Sisters in arms: Ellen Pakkies on set with Jill Levenberg, the actress who plays her in the film, Ellen: Die Ellen Pakkies Storie. The Cape Town mother collaborated in the making of the film. Picture: SUPPLIED
Sisters in arms: Ellen Pakkies on set with Jill Levenberg, the actress who plays her in the film, Ellen: Die Ellen Pakkies Storie. The Cape Town mother collaborated in the making of the film. Picture: SUPPLIED

On the Cape Flats the scourge of tik (crystal meth) addiction holds many families and communities hostage to despair and fear.

Ellen Pakkies’s story became widely known after she detailed in a book — now being reissued to coincide with the release of a film — how, in desperation, she strangled her tik-addicted son in 2007.

She handed herself in to the police and, although she was convicted for Abie’s murder, the prosecution acknowledged that substantial and compelling circumstances existed to justify a sympathetic sentence. The Wynberg regional court sentenced her to a three-year prison term, suspended for three years, and 280 hours of community service.

Pakkies worked with Amy Jephta, who wrote the film script based on her book. Once again, she picked through the painful story of a son unable to deal with the tragedy of his life and who turned away from his father and mother into the fatal embrace of drug dealers.

In the Pakkies family, Ellen’s past influenced decisions that were made and shaped her family’s responses to problems. She knew how to wage battle with the world.

She had an abusive childhood and was used to fighting her way out of trouble. But when she really needed help, when she lost control of her son, their lives spiralled out of control, unheeded by neighbours in the township of Lavender Hill.

There is little help for poorer families dealing with addiction in SA. They are left to their own devices while the police battle to contain gangsters who control parts of the townships. When disaster strikes, people turn on those who are not able to cope. What empowers the film version of the Pakkies story is the script, the clear direction by Daryne Joshua and the dramatic performances by the three main members of the cast.

Jill Levenberg as Ellen and Jarrid Geduld as Abie won the best actress and actor prizes at the recent Silwerskerm Fees.

Their crystallising vision and sensibility adds layers of texture to the film. Watching Abie turn from a promising pupil with a future to someone whose every breath is focused on a drug is traumatising. Pakkies had to watch that happening in front of her eyes.

Levenberg is a tiger mom who goes on the prowl to defend her son. She is determined to fight for his soul. But while she and husband Odneal (played by Elton Landrew in another heartfelt delivery) are battling for their son’s life, the outside world turns its back.

They turned their home into a prison to keep their son out after he stole most of their possessions. They were terrorised as tik turned Abie into a thug who attacked them to feed his habit.

Ellen: Die Ellen Pakkies Storie is not an easy film to watch. But the smart script and direction draws out a story of pain with a poignancy and punch that forces audiences to be engaged.