PLEASE NOTE: if you feel that you could be traumatised in any way by reading an article about burglary, we urge you not to read Nicky’s account of her experience. Also, this is one woman’s account of how she got through and processed a difficult experience, and is not intended in any way to be a guide for how to act during a robbery
‘I’m so grateful we’re ok’: Nicky Franklin with daughter Katie | Photo: Ross Bentley
How did Johannesburg mother of four NICKY FRANKLIN react when burglars invaded her home? She told SUE BENTLEY what gave her strength
Nicky Franklin (57) has lived in Johannesburg all her life. She attended Kingsmead College, then worked as a nursing sister and midwife before moving into medical sales. She married advocate Alistair Franklin in 1989 and they have four adult daughters. Nicky is currently chairperson of Community Assisting Schools, an NPO largely involved in supporting disadvantaged schools with meals, educational assistance, bursaries and holiday programmes
‘A man jumped onto my back from behind as I walked through the pool room door, his hands like a vice around my neck. We wrestled to the ground, and I felt I was fighting for my life. Beads of moisture stood out on my attacker’s face, and I was enveloped in panic and the smell of sweat and fear.
‘In Jesus’s name,’ I said loudly when I got a chance to grab a desperate breath.
At that, my attacker started to tremble and sweat even more profusely. He released his hold and we stood up.
‘Are you a Christian?” he said.
‘Yes, I am,’ was my loud response.
‘Do you know how I feel?’ he asked.
‘I know you’re very scared,’ I replied.
That’s when I saw my husband Alistair lying on the floor in a foetal position, covered in blood and tied up with cable ties. He looked badly injured. This can’t be happening, I thought.
Nicky: ‘I felt I was fighting for my life’ | Photo: Ross Bentley
It was 2am. We’d had a party at our house. I’d gone across the cool lawn to close the pool room. Evelyn, our domestic worker, was sleeping with her twin baby grandchildren in our cottage outside. There were two attackers, both of them carrying knives; I think of them as the bad one and the reluctant one, although they were both terrifying. The latter was the one I had first encountered in the pool room.
Visually, the whole thing was made doubly surreal by their being dressed in exactly the same outfits – new jeans, hoodies, takkies and red bandanas covering their mouths, which made it hard to know who was who. It was so confusing, added to which I couldn’t always understand what they were saying. They forced us back into the house, tied my hands as well, and for two and a half terrifying hours they ransacked our home.
Nicky is also involved with ‘The Link Literacy Project‘, a NPO in Johannesburg that supports disadvantaged schools. ‘I find that by contributing to other people you grow, and it fulfills you,’ she says
They asked me who else was in the house and I didn’t dare tell them about Katie, our 28-year old daughter, who was sleeping upstairs. Alistair and I sat in the lounge, tied up, uncomfortable, apprehensive, and not knowing what would happen next. We watched as our TV, computers, alcohol, and other belongings were all carted outside and packed into Katie’s VW Polo. In search of more goods, the reluctant one took me upstairs to the main bedroom. He helped me to sit down on the floor and admitted he was cross with his partner for hurting Alistair.
As he ransacked my cupboards, I told him that he could take my belongings but it would mean I couldn’t do my voluntary work, part of which is feeding 100 children every day.
‘Do you feed Mozambican children?’ he asked.
‘Yes, I do.’ I replied.
‘You’re a woman of great love,’ he replied.
‘Now, where are your guns, your safe and money?’ And then, more forcefully, ‘Where are they?’
‘I have some money, but no guns or a safe. You can bring me my bible from next to my bed,’ I said. ‘I’ll put all 10 fingers on it and swear to that.’
This made him edgy, and he took me downstairs again. Both attackers then went back upstairs and Alistair and I heard Katie screaming.
‘They’ve got her,’ I said to Alistair. Nausea and horror swept through me.
Nicky with husband Alistair and daughters (from back to front and left to right): Caroline (22), Katie (28), Emma (26) and Sam (19)
A few minutes later they pushed Katie into the lounge. Later we discovered that she had woken up with them on top of her with their hands around her neck. She hadn’t known if we were alive or dead, and begged them to take her downstairs. In the lounge, I told her not to make a sound; Alistair was quiet, because he knew that, as a man, he mustn’t say anything to provoke a response. He told me afterwards that he thought I spoke too much, but I was praying, and I believe I was given a wisdom about when to speak and when not to.
They asked for our credit cards and phones, and I said, ‘Just give me my phone and I’ll E-wallet the money to you, even though the children that it was meant for will have to go hungry. And you can’t take one of those cellphones because it belongs to my friend.’
‘All right,’ said the reluctant one, ‘You keep your phone and I’ll leave hers in this drawer over here.’
He gave me his phone number and I sent money to him. Fortunately I had a limit on my account.
‘You can’t take that cell phone because it belongs to a friend,’ said Nicky. The burglar agreed to leave it behind | Photo: Ross Bentley
The bad one then took Katie upstairs to her room. I wanted to be sick. I knew I had to do something.
‘Do you have a mother?’ I said, extremely firmly, to the reluctant one.
‘Yes,’ he replied.
‘Well, listen to me now. I am a mother, and my daughter is not allowed to be alone in her bedroom with a man, so please take me up there right now,’ I said loudly and firmly.
He didn’t want to at first, then he changed his mind. ‘We won’t harm you or rape you,’ he said on the way up.
Katie was lying on the floor of her room. Suddenly, something I said infuriated the reluctant one and he pushed me hard onto the floor and tied me up from my elbows to my hands, as well as tying my ankles. He gagged me and used all of Katie’s belts and resistance bands to tie me up so tight that the belts were cutting into my skin. Then he left me and continued ransacking her room. I was exhausted and simply did not know what to do anymore.
‘I’ll swear on my bible.’ Nicky said | Photo: Ross Bentley
‘Jesus, please help me,’ I said. It sounds impossible to believe, but in that instant, everything used to tie me up loosened, and I could move my hands.
‘Katie, you won’t believe this. I’m free.’ Astounded, I immediately thought of Jesus’s disciple Peter being miraculously freed from his prison chains.
‘Well, don’t say anything, Mom,’ she hissed at me. ‘Wait till they’ve gone.’
Just then, at 4.30 in the morning, Evelyn’s son-in-law drove in to fetch something from her. This is something he’s never done in 20 years. That’s when Evelyn realised something was going on in the house and hit the panic button.
We heard one of the attackers shouting, ‘Gijima, gijima. Run, run,’ and they ran, leaping into the car laden with our belongings. With its doors still open, they raced away down the road.
I wriggled my hands free, untied Katie and Alistair, and drove him to hospital immediately. Our attackers had tied him so tight with cable ties initially that he was losing circulation and asked them to loosen the ties. They’d cut one of them and in the process had injured him, only just missing a major artery. It seems they hadn’t wanted to harm us, and even applied a tourniquet to his leg.
Throughout this dreadful experience, despite being horrified and afraid, I believe we were protected by God. I’m grateful that the attackers were not drunk or affected by drugs, as I know things could have gone very differently and I’m extremely proud of my family for not panicking.
Comfortable with the reins: ‘I met Alistair at a party,’ says Nicky. ‘I didn’t want to go but my mom said I must because I might meet my future husband! We got on well after that, but he was always going away for weekends. I had to pin him down and say, “Look here, do you want a girlfriend?”‘ | Photo: Ross Bentley
Nicky also helps run a volunteer-based project that assists young children with maths and literacy. This young pupil attends Johannesburg’s HA Jack School
We had a trauma debrief almost immediately and then trauma counselling in the next few days. I hadn’t fully understood just how physically ill trauma can make one feel, so the counselling helped us to deal with the physical as well as the psychological effects, which essentially wore off over the next two weeks.
We’ve been astounded by the outpouring of love and support from family and friends, and it’s been a real reminder to be grateful for community. My family and friends and broader community have all been a huge support.
Initially I was angry to have been made to feel unsafe in my own home, that our haven of love and security had been so radically disturbed. I even wanted to sell the house and move away. I’m still edgy when strangers get too close to me and I’ve had flashbacks of the attacker jumping onto my back. Despite the anger, I’m fully aware from my nursing experience and my charity work that so many people live in desperate circumstances and are often forced to steal in order to survive. I also know from experience that I need to forgive my attackers in order to heal.
‘You realise that nothing can be done on your own, we all rely on each other,’ says Nicky of her community involvement
Prayer has also helped me recover, I found my faith at the age of 17 when I started to play the Ouija board, thinking it was just a fun game, but began to have scary visions. I went to a church for prayer and had a profound experience of God. I believe that prayer is paramount in everything, and my non-believing friends often ask me to pray for them if something goes wrong.
To me, God means peace, love, patience, grace, a guide to living this life on earth and the promise of eternal life. I would encourage every person to seek out a life blessed with the presence of God. I really wish more people could experience the joy of trusting in His plan for their lives.
I’m just so grateful that we are all ok. Alistair’s entire family lives in New Zealand, but we are definitely staying in South Africa. We absolutely love it, mainly because of friends, family and community – and the weather too! We choose to look on the positive side and be grateful about everything here.’
‘YOU GROW THROUGH ALL YOUR EXPERIENCES’:
FURTHER THOUGHTS FROM NICKY
- A burglary is frightening but it’s good to recognise that you grow and mature through all your experiences
- If you’ve experienced a traumatic experience, have trauma counselling if you can
- Look after yourself physically and spiritually. I exercise regularly and I’ve been going every week for fifteen years to a bible study with mature Christian friends, as well as to a weekly communion service
- Appreciate your family and community and make sure you’re contributing to them by using the talents you’ve been given
- Deuteronomy 31:6 ‘Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; He will never leave you or forsake you.’
This text was on my mind throughout the robbery and I’m now even more conscious of its truth
‘INTERACT TOGETHER IN THE WARMTH OF THE FIRE’ – NICKY SHARES NEWFOUND PERSPECTIVE
FIGHT, FLIGHT OR FREEZE?
‘It is a natural response to either fight, flight or freeze,’ says Cape Town-based clinical psychologist Rob Arnott. There are situations where the individual successfully pushes back against the threat of the attack, he says. However, fighting back is not encouraged as the risk of loss of life is very real.
WHAT TO DO IF BURGLARS SURPRISE YOU AT HOME
- KNOW YOUR SAFE SPACE Decide (preferably beforehand) where the safest space in your home is. As soon as you’re aware of the invasion, gather in this area: somewhere lockable with few or no windows. Keep an emergency kit ready, including a torch, a phone with emergency numbers, some pepper spray or any other defensive weapon
- SET OFF A SIREN Alarms can easily be disarmed by criminals but a bull-horn that imitates police or security company tones could send them fleeing
- BE EXIT SAVVY Discuss an escape route with your housemates beforehand, including the not-so-obvious, such as a back window. Keep in mind to perform an exit as soundlessly as possible. Also arrange for a safe area where you can wait until help arrives
- PANIC BUTTON PROXIMITY Bear in mind that you rarely have more than a few seconds to alert authorities, so portable panic buttons close to your bed, in your bathroom and other easy-to-reach places are valuable investments
- HIDING OVER HANDLING If you have a choice between facing burglars or staying out of their sight, evade their presence. Though tempting to confront them about their trespassing, it’s rarely safer than escaping the scene altogether. Use a weapon to stall them only if you’re being attacked: legally, physical harm to attackers is deemed viable only when you believe you or your loved ones’ lives are in danger