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No closer to justice but very close to the edge

In Afgrond, the stories of five women are laid bare as sexual harassment, memory loss, twisted family dynamics and tragedy force them onto the couch of an emotionally stunted psychologist
Thu, Mar 04, 2021

In 2017, the world sat up straight when women in America voiced their stories of sexual abuse by the then Hollywood maverick, Harvey Weinstein. The #MeToo movement picked up speed, and as more women came to the fore – not only as victims of Weinstein but many other prominent figures – a collective female breath was released.

It seemed as if the world had listened to us and heard the stories of what we are up against. The ugly truth is that it doesn't always work like that. A 2007 study about consequences of workplace sexual harassment put it bluntly and truthfully: "Sexual harassment has been identified as one of the most damaging and ubiquitous barriers to career success and satisfaction for women." It's a career-ender. Full stop. You talk, you walk.

In Afgrond, the stories of five women are laid bare as sexual harassment, memory loss, twisted family dynamics and tragedy force them onto the couch of an emotionally stunted psychologist.

Hannelie Fourie (Marguerite van Eeden) knows that what her boss is doing to her at work is wrong. She also knows that her career as a law secretary will be cut short if she says anything about the harassment, so she unpacks her baggage at her sessions with her psychologist, Julia (Jana Kruger). Ultimately, she'll have to decide how to set herself free – with damning consequences for her and many others.

"Living in South Africa, there is a pandemic of gender-based violence, so just by reading the news every day, we're confronted with people that experience what my character experiences," van Eeden says.

Julia, in turn, struggles with her own demons – mostly the guilt over the death of her son, which has her trapped in a problematic marriage and has left her emotionally stunted.

"I personally love the challenges of finer nuance acting," Kruger says. "To be emotionally stunted asks of you first to access the emotions at play and then to compartmentalise them into submission."

Three other women have a place on Julia's couch, each with their own struggles, hopes and fears. "I loved the fact that my character is a pivotal link for this network narrative story form," Kruger says.

Afgrond steers clear of the cliché, and the story unpacks difficult themes in an unsensational way. "Afgrond taught me some things about patriarchy and abuse. The first thing is that our legal system doesn't really protect the people that are being abused. To a certain extent, I feel it protects the people that are causing the abuse," van Eeden says.

"I learned, through Hannelie, that the physical abuse, the sexual assault, rape… it stays with you forever. One of the edges that she stands on is that if something happens to her boss if she comes forward, she'll still need to live with it for the rest of her life. How do you make peace with that?"

Kruger says the storyline is "absolutely relevant. It investigates the problem of abuse. Afgrond sheds light on the chaos created in the victim's life. It looks at some of the root causes – what drives men (or women) to abuse one another sexually? Do the partners of abusers enable them in some way? And why do victims 'allow' it?"

Tough questions are asked of the characters and the audience, and you might not like the answers you come up with.

The all-star cast also includes Stian Bam, Kim Cloete, Nadia Valvekens, Chris van Niekerk, Elsabé Daneel and Ivan Zimmerman.

  • Watch Afgrond every Wednesday at 8pm on kykNET, DStv channel 144