Beaten and jailed – a story of survival

Jenny Cullinan in a Simon’s Town Magistrate’s Court holding cell two days after being brutally attacked by a man on the mountain.

As part of Women’s Month, the Echo will speak to some extraordinary women, who, despite facing great difficulties, remain strong, give back to their communities and refuse to be defeated.

Scribbles on the walls of a small holding cell at the Simon’s Town Magistrate’s Court tell a grim tale of people who have spent time there.

Jenny Cullinan, a wild-bee researcher from Simon’s Town, is one of them.

She was shut in the small cell behind a thick steel door two days after surviving a brutal attack on the mountain near the entrance to Cape Point on July 31 last year.

According to Ms Cullinan, she was repeatedly struck on the front and side of her head with a stick by a man, and with blood pouring down her face and neck, she fled for her life while trying to protect her two small dogs, Georgie and Josie.

She needed five stitches in her head after the attack and had extensive bruising on her face, she says.

After being denied entry to the trauma room at the Simon’s Town police station due to Covid-19, while giving her statement, she thought the worst was over until she was called to the police station on August 2 “to discuss her case”. Instead, she was locked up in a holding cell next to her alleged attacker. He had made a counter charge against her, claiming she had slapped him.

Still in pain and with her swollen face hidden behind a mask, she spent several hours in the cell.

“It was very cold in there and I was terrified. You can hear people screaming and pulling at the bars just like in the movies.”

But Ms Cullinan was not in a movie, and a year later, on the anniversary of her attack, she found herself reliving the trauma of that day.

“It was a very difficult day for me and despite all attempts not to think about it, as the time of the attack on the day arrived, I relived it all.”

Ms Cullinan has a permit to be on SANParks property, and on the afternoon of her attack, she was on the mountain with Georgie and Josie.

Georgie, an elderly, sick dachshund, was in a pouch against her chest and Josie was on a leash.

She says she saw three people in the distance carrying something, and the man approached her while a woman and young man walked off.

She says the man, who was carrying a short stick sharpened at one edge, introduced himself and said he was a local business owner. He asked her if she knew whether fynbos could be propagated.

As she knew that the owner of that business was from Durban, she thought he might not be aware that it was a national heritage site, she told him he needed a permit to be there and he was not allowed to remove plants from the area.

She says when she turned to leave, her dog, Josie, jumped up, and as she looked around, the man was coming at her with the stick, and she ducked.

According to her, he repeatedly beat her with the stick on the front and side of her head, and as she fell to the ground, he was screaming, “I’m not touching you, I’m not touching you.”

At some stage, she says, everything went black and she realised she had to get out of there.

As she reached for her glasses, she says, he stepped over her and crushed them with his foot, and this is when she got up and made a run for it (“Victims of GBV ‘let down by system’,” Echo, March 24).

“He wasn’t finished with me. He came chasing after me, screaming ‘you want this and I’m going to give it to you’.”

A year on, she says, she can finally comprehend what happened to her that day on the mountain and realises she is “lucky to be alive.”

“It is very clear to me now that he had wanted to kill me. It has been so difficult for me to unpack, and I keep asking myself why did it happen to me?”

She says she has had to heal emotionally and physically.

She will face her alleged attacker, in the Simon’s Town Magistrate’s Court, for his trial on Tuesday August 16. He faces a charge of assault with the intent to do grievous bodily harm. He is yet to plead.

Ms Cullinan will also face her alleged attacker again today, Thursday August 11, for the court to decide whether her interim protection order can be made an order of the court, and then again, on Thursday September 1, when she will go on trial for a charge of assault.

Ms Cullinan says that since the start of her trial in March, there has been one delay after another, but she is staying strong thanks to the “tremendous support” from the community and her friends.

And her work has also kept her going, she says.

“When you do work that is greater than yourself it is your responsibility to continue despite all odds. Nature is a vulnerable element and she is our mother. Some people have no regard for mother nature, just like they have no regard for women, and it is my responsibility to do what I can to protect her.”