Victoria Smurfit, star of the BBC drama set in Ireland, "Ballykissangel," was driving with he husband Doug and other family members to a party to ring in the New Year in Cape Town when a bullet whizzed through the car.
“We all felt it journey past us,” she says in Ireland’s Mail on Sunday today. “Either in front or behind our faces, it tangibly blew the air as it crossed our paths.
“Blood started seeping out of my collection of veins at the elbow joint. I could see Doug was shiny-eyed. I reached an arm out to him. Thank God, he was fine.”
The 35-year-old Dublin-born actress has since learned that the episode was probably part of a gang initiation in which young men kill tourists to gain admission to gangs.
“Apparently what happened to us was a gang initiation," she states. "A young man wants to feel he belongs to something, tries to attach himself to a group but has to prove his mettle."
South Africa is well known to have a high level of violent crime, including rape, murder, and armed carjacking. The Irish government advises tourists to be cautious when travelling, and Smurfit’s account graphically illustrates why.
“It was Kill a Tourist Day,” she explains. “And we were in the way. It is frustrating not knowing who the shooter was. Not as frustrating as it must be for him, unsure if he is now a murderer. Maybe he is only 12.”
Smurfit was at first too scared to look around to see whether her loved ones were hurt. If the bullet had been half-an-inch closer to her sister-in-law, the woman would have died, Smurfit says.
Yet when they called South African police to report the incident, the officer just said “yes, thank you,” and hung up. It was only when a member of the family later met someone who had police connections that the investigation went further, although Smurfit has not found out who was responsible for the attack.
She says she is still traumatized by what happened. “I cry a lot,” she says. “If my mind is allowed a fallow moment, it plays back those last 20 minutes of 2009.
“This year could have started as a horror story for us,” she adds. Luckily it didn’t.
The history behind “When Irish Eyes are Smiling”