Monday, 2 May 2005

Marina's night of sheer terror

April 29 2005 at 03:57PM

By Christine de Kock

Beaten, stripped, hanged and left for dead. That's what happened to Marina van der Westhuizen who has made a remarkable recovery since the brutal attack in her home in June 2003.

It is an unimaginable horror that would have caused many people to hide away, but Van der Westhuizen refused to call it quits.

She says her strength is due to the support of her family, friends and colleagues. To thank them, Van der Westhuizen shared her story with the Cape Argus.

The attack happened after a braai at her home in the Lakeside suburb of Klein Wassenaar.

The guests left at about 10pm, and Van der Westhuizen started to clean up.

When she unlocked her security gate to dump rubbish in the dustbin, her attackers struck. She felt a crashing blow to the head, later discovered to have been a strike with a bottle, which left her with 20 stitches.

"There were five guys. I think they had been watching the house for a few hours," she said.

They were carrying bottles of beer, and she believes they were drunk before they started hurting her.

"You would have to be to do that to anybody."

It was the beginning of a long night.

"They dragged me into the house, and beat me."

They punched Van der Westhuizen in the eyes again and again, kicked at her ankles, broke her fingers to steal her rings and cracked her ribs.

"They smashed the back of my ankles so that I couldn't walk," she said.

"They damaged my eyes so I wouldn't be able to see and recognise them in court, I think. I kept saying to them, 'I will remember you, you are going to court.' "

Van der Westhuizen fought back.

"Then I would become unconscious. They would hit me, go and have a few drinks at the bar, and every time I woke up they would do something worse than the last time.

"I think they were going to rape me. They stripped me, but at that stage I think they were too drunk or too drugged to do it."

Van der Westhuizen thinks she passed out nine times.

The abuse continued until 5.30am when her attackers finally wrapped a television cord around her neck and strung her up from the ceiling, leaving her to die.

The men left in her car, taking her electronic equipment, CDs, jewellery and clothes. The car was later recovered.

But Van der Westhuizen did not die. The cord stretched, allowing her feet to touch the floor. She was able to loosen the cord from her neck and crawl to her neighbour's door. The shocked neighbours telephoned her sister, who rushed her to hospital.

Van der Westhuizen suffered severe physical trauma. In reaction, a tumorous cyst formed behind her right eye, which had to be treated with seven weeks of radiation. A cyst also formed above her left ankle which continues to be treated. She has had five operations in the past 15 months.

She admits there have been some dark moments during her recovery.

"But I have incredible support from my family, friends and work. Also help from God above.

"Most of the time I have been on medication - morphine and sleeping pills - I've been in terrible pain.

"But I can now say that since January I don't have permanent pain any more."

Van der Westhuizen, an advertising representative for Outdoor Network in Wetton, says of her employers: "They have been incredible. After each of my five operations I was given a month off to recover. They sent me bunches of flowers, visited me in hospital and phoned all the time to speak to me or my mom.

"When I finally got back from hospital they told me that I had been through a very rough time and should just take things slowly."

Her late boss, Derick Arthur, would ring every day, and other colleagues, particularly Brian Bushnell and Benny Bently, had been very supportive.

"Benny was always there for me. She took a lot of phone calls late at night from me."

The attack has scarred Van der Westhuizen emotionally. It is only recently that she has felt secure enough to walk on the beach and has stopped worrying that she will be stared at if she goes to the mall.

"Now that my eyes have healed no one's going to look at me wondering if 'a boyfriend hit her last night'.

"The attack crosses my mind daily. I think it will always be there, but I just have to find out how I'm going to deal with it and carry on."

Only one of Van der Westhuizen's attackers was arrested. He has been released on bail.

This article was originally published on page 11 of Cape Argus on April 29, 2005


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