Gertruida Gertze was 16 years old when she was raped by her boyfriend. Her family did not believe her. She fell pregnant, dropped out of school and a year later, she started drinking to numb the pain. For the next twenty years, alcohol-induced oblivion became her hiding place – and her prison. Until one Saturday morning when a desperate prayer unlocked those prison gates.

A safe space

Heavy rain pelts down on the roof of the Emporium behind Paarl’s TC Newman hospital. The group of about 30 huddle together to stay warm as they share their stories. The support group hosted by Good Hope Psychological Service is a safe space where together, they listen, laugh and cry.

“Today, they are here to share their talents,” says Clinical Pastoral Counsellor Sara van Tonder who has been facilitating the group for the past 14 years. They proudly show off their baked goods and hand-crafted items. Then Sara invites their fellow group members to point out their true talents – the gifts they carry within. Gifts like caring, perseverance, work ethic, the ability to make others laugh, warmth and steadfastness in the face of severe adversity. It is incredible to see the shy smiles appear as these brave souls look at themselves in a new light. 

Gertruida has been attending the group for the past four years. Depression is part of her life and here, she finds friendship and acceptance amongst others battling various psychiatric and emotional ills. Today she is a bit shy, but Sara tells me that she usually interacts freely with her fellow group members. She is highly likeable. Here, she can be herself.

A journey to the light

 “I’m sorry about the washing machine in my living room.” Gertruida apologises in advance as we walk along a muddy path between cramped rows of corrugated iron shacks and rickety fences in the Chester Williams squatter camp in Lantana. A neighbour has fallen ill and Gertruida is helping out with the washing. There is no need for an apology. That washing machine that takes up most of the space in her tiny home is a testimony to her compassion.

Gertruida openly shares the story of her twenty year long battle against alcohol addiction.

“I drank a lot. Twelve beers on a Friday night. Another twenty four on a Saturday. And box wine. Sometimes, stronger stuff. I now know what it did to my children, but when you’re drunk, you don’t care. I started selling our things to get money for beer. I even took our gas stove to the pawn shop.”

Her drinking took its toll on her family. Gertruida has three children, aged 16, 13 and 10. Her youngest daughter was born with fetal alcohol syndrome. “I was eight months pregnant when I found out I was pregnant with her,” says Gertruida. “I stopped drinking for the last month of my pregnancy and after her birth, I started drinking again.” 

Then five years ago, one Saturday morning, things changed. “I woke up and I prayed. I read my Bible on my phone. I knew that things couldn’t carry on that way. My eyes just opened to what I was doing to my children. Later that morning, a friend arrived with beer. When she offered me one, I said no. I made myself a flask of coffee and that whole day, whilst my friends drank and drank, I had coffee. They couldn’t believe it.”

The next day, her friends were back with more alcohol. Gertruida said no again – and since that day, she has never touched alcohol. “I can’t explain it,” she says. “It was only by the grace of God. I don’t know how else to explain it.”

The road ahead

Gertruida with Clinical Pastoral Counsellor Sara van Tonder who has been a pillar of strength.

Gertruida’s circumstances are dire. She works in the vineyards when it is harvest season, but this is back-breaking work and her body is taking strain. When Gertuida is able to claim from the unemployment fund, that money goes towards meeting the needs of her children. “I really need teeth and this month, I wanted to use that money for teeth. But then I thought: My children can’t eat teeth. We need food and they needed shoes for winter.” Gertruida’s face literally lights up as she says proudly that this winter, her children have shoes. 

I ask Gertruida about the support group. “I love going there,” she says. “Sara fetches me. We do activities, people come and speak to us to encourage and motivate us. We pray together and we get a meal. On Saturdays, we work together in the garden. I love working in the garden.”

A place of hope

Gertruida still has a long and difficult road ahead. She desperately needs a job. She is determined to build a better life for her children and accepts full responsibility for the damage that has been done because of her years of addiction. The Good Hope support group is playing a key role in her healing process. It offers her the hope of a new beginning. 

This is a safe space where she can begin to even consider the possibility that her life could change.

Slowly but surely, she is on a journey of emotional healing after the trauma that sent her life in a downward spiral 26 years ago.

“When I stay at home all the time, it feels as if my mind is shutting down. I can’t think. I can’t see where to go with my life. When I am there, my mind opens up. I am happy there.”

About Good Hope Psychological Services

  • The major focus is on individual therapy provided at their offices in Paarl and Stellenbosch. (Approximately 1000 sessions a year.) This therapy is free of charge.
  • The psychiatric support group was established 14 years ago and meets at the TC Newman clinic in Paarl.
  • The garden project at the clinic was established four years ago and is proving to be incredibly successful in terms of the therapeutic impact on the group members who work in the garden every Saturday.

How to Help

  • Contribute towards salaries for the Good Hope team. 
  • The vehicle that is used to transport the group members to the group and back home, needs to be serviced urgently. Ongoing support for its maintenance is needed.
  • The Emporium where the sessions are held needs a new glass sliding door (approximately R2000). 
  • Paint for the interior of the Emporium.
  • Plants for the therapy garden.

For more information

If you would like to get involved to help Gertruida or other clients of the Good Hope Psychological Services, please email Valcare at admin@valcare.org.za.