesome experience.

"I was outside the car and on the sand now on broken glass. All I could see was an arm moving above my face. Left and right and left and right. His movements were making a sound. A wet sound, it was the sound of my flesh being slashed open. He was cutting my throat with the knife. Again and again and again.

"It felt unreal but it wasn't. I felt no pain, but it was not a dream. This was happening. The man was slashing my throat.

"The fear and the horror wrenched through every nerve in my body and I was completely aware. The man moved away and I heard their voices drifting further from me, and then I turned onto my front. There was a strange rasping sound," she wrote.

She realised that the "strange rasping sound" was coming from her throat. It seemed so loud she tried to make it stop, afraid that they would hear her.

But her breathing was no longer controllable so she tried to close the opening with her hand.

Her fingers just sank into the open wound.

The men were speaking in Afrikaans, their voices floated towards her.

"Do you think she's dead?" said one.

"No one can survive that," the other replied.

She remained perfectly still, even when she felt something plop onto her back.

The car's engine spluttered into life. She could hear the men driving away. She was alone and dying.

"At that moment, I knew I had to at least leave a clue about who did this to me so I wrote their names in the sand and 'I love Mom' beneath it," she said.

After many out-of-body experiences, she decided to fight.

"There was so much I still wanted to do, so much that I still wanted to live for," she added.

She saw headlights through the bushes, a car on the road, and then in her attempt to get up, she felt something wet and slimy - her intestines. She tried to gather them, to put them back inside, but she struggled to hold them.

Next to her was a piece of material that one of the men had thrown onto her back earlier. It was her denim shirt and she packed her innards inside it, pulling it close against her.

"It was time to move. I crawled, struggling through dirt and broken glass, my one hand holding the shirt. With each successive movement I became increasingly tired. At some point I collapsed onto the sand, exhausted.

"But then the thought of my mother entered my mind, and I knew I had to go on. So I pushed myself up again and continued to crawl but it was taking too long. I knew then I had to get on my feet."

Alison used her free hand and got to her feet but her head fell back onto her back.

She realised then her throat had been slit from ear to ear. Her vision was gone now as her eyes had moved back with her head.

"I pulled my head forward with my free hand and my vision returned, at least temporarily. As I struggled forward my sight faded in and out and I fell many times but managed to get up again until I finally reached the road."

Alison lay on the road, hoping someone would stop and rescue her. Then someone did stop. Tiaan Eilerd, a veterinary student from Johannesburg, was on holiday in Port Elizabeth at the time.

After realising she was still alive, he kept her conscious and called an ambulance.

At the hospital, doctors were horrified by what they saw.

They didn't believe she would pull through.

Dr Alexander Angelov would later state that in his 16 years as a doctor he had never seen someone with such severe injuries.

Alison was in surgery for three hours.

By the time she woke up, news of her ordeal had spread around the country.

Thousands of people showed their support by sending cards, letters and flowers.

Three weeks after her ordeal, she was able to go home.

Her attackers were arrested and charged, after Alison identified them from police pictures while she was in hospital.

The Noordhoek Ripper Trial, as it was known, is one of the most high-profile cases in South African legal history.

Both her attackers, Frans du Toit and Teuns Kruger, pleaded guilty to eight charges, including kidnapping, rape and attempted murder.

Judge Chris Jansen found them guilty on all charges and sentenced them to life in prison.

Today she is an extremely popular and influential motivational speaker.

She has travelled to more than 30 countries, sharing her story and her ABC system of dealing with trauma and life with countless people, including some of the survivors of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

In her time of healing, she also found love and married Tienie Botha in February 1997.

"Tienie and I have known each other for many years but not very well.

"We met again at a friend's house about a year after my attack.

"He was severely depressed himself at the time because of unresolved childhood trauma, and I was trying to fight my own depression.

"I think our mutual desperation was the basis for our friendship deepening as we helped each other get out of the 'dark'. There was no specific thing that happened or moment when I knew that he was 'the one' - it was just the most natural thing for us to discuss the future knowing that we would spend the rest of our lives together."

Alison made the decision to show her face to the rest of the country and to tell her story. She didn't want to be the "Noordhoek victim" any longer.

In December 1995, she quit her job and decided to get into public speaking after someone asked what she charged for giving a speech.

On November 14, 2003, she gave birth to a 3,56-kg baby boy, Danial. Matthew arrived last month.

"Being a mother is the most important thing that I have ever done in my life. To know that it is all actually about someone else is an incredibly humbling experience.

"I take the responsibility very seriously but my sons make it easy, especially Daniel because he is so very beyond his years in personality, attitude and ability.

"We cannot wait to see how Matthew's character differs from Danial's. My desire for both my sons is that they will always be true to themselves."

At the moment she wants to concentrate on being a mother and spending time with her sons, but has added her voice to the You/ Huisgenoot Fight Against Crime campaign "because I believe that the situation in the country is now desperate".

She is grateful her story inspires others to deal with trauma.

"Believing that I could live the night of my attack and seeing the miraculous result of that belief is also a great life achievement for me.

"The personal e-mails and notes that I receive from people whose lives have been 'saved' because they heard or read my story has to be the most rewarding and valuable achievement - they make it all worth the while.

"We may not always control the circumstances that we find ourselves in but we can always control what we do within them".

Alison talks on Carte Blanche on M-Net on Sunday night.

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