‘Ghosts of the past still haunt us, in the pain and violence enacted by many’ – Ginn Fourie
The Dalai Lama once said that the fabric of society is kindness. Without kindness, compassion and care for individuals, society cannot succeed and develop. So how do communities repair when violence leaves scars? South Africa is an example of a country torn apart by wars, colonialism, slavery and Apartheid, but one woman’s story of forgiveness gives hope to a nation still living with the effects of war.
‘Without forgiveness there can be no future for a relationship between individuals or within and between nations’ – Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
South African Ginn Fourie, a mother who lost her daughter to Apartheid in the Heidelberg Tavern massacre in 1993, has forgiven the man [Letlapa Mphahlele] who ordered the fatal attack. Her story of forgiveness and reconciliation shared in Beyond Forgiving, has inspired many with her courage and conviction. I met Fourie who, along with Mphahlele, toured the UK attending screenings of the award-winning documentary, sharing their journey with people from all backgrounds, some with their own bridges to build. Fourie said: ‘It’s been a great learning experience hearing other people’s experience of facing discrimination, the hurt and the pain.
‘We have to deal with the skeletons in the cupboard that come tumbling out.’
‘Ghosts of the past still haunt us, in the pain and violence enacted by many’, reflects Fourie who challenged the British public to face their own complicity in the injustices of past actions. The effects of colonialism and the exploits of the British Empire are still felt by many across the world. ‘We have to come to terms with our colonial past’, admits Fourie. ‘We need to recognise the humiliation and shame and then treat each other with dignity, tolerance and acceptance.’ For Fourie and Mphahlele, it is clear that true reconciliation can only be achieved by talking honestly and openly about what has happened in the past and then change the systems that marginalise some groups which result in poverty.
‘We have to deal with the skeletons in the cupboard that come tumbling out. That consciousness has to be raised, feelings should be examined. Until it is acknowledged we cannot go into the future with peace’, explained Fourie who attended Mphahlele’s homecoming ceremony to ask for forgiveness on behalf of her ancestors for the role they played in the Anglo-Boer War. She said: ‘I told them that I had spoken to my ancestors to know why we were in this situation that we are in, in South Africa. They said they were deeply sorry for the hurt and pain that they had caused through slavery, colonialism, the Anglo-Boer War and then Apartheid.’ Fourie explained that her ancestors, and others, ‘had come to South Africa from Europe to flee religious persecution and poverty. They were unable to express their hurt and so they caused the same pain and suffering to the people here… they are sorry… they seek forgiveness for their demeaning and degrading attitudes and behaviour.’
For Fourie the Anglo-Boer War was directly related to Apartheid, as she explained: ‘through the fear of humiliation from the Anglo-Boer War, Apartheid was the way out. It was not the intention but it was what it became. The Whites needed to rise to the top and they did that by oppression (Apartheid).’ The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was the first attempt to bring forgiveness into national thinking. ‘We must absorb the humiliation and violence in order to move forward but it is not easy, it is hard to absorb, the closer you are the more painful it is.’
In Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s book No Future Without Forgiveness he explains that it is important to deal with past traumas. ‘The past, far from disappearing or lying down and being quiet, is embarrassingly persistent, and will return and haunt us unless it has been dealt with adequately. Unless we look the beast in the eye we will find that it returns to hold us hostage.’
Both Tutu and Mphahlele believe that an important part of the journey of forgiveness is to share personal stories. ‘It is important to tell your story, feel the feelings that come up, accept them and then make a choice of how to respond,’ says Mphahlele. ‘Vulnerable feelings when expressed to each other have the potential to establish lasting bonds and may overcome the violence and corruption which oppresses us all at the moment. Domination and war have done nothing for us in the short or long term’, Fourie adds.
Today, South Africa still faces inequalities and segregation but according to the South African Reconciliation Barometer, which measures racial and social attitudes, a recent survey showed that the majority of South Africans do want a unified country. However, inequality is the biggest barrier to reconciliation. The survey revealed ‘less than 40 per cent of South Africans socialise with people of another race, while only 22 per cent of white South Africans and a fifth of black South Africans live in racially integrated neighbourhoods. Just 11 per cent of white children go to integrated schools and 15 per cent of black children.’
For the past 30 years, the number of integrated schools in Northern Ireland has grown dramatically. Commenting on the visit to Hazelwood Integrated College in Belfast, Fourie said, ‘integrated schools are the hope for the future; through secularism everyone is divided and living apart and there’s no human connection or moral compass. It is most impressive that families of all religions come together to learn.’ According to the Northern Ireland Council for Integrated Education, ‘In 32 years the number of children educated in integrated schools has grown from 28 pupils in Lagan in 1981 to nearly 22,000 today.’ Integrated education is a vital in building a united community away from religious divide and segregation.
Fourie’s faith played a fundamental part in her journey of forgiveness. As a Christian, she ‘cherished the memory of Christ forgiving his murderers. Since then I have come to understand forgiveness as a process which involves the principled decision to give up one’s justifiable right to revenge. Because to accept violation is a devaluation of the self.’ She reiterated that ‘forgiveness is part of moving from victim to survivor to wounded healer.’ When I spoke to her about her faith she said, the ‘root of all humans is spirituality; it is our means of connecting with ourselves, each other and the divine, which transcends religion, ideology and rigid ways of seeing the world.’
Together with Mphahlele, Fourie has set up the Lyndi Fourie Foundation (LFF) which aims to bring healing for ex-combatants and their families who suffer from post-traumatic stress of which flashbacks, paranoia, and rage result in addictions and family dysfunction. One of the communities that LFF works with is the San people who migrated from Angola and Namibia during the liberation wars and have been resettled on a farm called Platfontein near Kimberley in the Northern Cape. They have not been integrated into South African society and feel isolated and disadvantaged. Poverty, unemployment, alcoholism, domestic violence, suicide and HIV plague this small community. The LFF has set up a youth empowerment project supporting children and young people in gaining skills for employment, support in education and conflict resolution, among others.
By sharing their story of forgiveness, conciliation and hope in South Africa and internationally, Fourie and Mphahlele are able to support countries struggling with conflict. Initiatives of Change South Africa is partnering with the Lyndi Fourie Association International to host an international conference called ‘Freedom – Our Responsibility’ aimed at inspiring a new culture of sustainability, empowerment and integrity. The conference will be held in Bloemfontein, South Africa from 26 to 30 September 2014.
By Davina Patel