The Royal Geographical Society’s Ondaatje Theatre opened its doors for the biggest London event of The Beyond Forgiving Tour on 27 May. Here to a hugely attentive, 400-strong crowd, South Africans Ginn Fourie and Letlapa Mphahlele spread their message of the transformative nature of forgiveness and atonement.
It’s one that is documented in the award-winning film Beyond Forgiving, which was shown on the night. Directed by Gaza born Dr Imad Karam, film-maker and Head of International Relations at IofC-UK, it charts the tragic events that unfolded in 1993.
To recap, Letlapa, a former freedom fighter, current President of the Pan African Congress and a poet and philosopher, green-lighted an attack on a tavern in Cape Town in retaliation for the brutal killing of black school children by South African Defence Forces. Ginn’s daughter Lyndi tragically died in the shooting.
The pair’s UK tour and their joint work in the Lyndi Fourie Foundation to further conciliation in South Africa is the result of a profound and humbling journey post-apartheid, to healing and friendship, which has inspired communities around the world.
Marina Cantacuzino, director of the Forgiveness Project (who along with Initiatives of Change and the Wilderness Foundation co-hosted the evening) opened the event, giving a brief run down of the pair’s UK appearances on their whirlwind tour, which included visits to a school in East London, the South African High Commission, and St John’s College, Oxford University.
She introduced the evening’s Chair, the charismatic Terry Waite CBE, former Special Envoy to the Archbishop of Canterbury. He talked about the work he has done in the area of development, hostage negotiation, peace and reconciliation for the past 50 years. Briefly he alluded to his own five years in captivity as a hostage in Beirut, following his attempts to negotiate the release of western hostages. He spent much of that time in solitary confinement, chained to a radiator, but remarkably his ordeal did not leave him embittered. ‘I believe the only way forward is for the past to be put in the past,’ he said. ‘More and more people need to stand together for peace.’ A humbling lesson to all of us present on the night.
Imad Karam introduced Beyond Forgiving. Towards the end of the screening of this moving film, the closing credits rolled to sustained applause. We all then observed a minute of reflective silence. This segued into an interactive element that lent the night real ‘juice’ as we were invited to turn to our neighbour and express our reactions to the film. Cue a cathartic clamour of voices as people shared uninhibitedly.
Terry Waite then opened up the floor to questions, whilst Ginn and Letlapa invited those taking the microphone to describe how the film made them feel. The floodgates opened, as hands shot up and personal stories and feelings came pouring out: of hope, humility, gratitude, inspiration; of the challenge of forgiving appalling crimes and mass murder or entire unjust systems; of the view that forgiveness happens when we are able to empathise with the reasons the injustice has been committed; and of how forgiveness starts from within.
Most poignant was Letlapa’s comment, made in the film, and then reiterated by the man himself, that being forgiven felt like ‘being struck by lightning’ and that forgiving oneself is a journey and not a destination. As for Ginn, she pointed out that forgiveness was just the start of her journey and that every time the pain comes up, there is a release. ‘This too is part of forgiveness,’ she said. ‘Vulnerable feelings when expressed to each other have the potential to establish lasting bonds.’
Finally, Professor Brandon Hamber, a transplanted South African, and now Director of the International Conflict Research Institute (INCORE) at the University of Ulster introduced himself as Ginn and Letlapa’s Northern Ireland host – where they were headed to next.
He also invited everyone to support the Beyond Forgiving tour via donation and to buy the film. Finally, he recommended the use of its study guide as a starting point for further enquiry and discussion around the themes raised at the event.
Report by Jini Reddy
Photos by Pete Sherrard Photography
To learn more about Ginn Fourie and Letlapa Mphahlele's story you can read Michael Henderson's book No Enemy to Conquer which is available from Amazon (also a Kindle version). For a link on his website click here.