Pubdate: Wed, 17 Dec 2008
Source: Cape Argus (South Africa)
Copyright: 2008 Cape Argus.
Author: Leila Samodien


In the third part of our special feature, Ellen Pakkies recalls the morning 
she slipped a rope around her tik-addict son's neck and ended his life.

It's cold for September; a winter chill on a spring morning. The clock has 
not yet struck six, and silence hangs over Dover Court in Lavender Hill.

Streaks of light begin to break the darkness. Most people here won't be up 
for another hour or so, but Ellen Pakkies is wide-eyed under the covers, 
her mind pacing.

She's going to talk to Abie today, she will tell him she has had enough. 
This tik nonsense has to stop; it's time for him to pull his life together. 
If the police won't talk sense into him, she will.

Ellen couldn't sleep that night. The day before Abie, her youngest son, had 
upset her. It was her mistake - she was desperate to trust him. She let him 
in the house so that he could make a sandwich.

She hates seeing her child outside all the time. She hates having to serve 
him supper through the door, through bars.

She thought if she locked her bedroom door, he would not be able to steal 
what was left of their valuables. But no sooner had she opened the steel 
gate when two bags of clothes, not her own, went missing.

That wasn't enough.

A couple of hours later Abie came back, banging on the door, pleading for 

He did not stop until she threw a R20 note out the kitchen window, just to 
stop the nagging.

Thoughts of her troubled son had kept her awake all night. Now, as the sun 
starts to rise, it's time to reclaim her life.

The shrill of metal on metal rings through the morning air. It's a familiar 
sound. She's heard it a million times before, at all hours of the day and 
night. It means Abie's home.

He has jumped over the fence again. She doesn't mind because he has no 
other way of getting to his room - a hokkie in the yard.

He is no longer allowed to use the front entrance because then he needs to 
come through the house. And she isn't making that mistake again - he's 
taken too many of their things to sell for tik or buttons.

Ellen gets out of bed. She puts on her long, peach nightgown, a gift from 
one of the elderly ladies she once cared for. She is determined to have it 
out with her son.

When she gets to Abie's room she finds him in another drug stupor. He's 
lying face-down on the floor next to his bed.

The 3m by 2m room has almost nothing left in it. Most of his drawings, 
music tapes and even his clothes have been sold or discarded. All that 
remains is a bed, a table, four steel walls and an unbearable smell - Abie 
hasn't washed properly for days. He must be cold after a long night away 
from home.

Ellen asks him if he wants tea.

"Hmm," he murmurs vaguely. He doesn't open his eyes.

Ellen goes back to the kitchen and makes his tea - heaping three sugars and 
milk into the mug, just the way he likes it.

She returns to the hokkie and looks down at her sleeping son. She puts the 
tea down and leaves to say goodbye to her husband, Odniel Pakkies. She 
waves goodbye to him from behind the steel gates of their front door.

Then she walks to Abie's old bedroom - the one that he lived in before the 
tik. His walls were once plastered with inspirational posters.

The space was filled by his double bunk bed, his soccer balls and cricket 
bats, and tapes of him and friends rapping. It was once full of life.

But now, as Ellen enters the room there is only a TV, couches, a broken 
computer and a rope on a desk.

A rope no thicker than an adult's finger, but strong enough to tow a 
bakkie. She picks up the rope.

She doesn't know what she's thinking - her mind is blank. She just stands 
there, rope in hand. She feels calm.

Ellen returns to Abie's hokkie. He's picked himself off the floor and is 
now sleeping on his bed. The tea remains untouched.

For the second time that morning she stands over her boy. She is flooded 
with thoughts - thoughts of the sweet baby he was and the monster he has 
become. The rope is still in her hands.

She ties it into a noose. She slips it over his neck. Abie wakes up. He 
blinks back his confusion.

"Mammie, what now?"

He feels the noose around his neck. Suddenly Abie realises what's 
happening. He fights back. He grabs a plank off the floor. He lunges at his 
mother with the wooden board, but he can't reach her.

Ellen is composed. The rope isn't tight - she only wants to talk.

But Abie looks scared. He swears at her. He calls her a ps like he has so 
many times before. She hates it when he swears.

Ellen tells her son to put the plank down. He refuses.

"Abie, why don't you appreciate what I do for you? I will go out of my way 
to do whatever for you."

Abie ignores her. He just lies there. His eyes wide open.

"Abie, now why don't you listen?"

"Mammie, I'm going to," he replies in a feeble voice. But Ellen has heard 
this too often.

"No, I've had enough of that," she says.

Then she pulls. Her grip is so firm it cuts through her skin. Blood 
trickles from her hands. She wipes off some of the blood with an old 
t-shirt of Abie's. But she continues to pull. She pulls tighter and 
tighter. She isn't angry. She doesn't feel anything; she's just calm.

It's quick. Abie's body leaps in the air. His hands reach out for support, 
for anything, for his mother. She keeps on pulling the rope. Ten seconds. 
Twenty seconds. Thirty seconds. Abie is still.

At first she thinks he's acting; he's always been a good actor. But her son 
doesn't stir; he doesn't get up. Ellen leaves the hokkie and goes into her 
house where she washes and puts on her uniform for her job as a caregiver 
for the elderly - navy-blue pants, a matching scarf and a white blouse.

It's only then that she begins to realise what she's done.

Ellen steps into the morning chill and hurries to the train station. The 
morning has broken, the sun is up, Dover Court buzzes with schoolchildren 
and housewives, their voices ringing through the square. Ellen looks at the 
people who scurry past her, some aimlessly and others with places to be.

She takes a deep breath. She will force herself to go to work. The cleaning 
lady will make her coffee, assuring her that everything is okay.

Ellen will shake her head. "No, nothing's okay," she will tell her.

"I Just Killed My Son."

The reconstruction of the murder was based on interviews with Ellen Pakkies 
and on evidence presented in court during her trial.

When Abuse Piles On Abuse, The Lines Blur

Ellen Pakkies' smile fades. Her body slumps forward, her hands clasp 
together around a mug of tea. She bows her head; her vacant eyes don't 
leave the ground. There's no emotion on her face; there are no tears. She 
tells the facts, every detail, without batting an eye.

This is how she always gets when she recounts the events of the fateful day 
she killed her 20-year-old son, Abie.

According to clinical psychologist Martin Yodaiken this is a state of 

Yodaiken compiled a psychological report for the Wynberg Regional Court, 
which last week gave Ellen a three-year suspended sentence and ordered her 
to do 280 hours of community service for murdering her son last year.

In his report Yodaiken said Ellen "disassociates" herself with the death of 
her son. She holds herself at a distance emotionally, he explained, even 
though she is perfectly capable of expressing emotion. "It is (my opinion) 
that this is a defensive reaction against the enormity of her actions in 
killing her son.

"This opinion is based on the absence of the typical emotional reaction 
that Mrs Pakkies has to events which are traumatic to her."

According to Yodaiken, Ellen was in this state of disassociation when she 
murdered Abie.

When it came to Abie, he told the court, Ellen had two distinct sides to 
her personality - the "loving mother" and the "abused woman".

While the loving mother had protected and cared for Abie throughout his tik 
addiction, the "abused woman" had acted out in killing him.

An example of the workings of these two sides was the day of Abie's 
funeral, he said. Even though the "abused woman" had murdered her son, the 
"loving mother" was able to stand up in church just days later and pay 
tribute to him at his funeral after the planned speaker failed to turn up.

Yodaiken said Ellen had endured years of abuse at the hands of Abie - 
physical and emotional.

His report documents a life of abuse. As a child, Ellen was abused by her 
parents, then she was abused by men she became involved with and then she 
was abused by her own son. The stress of this lifetime of abuse had slowly 
mounted until she reached breaking point.

"There is an accumulation of emotions that eventually exploded," Yodaiken 
testified, adding that the murder was spontaneous.

All the past perpetrators had suddenly taken the image of her present one: Abie.
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