Today, Benjamin, who grew up in Mitchells Plain and Montana, is a well-established psychologist with a PhD who is using her expertise to assist communities tormented by the violence on the Cape Flats.
She is the founder of the Community Action Towards a Safer Environment (Case), an NGO in Hanover Park which offers programmes to residents affected by violence and crime.
Benjamin, 42, attended Herschel Girls private school but said she was able to see “both sides of the coin” as she grew up on the Cape Flats.
Her father, a principal at a school in Hanover Park, and her mother, who ran a children’s home for 70 boys, were both actively involved in community work.
“That has always been part of my life. Our house was like a train station; we always had some boy, family or person living in our house. Unconsciously and consciously, I was always reminded that even though I was in a very privileged private school, my priority was always about how I could serve people.
"Interestingly, when I met up with people from my childhood they reminded me that I had always said I wanted to help people and I wanted to be an author.”
Benjamin earned a bachelor of social science degree in psychology and sociology in 1995, an honours degree in psychology in 1996 and a master's degree in clinical psychology in 1999, all at UCT. She earned a PhD in psychology from Stellenbosch University in 2014.
In 1999, Benjamin served as the reparation and reconciliation assessment facilitator for the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and, in 2006, she was awarded the Ashoka Fellowship for her social entrepreneurship.
Through Case, which was started in 2001, a number of people have been trained as trauma counsellors and mentors. Benjamin said the reason she formed Case, instead of going into private practice, was because she needed to follow her heart.
“While I was writing up Case, I was meeting with the head of Safe Schools, who was very interested and supportive of the project. I wrote a proposal and he sent it on to whoever was interested. At the same time, I was consulting for Safe Schools and being called out when there was a shooting and a need to do debriefings.”
One day, she got news that a child had committed suicide in Hanover Park.
“I went to the house and his body was still in the house.”
A few minutes later, her father, Archie Benjamin, arrived as the boy was a pupil at Mount View High School, where he was principal.
“While I was trying to work out what happened with this boy, it uncovered a whole lot of cases of child abuse. This is how I got involved in Hanover Park and started the first trauma-counselling training with unemployed people in the area,” she said.
Case runs a number projects which include after-school activities, counselling, men’s projects, support groups, women’s groups, youth groups, as well as literacy programmes.
Benjamin also facilitates “trauma-informed processes of healing” through her consultancy Restore Reconnect Rebuild (R-Cubed), which focuses on working alongside diverse people and communities to address violence and trauma in South Africa.
She said while it is Women’s Month, “it is time we also started to focus more on healing and developing men to prevent violence against women and children”.
“I also wish more women knew how valuable and worthy they are, so they can all reach their full potential.
"Everything I have done in my life has led me to where I am now,” Benjamin said.