Author Nikki Munitz on finding redemption, self-esteem after serving time in Joburg’s ’’Sun City”

Nikki Munitz admits she did expect her autobiography ‘Fraud’ to be a hit, if only because of its sheer shock appeal. But the recovering addict who grew up in a dysfunctional Jewish home, stole millions and served time in an overcrowded South African prison says its tell-all approach has had a deeper impact. Her experiences are relatable to everyone facing similar self-esteem and addiction challenges that are so widespread in today’s world. Munitz spoke to BizNews editor Alec Hogg.

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Relevant timestamps from the interview

  • 00:10 – Introductions
  • 01:26 – Nikki Munitz on what made her want to share her life story
  • 02:37 – How she applied her experiences to help others
  • 04:08 – Going to Prison
  • 05:21 – No choice but to surrender
  • 07:57 – Rehab center in Noupoort
  • 10:43 – Houghton house
  • 12:08 – On Craig Warriner
  • 13:20 – Abusive ex husband
  • 14:21 – The impact of Celia Coburn
  • 14:53 – How she is making a contribution today
  • 16:32 – Has the book helped much
  • 17:20 – How she’s been able to help her family through her experiences
  • 18:18 – On SA
  • 19:18 – Conclusions

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Edited transcript of the interview between Alec Hogg and Nikki Munitz

Alec Hogg: There are so many bad books in South Africa. I keep saying this, and that’s why when I discover a good book, I love it. And I love to then get hold of the author, and this is not a full-time author. This is an autobiography. Nikki Munitz has got a story. Well, if you believe like I do, that we are spirits having a human experience, then you’ll also agree that Nikki has been singled out for a very special journey this time around. Raised in a Jewish household in Norwood, her path saw her graduate from recreational drug use to hardcore addiction and then into a deeply dysfunctional marriage. She stole millions from a trust account at the legal firm where she was employed, ended up being convicted after she’d cleaned herself up. And so went into the Sun City jail years after that. So as a sane human being, and well, it’s a riveting book. I’m gonna just show you it into the, there we go, that’s what it looks like. You can hardly miss it. And Nikki, lovely to be talking with you. I guess the question is, it’s a heck of a journey, but why write about it? Why tell the rest of the world these very deeply personal incidents that happened in your life?

Nikki Munitz: Thank you so much for having me. That’s a good question. Initially when I had an idea of writing a book, the vision was one of shock value. You know, I just wanted to sell books and I knew that the story that I had to tell was going to intrigue people to an extent where they would want to buy the book and read all about it. Many years passed since that initial thought and vision. The view for the book or the dream for the book became very different. Whereas the shock value aspects of it were one really small part. And the bigger part was to teach people about change and about hope and about self-esteem. And so far so good. The feedback’s been pretty accurate that people are getting the message, which I’m really, really grateful about.

Read more: Magnus Heystek: South Africa’s wealth exodus – The unseen impact of offshore investments

Alec Hogg: I guess there are some who believe that when we have these experiences in life, they’re really there to pass on to others so we can empathize and maybe help others from not having such a hard time when they go through what we’ve been through already. Have you applied? Well, I know because I read your book, but maybe you can tell us how you’ve applied those experiences.

Nikki Munitz: Well, I think that although my experiences are quite intense, what I realised is that my experiences also weren’t unique. You know, being quite lost in life, feeling like I was playing some type of a role and not feeling authentic and free in my own life and my own journey is something that probably the majority of people I know struggle with. And so, the work that I did on myself to get to a place of authenticity and freedom had, prison played a role in that, but it certainly wasn’t the only role. And breaking free of my internal prison and helping others to do the same has been more of the hero’s journey or the authentic journey that’s actually been mine and what is documented in the book.

Alec Hogg: You mentioned prison, and I guess that’s for many people, a different world, and so those chapters are riveting. You were at Sun City, and maybe I’ll get something that I can share with you. When they built Sun City prison originally, which is to the south of Johannesburg, because of the concrete and the orange lights, it looked like Sun City Resort in what was then Bophuthatswana, and that’s why they called it Sun City. Of course, it’s anything but. Similar to that resort. And when you arrived there, it has to have been kind of the biggest shock that you could have imagined.

Nikki Munitz: Well, I did often wonder where the name came from, because I knew it definitely wasn’t from the fact that you experienced sun, of which we had very little while I was there. In fact, it’s rather freezing. Yeah, the whole experience was from start to finish is something like, I often have flashbacks in my mind of what it was like to truly lose my identity. And that’s what happens when you go into prison. You arrive and you get documented where it’s probably the last time they use your name. And after that, you get given a uniform and you become a number. And your identity becomes irrelevant in terms of like your personal life, of who you are, of your family, of everything that exists outside of your prison sentence. And like that’s really tough. And I suppose that my journey of finding self-esteem in a place where I didn’t really properly exist in my own personal capacity, yeah, it was quite interesting that that’s where I found myself.

Alec Hogg: Surrender, surrender, surrender. Explain that.

Nikki Munitz: You have no choice, you know, as much as you don’t want to be there, as much as you wish that things had turned out differently, that you keep waiting to wake up from this nightmare, that’s just not the case. And every new person that comes in goes through this experience of like, I just can’t believe I’m here, like I can’t believe this is happening to me. And you kind of watch that process of surrender as we each went through of having to acknowledge this is where I am and there is nothing I can do to change it. And instead, I need to almost embrace the situation and make it the best possible situation that I can. And to get through each one day at a time, knowing that we’re moving towards the end of the sentence eventually. One day, one hour, sometimes one minute at a time, depending on how much of a struggle it is.

Alec Hogg: Did you connect with a higher power when you talk about surrender? Was that part of the surrender? In other words, saying, look, I can’t do this. My best efforts have got me here. Maybe some higher power will be able to help me through there.

Nikki Munitz: I certainly did. I think I felt closer connection to a higher power then than I had previously ever in my life. Since then, I have experienced far more of that on a more in-depth level. But I really just trusted the process and knew that everything that had happened in my life was part of a bigger story and part of a greater good, and that I could trust that my well-being was being taken care of even when I couldn’t see it or feel it. And looking back in hindsight,

That’s always been my best spiritual awakenings where I’m like, oh, that’s why it happened that way And you know, sometimes in the moment, I can’t always see it. It doesn’t feel nice. It’s always a gift that comes disguised in an ugly box But everything happens exactly as it’s meant to and I do believe that.

Alec Hogg: So interesting. And your journey really was a tough one, as I said, right at the beginning, but also many parallels for people who have different journeys, but they also have their challenges and their own struggles. And I guess that’s part of the experience you went through. You mentioned in the book, Houghton House and a place called Noupoort. Now it started off with the bad and then the good.

Tell us a little about this place in notebook.

Nikki Munitz: Noupoort was a rehabilitation centre originally, I think, created for families that were in sheer desperation, that had tried many other avenues to help their loved ones get sober and just had fallen short. So it was a really long-term facility that was lacking any sort of creature comfort. There was the basic belief system that…

You know, it’s your own lack of gratitude, your own lack of discipline that gets you into the position that you’re in. And so that excessive discipline and almost beating you into submission was the solution. And our families are pretty angry with us when we go into rehab. So you know, going into a nice cushy rehab often annoys our families, but going into a place where you’ve got the bare necessities, you’re not being treated very kindly, there’s almost a relief in it some families wanting us to be punished, some families thinking that it needs to be beaten out of us, whatever the case was, that was kind of the foundation of Noupoort and how it operated. I was there for. As far as I know, I think it has changed a bit since when I was there, partly because the original founders have both passed away, Pastor Sophus and his wife, but also because while I was there, a 16-year-old boy died and he wasn’t the only one. I mean, throughout the time there through neglect and abuse, where people had lost their lives. Um, but yeah, I think it has evolved somewhat, but not massively. Um, unfortunately.

Alec Hogg: And that’s art in the carouse. I must mean, you talk about Sun City being cold. I’m sure that must’ve been a pretty chilly experience too.

Nikki Munitz: absolutely in the evenings for sure, but we were squash slug sardines. There were so many of us there that I think we didn’t get to feel the cold a lot of the time. It was always interesting to me that each pit bull had their own house that they were chained in because you know, they bred pit bulls there about 300 of them. But for us as the women, we stayed in one small house, and there were about 30 of us living in one house at a stage. It was very interesting.

Alec Hogg: Was it worse than prison?

Nikki Munitz: way worse. In prison you have rights. There are certain rules and requirements that the people looking after you have to adhere to, whereas in Noupoort, it was a free fall and it was being run by people who were not trained or educated but barely in recovery themselves. So there were kind of no real guiding principles.

Alec Hogg: And then Houghton House, which is quite famous for having helped a lot of addicted people overcome those addictions.

Nikki Munitz: Sure. So, Houghton House at the time was the gold standard of addiction treatment. And I was a resident there for a short period, but I also worked there for just under eight years. And they really moulded me and guided me in my initial part of my journey of both my personal and professional career. And kind of set the tone for me to find my way into what I know,

the place that I operate from, which is Sandhurst Manor, which incorporates not only what I learned through Houghton House but far more inclusive of self-esteem and empowerment that I believe was lacking in many treatments. Because, you know, as addicts, we couldn’t be trusted to make our own decisions. But somewhere along the lines, someone forgot to teach us how to make decisions. Yeah, so that’s what I do.

Alec Hogg: Before we leave the whole prison side, there’s a guy at Sun City prison called Craig Warriner who gave himself up. He stole so far 3 billion Rand, we know, from thousands of South Africans who entrusted their savings to him through a Ponzi scheme. What would he be going through now? Do you think that, or just give us some insight into the kind of culture that one experiences when you arrive there.

Nikki Munitz: I mean, it’s all very dependent on how connected you are and how much financial backing you have. If you have money, I mean, there’s an ecosystem and they’re very much like there is art here. And if you have privilege, if you come from privilege, you are taken care of and you are treated with respect. And if you don’t, you are simply discarded and kind of have to fight for your place. So I would imagine that it’s not a pleasant experience, but it certainly could be far worse.

He didn’t have the financial means to make sure that he was being taken care of and when I say taken care of I’m Saying his safety I’m talking about, you know The fact that he’ll have a bed to sleep in and that someone would even assist him in doing his laundry and to you know Making sure that he gets called time. Yes, he when he’s got a visit You know, there’s like I said, it’s a whole ecosystem in there and money makes the world go round Whether you in prison or whether you’re not.

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Alec Hogg: So fascinating. Just moving on through your story and maybe postscripts, because there will be a lot of people watching this interview who will be reading it. What has happened to, I love your description, my husband, if one can even call him that.

Nikki Munitz: actually very interesting. In hindsight, I can see how mentally ill he actually was. And at the time I just thought he was abusive and I didn’t totally understand. But now knowing how unwell he is, you know, he, I’ve never been told directly but I’ve been hinted through various facilities that…

There is some schizo-affective disorders. He did often hear voices. I often thought it was related to the drugs, but I don’t think it was. And as far as I know, either he lives with his mom or at times he’s even been homeless. So really not a well chap, unfortunately.

Alec Hogg: So Karma is a bitch.

Nikki Munitz: You said it, not me.

Alec Hogg: And Celia Coburn, you’ve mentioned a little bit about self-esteem, and she, I guess, would be a mentor for you in that area. In your book, you say she was in her 80s. Is she still around?

Nikki Munitz: Absolutely, and she sees more clients than I do. I don’t know how she does it. She is, I think, self-esteem keeps her young, you know, and every time someone tells her to slow down, she ends up designing some new course, training more facilitators. She is constantly on the go. So I’d say she’s 84 going on 24 at this point in time.

Alec Hogg: And what exactly does she do? And you said what I do, what, what are you, how are you making a living or making your contribution today?

Nikki Munitz: I do many things but I see clients individually, work with them one-on-one to help them build their self-esteem. I also run workshops, I do corporate seminars, I do also have a wellness centre and I deal with people struggling with any mental health issues so we do an inpatient setting as well. I also train new coaches so help

teach people to do what I do as well. So once they’ve worked on their own self-esteem, if they wanna help other people learn how to do the same thing. And I also train international coaches on certain elements of addiction coaching that they can incorporate into the work that they do. The reality is I keep getting given these incredible new opportunities and I’m living a life that’s beyond explanation and my wildest dreams.

Alec Hogg: And Celia?

Nikki Munitz: Celia helps train new facilitators. She helped me design a course during lockdown called Self-esteem, the Golden Key to Recovery, which is really for anyone who struggles with self-destructive behaviour or thoughts. It’s a 12-week program. And so she helps me train new facilitators that can run those workshops for me because I just, there’s not enough me to go around. So she helps me kind of get new people up to speed.

Alec Hogg: It’s incredible that, as you say, you’re now living a life beyond your wildest dreams, although you had to go a pretty rocky road to get there. Has the book helped much? Have you had much feedback from people saying, damn it, I’d like to learn from this person who’s actually been there, done that, and maybe knows what’s going through my brain?

Nikki Munitz: Absolutely. I’ve had many people, people that are new from my past and people that I’ve never met that have read the book and reached out and said, you know, like, I have my own version of my prison and I believe that the work that you do could help me break free of it. So I’ve really engaged with some incredible new clients, people that are wanting to really do the work in their lives to make the changes that they need to.

I think in part the book gives my story credibility and gives people hope that it’s real. The change is possible because otherwise it just seems like a pie in the sky fairy tale.

Alec Hogg: And Nikki, your own family, what have you been able to apply to your own new husband and children and your relationships there from what you learned in the past?

Nikki Munitz: I think what I’ve been able to apply is a space of honesty and of respect and of growth and an acknowledgment that we’re not looking for perfection, but rather a space where we can make mistakes and know that we are safe enough to be able to grow through it together. And you know, I think that’s all we need. We’re not looking for a place where

when no one ever injures us or hurts us or that we don’t hurt anyone else, but rather that we can acknowledge that a mistake was made and we need to make some changes. And it’s a space of love across the board.

Alec Hogg: When you look at South Africa and how caught up we are in the big picture, if you like, of other people stealing and other people doing stuff and other people going to jail and so on, given the very real journey that you had, how do you react to those kinds of conversations?

Nikki Munitz: Well, I mean, if one of the premises of self-esteem is that we live with knowledge of our own equality, we know that South Africa is such not only an unequal society, but we don’t live with knowledge that we are equals. And if that was something that we could change, personally, each one of us took responsibility for making that change. I believe that we would change our entire society. Also, you know, my clients that would complain about corruption and about crime.

Yet at the same time, we’re bribing the traffic cop or we’re not living according to our moral compass and we’re judging others for doing something that we’re aiding. We’re adding to that crime. You know, when I drive drunk and I have an accident and I’m not honest about it and I claim from my insurance, you know, those are crimes. So I think if each person was able to just look at their side of the street, I mean, that alone would make a massive difference.

Alec Hogg: Well, I hope you sell thousands and thousands of books. I would love to say tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands, but I know the reality in South Africa. We don’t have too many people who read books, but I’m sure yours has got a wider application than someone just out of interest. And thanks for sharing your journey with us and for sharing this time with us here on BizNews. Nikki Munitz is the author of the autobiography, Fraud: How Prison set me free, and I’m Alec Hogg from BizNews.com.

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