M-Net’s (DStv channel 101) new true-crime docuseries, Strangers You Know, takes us inside 8 prominent cases of gender-based violence that shocked South Africa. It’s a compassionate look at how violent crimes have destroyed the lives of victims and their families, shaken communities and challenged not only how we investigate crime, but the job that lies ahead of us in understanding the nature of violence against women and how we need to change our society.
“South Africa is fighting an ongoing battle against gender-based violence, and we hope that by shining a light on some of SA’s most heinous high-profile cases, we honour the victims of these crimes and encourage more people to speak out. Through this docuseries, we aim to educate millions of South Africans about the impact of gender-based violence,” says Jan du Plessis, Director of M-Net Channels.
Series director Willem Grobler adds, “There’s going to be a far more human component to it. We try to give insight into these stories from the perspective of investigating officers, family members, forensic pathologists, legal experts, so that they (the audience) could see these stories from a new perspective. It required a lot of sensitivity. It required me to say to them (the victims’ survivors), ‘We want to create a space for you in which you can be vulnerable, because we’re going to go through those emotions with you’.”
Telling the families’ stories
Strangers You Know takes women whose killers went to appalling lengths to control them, objectify them and destroy them physically and mentally, and it restates their essential humanity, along with acknowledging the tragedy and suffering of those left behind.
Executive producer Chwayitisa Futsane says, “We are reminding (viewers) who each and every person was. That this person had dreams, had aspirations. But it’s also so important to recognise that there’s a whole other network of victims that have to pick up the pieces. Most of the episodes that we have produced are about gender-based violence. Some of the families we spoke to reached a point where they felt it was time to tell their loved one’s story, hoping that in some way their story can help another woman – whether it serves as a warning for other women or it encourages women to walk away from very difficult situations at home. What also came out in our conversations with some of the families is a sense that these crimes were ‘unthinkable’, that this is something that happened to other people. And yet as ordinary as they were, their loved one was taken away by someone they knew – a family friend, a tenant on your property, a husband, a boyfriend and even a father.”
Making sense of senseless crimes
Wynand Grobler, Executive Producer at Combined Artistic Productions – the production company behind Carte Blanche, which has brought the same journalistic integrity, passion for justice, and attention to detail to Strangers You Know – adds, “While many of the cases may be familiar to the public at large, each episode is carefully crafted in a uniquely cinematic style and delves into the finest details of complex narratives that transcend race, income or status in society. To the ordinary man, the motives behind these crimes defy logic, as do many of the senseless crimes committed across South Africa each day. This series pays homage to each victim, their families and those who worked tirelessly to resolve each case to ensure justice is served.”
Episode guide, Part 1
Strangers You Know will run for 8 episodes, which will air in 2 batches of 4.
Episode 1 (27 June) Anisha and Joey van Niekerk: Mooinooi used to be one of those sleepy little mining towns on the Platinum belt. A close-knit community where neighbors become friends and the only worry is how far the cat strays every night. But there was a man with the strange snake tattoo who used to smile and wave as people drove past. Now the memory of the brutal torture and murder of Anisha and Joey still lingers for some, serving only as a reminder that you can’t trust anyone -especially the friendly neighbor who’s watching your home with a little too much interest.
Episode 2 (4 July) Palesa Madiba: They say he buried a flower in his own backyard. Her family searched in endless hope, pressing the police until finally they caved in, unleashing the hounds into the garden. But maybe if his enablers had just told them the truth of the pretty young woman, so full of potential, lying metres away beneath the washing line, in a hastily dug grave, then the aching years of fruitlessly searching for their beloved Palesa might have been averted.
Episode 3 (11 July) Gill Packham: Gill Packham, a school administrator, had kept the same daily routine for years, leaving home early every morning in her run-down BMW and heading to the office. But, one day, she didn’t turn up for work. Hours later, her badly burnt body would be found, and investigators would soon turn their attention to her doting husband as their prime suspect. You see, Rob Packham was a man who wanted to be sure: he hit her hard on the jaw, incapacitating her, dealing a second, deadly blow to the back of her head before contorting her lifeless body into the boot of her own vehicle and setting it alight.
Episode 4 (18 July) Baby Jenna-May: She remembered knitting the white baby jacket and the pretty little nursery room that was ready for her granddaughter’s homecoming. Just five days to go and they would all finally meet Baby Jenna-May. But that Valentine’s Day was different: a frantic call from her daughter crushed all their dreams. There had been a hijacking; two shots to the stomach ended the baby’s life. Yet another unthinkable horrific random act of violence committed in this forsaken country. But investigators weren’t quite convinced that the proud father-to-be was as innocent as he first claimed. An undercover operation, and a witness willing to sing, helped them piece together how a father planned his own baby’s brutal demise.
Watch Strangers You Know S1 Sundays on M-Net (DStv channel 101) at 20:00
M-Net (DStv channel 101) is available exclusively on DStv Premium. To get DStv or to upgrade your package, click here.