N THE NIGHT OF DECEMBER 30, 1993, Lyndi Fourie was chatting with friends at the Heidelberg Café in Cape Town, South Africa. Suddenly, without warning, a hail of automatic gunfire tore through the restaurant. Three men from the Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) had been ordered to “make Whites suffer as Blacks had suffered under apartheid.” Lyndi became a victim of a terrorist act known as the Heidelberg Massacre.
Lyndi’s mother, Ginn, a university professor of physiotherapy, recalls receiving the terrible news. “It was horrendous. We only got to hear the news the next day. It was around midnight that the three young men burst into the Heidelberg restaurant. They first threw a grenade, and when that didn’t detonate they ran in and started firing randomly. Lyndi was killed with three others.”
Lyndi, a tall, beautiful 23-year-old, was just completing her degree in civil engineering at the University of Cape Town. When talking about her daughter, Ginn describes the joys of their mother-daughter relationship and the harsh reality of what her death meant: an empty chair at the table and an aching loneliness.
Ginn had to go on. She found support among the members of the Adventist church where her faith had been nurtured. How did this grieving mother hold on to her faith? How could she believe that a God of love still cared?
Faith in Forgiveness
Ginn Fourie experienced a moment of truth at the trial of the three gunmen. At first there was only the horror of having to watch the police video showing Lyndi’s body lying twisted and bloody on the floor. But then something happened as she looked into the faces of the accused.
“I was confronted with my own feelings when I looked at the three men who were on trial. [I] felt empathy, [I] actually felt sorry for them because of the dilemma they were in. The political activists who had prompted their activity were nowhere to be seen.
“I asked the translator to tell them that if they were or felt guilty, that I forgave them. They thanked me for my message.”
At the subsequent Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where the victims’ families were given the opportunity to speak, the three attackers were reticent to reveal who had ordered the attack. But Ginn told them that the reason she was able to forgive them was that her “High Command” had demonstrated how to forgive as He died on a rugged cross.
Nearly nine years after the Heidelberg Massacre, in October 2002, Ginn Fourie came face-to-face with the man who had ordered the killing, Letlapa Mphahlele, the former commander of the military wing of the PAC.
“I heard a radio interview with him, and he was having a book launch at the waterfront in Cape Town that very day,” she remembers. Mphahlele was in Cape Town to promote his autobiography, Child of This Soil. Ginn went to the event and waited for an opportunity to speak to him.
“I said my name was Ginn Fourie, and that Lyndi was killed at the Heidelberg,” she says. “He came straight from the podium and asked me to meet with him. In that moment I saw the remorse in his eyes and body language. He actually said he was very sorry for my pain.”
Ginn and Letlapa began a friendship that day, a friendship that went far beyond the healing in their two lives.
Letlapa recalls: “As she identified herself and said who she was and how she was related to someone who had died as a result of my orders, I was shaken. Something in me was moved. When we saw the faces behind the grief, the faces behind the pain, we questioned our decision. But of course, it was too late.
“I’ve been to court, accused of this and that, and when the charges were later withdrawn, nothing inside of me was moved. But it took one sentence from Ginn Fourie saying, ‘I forgive you for what you have done; I forgive you for killing my only daughter, Lyndi,’ something was restored in me, and that something was humanity.”
Good From Evil
Letlapa invited Ginn to speak at a homecoming ceremony in his remote village. Her speech that day moved the entire audience of 1,500 people. She later went to his home and embraced his mother. Ginn’s act of forgiveness made a remarkable impact on a man who felt compelled to fight oppression with terror.
Letlapa says, “If I could say one thing to Lyndi, it would be ‘I’m sorry.’ Each of us in this world has possessions. Some possessions are replaceable. But if one takes life from a person, it is not possible to return it. I have learned so much from Lyndi’s mother about what kind of person [Lyndi] was. She did not deserve to die.”
As a way of expressing what Ginn had come to mean to him, Letlapa composed a poem for her. I heard Ginn read it to an assembly of students at La Sierra University. You could hear a pin drop:
To Lyndi Fourie:
Forgive our deafness,
Our ears are modulated to hear voices of the dead counseling us from your tomb.
We leap at your still commands.
Hands that unleashed thunder on you nine summers ago,
This summer tremble before your throne.
In the twilight of our age, the angry soldier breathes from the bush--tried in vain to hate, succeeded in hurting.
Today the guerrilla is foraging the bush for herbs to heal hearts swollen with grief.
Show us how to muffle the roar of our rage,
How to dam the rivers of our tears,
How to share laughter and land.
Land and laughter.
Forgive our idiocy.
Our souls are tuned to heed prophecy
By the graveside of the prophet whose blood we spilt--whose teachings we ridiculed while he walked among us.
God’s Forgiveness, and Ours
Ginn’s ordeal tells of a stronger image in her mind and heart--something stronger than the faces of hatred, something stronger than the horrifying images on the floor of that restaurant. It was the picture of a God who forgives. Here is the prayer she read at her daughter’s graveside:
Gracious Parent, Great Spirit,
You gave Your only Son to bring healing for every soul on earth.
Thank You for our only daughter.
May healing come through her death to each person she touched--especially those who murdered her.
I identify with Mary, Jesus’ mother; our children died at the hands of evil men.
Lyndi had no choice, no time,
But Your Son said it for her:
“Father, forgive them; they do not know what they do.”
We gave her bed and board and some love.
You gave her forgiveness and a love that was honest, pure, selfless, color- and gender-free.
Dear God, she taught me well of You, able to listen, able to hear.
That was her life that You gave her.
Her death was swift and painless, thank goodness.
My heart is broken; the hole is bottomless,
It will not end, but You know all about it.
Thank You for the arms, the lips, the heartbeats of family and friends to carry us.
I trust You with my precious Lyndi.
This planet is a dangerous place to live.
I know You will come soon to fetch us,
I wish it were today, but I will wait for Your time.
When speaking about holding on to God in spite of the ordeal of losing her only daughter, Ginn ultimately goes back to faith: “It depends on one’s picture of God,” she says. “Through dialogue with my brother [Ian Hartley, a pastor in Red Deer, Alberta], the picture of God that emerges is one of a loving, caring God who is with us in tragedy.”
Ginn Fourie is a woman who has absorbed a lot of love. Her picture of God’s love won out over the horror around her.