Penney Ellis

Documentary photography

Next to nothing

It was always my intention to return home. I never meant to settle in the UK.

I was born and grew up on the rural fringe that skirts the Witwatersrand, west of Johannesburg. When I think of home, the pictures that come to me are expansive skies, bleached grassy plains, dry red earth.

I still fantasise about the life I might start there with my husband and daughter.

Rod and I planned for a new start in a country he’d quickly grown to love. Our young family, our future would grow in a new South Africa.

Our one concern was the growing incidence of violence. Dad held up in an armed robbery at work. My cousin and his wife caught in a shoot out between intruders and security guards in their home. The sister of a cousin’s wife shot and killed during a bank robbery. A school friend raped in her bed. The risks are real.

In 2006 Rod and I welcomed Gina into our world. I longed for home, to share our joy with my family.

When Gina was two months old an opportunity came up for Rod to travel to Mozambique for work. The three of us travelled together to Johannesburg. Rod would return in a week from Maputo to join me with Gina at the plot.

Mom and Dad were delighted to have their tiny granddaughter in their home, fussing over her, and me, throughout the day. Mom had made up the bedroom for us next to theirs, Gillian lent me a carrycot for Gina that she’d previously used for my nephew. Everything felt easily familiar and comfortable.

At midnight during the second night of our visit, we were all asleep when four men smashed their way through the window into my parents’ bedroom using a metal fence post. With the post and a wheel spanner they set about a violent and bloody attack on Mom and Dad.

The attackers didn’t realise I was also in the house with Gina. I carried her, still asleep in the carrycot, to the sitting room where I hid her in the empty wood store in the stone fireplace. I escaped from the house and ran to the neighbouring farm to raise the alarm.