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The black dog behind the scenes

Tuesday 31 October I got to work, got my coffee and settled at my desk for a read through “Die Burger”. The front page article read:

“Man skiet sy eksvrou”

Die photo caption was:

“n Man loop verby die toneel waar ‘n man homself geskiet het, nadat hy sy vervreemde vrou geskiet het”.

Stop. Rewind. To 19 October 2009.

The evening my ex-partner, the photo journalist for Die Burger, Garth Stead, decided to take his own life.

Exactly 8 years and 2 weeks till this incident.

Why so many suicides in October? A question I’ve asked so many times.

According to the website “Some researchers still believe that weather may drive the increase in suicides in spring. It’s possible that people who are depressed can’t muster the energy to make and go through with a suicide plan in the winter”.

But after 9 years, no scientific explanation can provide me with an answer.

There are no answers once a loved one has taken his or her own life. Only pain. Suffocating pain.

A month after Garth’s death, his best friend, Ondine, and I enrolled for a scuba diving course at the Two Oceans Aquarium. I couldn’t breath and could feel how I was sinking lower and lower every day. I thought learning to breath under water, would help. I didn’t. What I did learn was that crying under water is absolutely possible!

This year, on Tuesday 9 January I made contact with Elsanne Kamffer. The shooting accident left her paralysed, fighting for her life.

That morning our Programme Director, Clive Ridgway told me that his wife, Elaine, is following Elsanne’s Facebook blog, My Journey Back, and that we should get her into studio for a conversation on our late night talk show, The Honest Truth with Benito Vergotine.

I asked her if she would be willing to talk about her ex-husband and his struggle with depression, the omnipotent “black dog” who was part of their 27 year relationship. I wanted her to say how she felt towards Kobus. Was she mad at him? Did she scream and shout at the Woodstock wind, like I did – only to realise, there’ll never be a reply?

She agreed to do the interview.

I still remember this bubbly person’s voice trembling, talking to Benito from her hospital bed, talking about Kobus. Saying that she’s known and loved him for 27 years. He was always suffering from depression, they tried everything but that he did not want help. He was too brave, too manly, to say – HELP, I’m falling apart. Benito asked her: “Elsanne, het jy kwade gevoelens, ‘n wrok teen Kobus, oor wat hy gedoen het?” And her answer was a definite NO. She said that he had reached a new low after she left him and met someone else and that it may sound strange, but for him, there was nothing else to do.

There are no answers.

After 9 years I’ve come to accept that for Garth, that was his only way out. That was the only thing he could do. He did not think about me, his two young boys, his brothers, his mom, his friends and colleagues. He could not go on any more.

The brightest candle burns the shortest time, right?

Since January I’ve been in contact with Elsanne, cheering to every small victory in hospital, getting into the wheelchair, doing her daily gym sessions and counting down the days to her going home to Ivan.

When Lauren, Elsanne’s colleague’s call came through on Monday 5 March, my first thought was to ask Elsanne to also share her story on Smile Breakfast. And after her partner Ivan’s conversation with Bobby and Lindy the idea of Smile Breakfast to the Rescue was set in motion.

We wanted to do something special for Elsanne.

Having long conversations with Ivan, we’ve decided that a wheelchair friendly kitchen for Elsanne, is exactly what’s needed. And so the conversations continued. Ivan at some stage said to me, he is really not comfortable keeping all these secrets from Elsanne, they’ve never had any secrets! For a day or two I felt a bit like a “skelmpie”! I would phone him and he would say: “Hi, kan jy later terug bel”. That was the cue for me that Elsanne was next to him!

Jano Roux was the first Smile 90.4FM listener to step on board.

Coincidentally we went to school together and were both in the Drama group. I asked him to put on his actors hat, go to Elsanne’s house and pretend to be a buddy of Ivan to have a look at the kitchen. When I spoke to Ivan that afternoon, he mentioned that Elsanne asked why he has never introduced Jano to her, because he is quite a looker!

Jano’s friend Stuart from Timber City Stellenbosch was the second Smile 90.4FM listener to offer help with the project and the ball was set rolling!

What an incredible journey it’s been.

The messages, calls and emails between me, Jano, Ivan, Rika (Elsanne’s best friend), Lauren, Elsanne’s colleagues and Elsanne have definitely been worth the surprise on Monday morning, when Elsanne saw her brand new kitchen!

I sent Ivan a message on Friday: “Dankie dat julle my in jul lewens verwelkom het”.

His answer: “Jy gaan beslis ‘n deel van ons lewens bly”.


Christine Wessels – Senior Producer at Smile90.4FM