Heidi Custers

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Heidi Custers

Johannesburg, South Africa
Heidi Custers

16 days of activism, not just a campaign

1 December, 2009, by Heidi, category My life, Random


I was 10, my mother and father had been divorced for quite a while and my mom had just met a new man. He was amazing, or so everyone said. A rich, handsome and charismatic ex world champion sportsman who was the perfect catch. Except I never liked him, there was always something that just felt off.

We lived in this big fancy mansion on the hill and had everything we ever wanted. But it wasn’t long until the fights started, and those soon escalated into abuse. He believed that women ‘had their place’ and shouldn’t step out of it. My mom, bless her, made every excuse in the book – she had ‘fallen off her bike’, ‘tripped down the stairs’… you get the picture. Everyone knew what was going on but nobody thought it was their place to intervene.

3 years later and my mother was a broken woman – we had left many times. Slept at my grandmother’s house, on friends’ couches, even under the cutting table at her clothing factory one night. We kept going back though. It would be fine for a few months and then it would start again. The shouting and swearing and then the dull thuds, followed by weeping.

Materially, we had a dream existence, TVs in our custom designer bedrooms in a huge house, fancy holidays and presents. None of this made up for what happened when the lights went out, what my baby sister and I had to listen to. I even started hockey – not because I wanted to play it but because I got access to a hockey stick, the closest thing I had to a weapon. I lost count of how many nights I would roll up a towel under my sister’s door so it would block out the sound and then wait at the bottom of the stairs holding my hockey stick for dear life, trying to pluck up the courage to go attack him with it. I fell asleep on those stairs on many nights, in my ‘bad hair day’ bunny night, a 13 year old girl who did not know innocence.

Eventually, we left for the final time. We were living in a tiny 2 bedroom apartment with hardly anything but we were happy and we were together, and that was all that mattered.

The night that it happened was like any other Friday night; I was at the mall with my friends, just lurking like any other 13 year old. My mom was supposed to pick us up at 10pm. At 11:30 she pulled up and when we got in the car we smelled the petrol immediately. I initially didn’t connect it with the huge plume of smoke rising in the sky from his complex. It was only when the cops arrived and took my mother away that I realised it was more serious than anything that had come before. She torched his house – burned it to the ground. And you know what – I don’t blame her for it – I actually applaud her for it. Yes, her actions were extreme but she broke the cycle and to me, that is all that matters. It stopped after that, things got worse before they got better – but they got better.

I’ve told a few people this story and they all marvel at “how well I turned out in spite of the abuse”. I still believe that it wasn’t in spite of the abuse, it was because of it. But also because I’ve never been afraid to share my story with friends. It was only after @Shebegee’s inspirational and courageous blog post that I realised that the 16 Days of Activism campaign is not just about being aware of women & child abuse, but about those of us who managed to get out of the situations we were in telling our stories. Our stories will hopefully give the people who are still stuck in that cycle some hope. All we can do is show them that there is a way out, that life can get better.

On Friday night I had a dinner with some awesome ladies. Afterwards I stood in the rain for 20 minutes watching the musical fountains and marvelling at my wonderful life. I have everything I ever dreamed of, and I’m thankful.

I stopped the cycle, I’m one of the lucky ones. If you or one of your loved ones is getting abused, get out. Now.


  1. Laura |

    We all have a story!

    A story that shapes us and makes us who we are today. They arent always pretty stories but they are ours!

    Well done to your mom – burning a house down takes more courage than simply leaving – so a huge big girl power high five to her 🙂

  2. Heidi |

    Aw, thanks guys – It’s great to know there is so much support out there.

    I’m going to share this page with my mom so she can see your messages.


  3. SheBee |

    😀 Well done on getting this out there. What an awesome story to overcome, and to share with your children one day. Their granny will be a legend!

  4. Phil Steyn (BB) |

    Not cool to get a big man crying @ work…….

    Sorry for not knowing (or asking) what you went through.
    Thank you for sharing it with us.

  5. Andra |

    Heidi your 4 snowgoose girls are amazing!! Go make AMAZING new memories!