The truth set free

Sharing the confronting stories of a brave few has motivated Geraldine Coy to write a book about the experiences that led to her fleeing her home of South Africa.

Geraldine, who now lives between Yarra Valley and her holiday home in Walhalla, was forced to leave South Africa 14 years ago after writing a report that detailed the atrocities committed post-apartheid.

Focused on two townships outside of Cape Town, Geraldine and two other commissioners were asked by the Cape Town City Council to look into the unpunished crimes that were occurring in the area as a result of poor governance. The report she was left to write identified the perpetrators of crime in Crossroads and Philippi – which included councillors, police officers and politicians – making her a target once the report was released in December 1998.

“The chairperson said because it was so close to Christmas they would not do anything about the findings until the next meeting on 20 January,” Geraldine said.

Geraldine said because she knew no one would be arrested for several weeks and the perpetrators could identify her and her family due to the report’s release, she was no longer safe in the country.

She said the death threats that followed were not the first she had received, but it was the “first time threats were also against my family”.

“The next day when the newspapers came out, I knew I had to leave. Within five hours, I’d left my home, my job, my house, my life, and then a month later my country.”

Geraldine also left behind her three children and husband, who, unlike her, did not hold an Australian passport. Alone and looking for work in different cities, Geraldine finally settling in Melbourne and six months later was reunited with her family. She said the horror of what she had heard and the terror she experienced were too raw for her to recount on paper, but late last year she felt ready to share her story and began writing.

“There’s one woman’s story in the book I still can’t talk about… she had lost so much and she deserved so much more than what she got. I wrote it for her,” Geraldine said.

She said while the council eventually acted on the recommendations of the report in March 1999, during that period of inaction several innocent people died unnecessarily.

“We held public hearings where people came forward and shared their stories of crimes,” Geraldine said.

“From the beginning of January to 5 November 1998 there were 133 case reports involving 23 murders, 53 arson, 40 attempted murders and various others.”

She said the four pillars of truth that had guided her report and the Mandela Government’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission had been integral to the country’s healing.

However she looked on at her former home with sadness, knowing in many ways, there was “so much work to be done” and the gap between the rich and poor was not closing.

She said while she knew it was safe to return, she had only done so to visit, and Australia was her home.

Geraldine will launch her book, Brave Truth, at Walhalla Mechanics Institute Hall on Saturday from 3pm. For more information visit