Teach Us to Dance to the
Rhythm of Africa



Hannelie Booyens


January 16, 2004

It's difficult to imagine a more challenging journey than the one Ginn Fourie faces. She is a senior lecturer in Physiotherapy at the University of Cape Town. After Lyndi's death she focused on a new direction of study: Reconciliation in SA for a doctoral thesis. For many of her white compatriots it's a journey into the heart of darkest Africa - a place where the chant "kill the boer, kill the farmer'' still inspires fear.

How can you possibly travel alone to the seat of the military wing of the Pan Africanist Congress, to the place where the man who gave the order to kill your daughter, is to be honoured by his people? That's the question Ginn's been asked countless times. It's like going into Dingaan's kraal, a somewhat conservative relative warned her.

All sorts of emotions surface as Ginn drives through Limpopo Province's lush bushveld, a map on her lap. She's hunting for Seleteng, a rural community near Mokopane (Potgietersrus). She's excited, curious, moved and happy. "And worried that the gift of fruit in the boot is going to vrot (decay) before we get there,'' she chuckles.

We're heading for the traditional Sotho home-coming ceremony for Letlapa Mphahlele after his years as Apla commander. She hasn't written out a speech because she wants to say what's in her heart, taking the words from all she's been thinking about during the last few weeks. "The right words will come when I'm there with the people.''

It's almost nine years since Lyndi (23) died in a hail of bullets when Apla soldiers attacked the Heidelberg Tavern in Cape Town on 30 December 1993. The path to acceptance was sometimes tortuous, especially when the stress led to Ginn developing colon cancer. The disease has since gone into remission but the pain of losing her beloved daughter is still sometimes all consuming.

She cries openly when she talks about Lyndi. "It's difficult not to turn Lyndi into a saint because she had such a big heart, she had a wonderful sense of humour that could defuse any conflict.'' The very night of her death she had said: "Ag Pappie, moenie worry nie. We'll be fine!''

It's ironic that Lyndi was a victim of the armed struggle. At the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where the freedom fighters were finally given amnesty, Ginn told the Apla Cadres how Lyndi (Lindiwe to her Xhosa friends) worked to improve living conditions for Black People.

She was just finishing a Civil Engineering programme and had great plans to bring water and water-borne sewerage to homes in Khayelitsha. She'd also helped to build a church in Botswana. Sometimes she came home in tears from the pain and privation she'd seen in black communities.

During the TRC Hearing (October,1997) Ginn highlighted her need to know who had given the order for the Heidelberg Massacre. Although she'd forgiven, she needed to come face to face with the architects of her child's death. More than anything she wanted to know why they hated white people so much.

Ginn listened to the replies fearlessly and with an open-heart and realised her life would never be the same again. She was shocked to the core by the accounts of pain, suffering, discrimination and violence these men had endured under apartheid.

The words of Humphrey Gqomfa, the leader of the cadres revealed that their ancestors considered it no longer necessary to kill whites, those words stayed with her. He and his friends requested counselling with the survivors so true reconciliation could occur. She prefers to speak of "conciliation'', rather than "reconciliation''. "Blacks and whites were not really friends in South Africa -- we, English have a history of arrogance and a stubborn refusal to accept, understand and forgive others.''

Ginn recognises failure by the TRC, the government and political parties to facilitate meetings between apartheid's offenders and victims so they could feel their own and each others' hurt. She sees the need to provide spiritual support and counselling on a large scale for those who'd been exposed to military brainwashing for years -- and who now see themselves as victims.

Soldiers on both sides of the political spectrum have felt let-down by politicians and the community, she found when interviewing veterans. Their aggression remains an explosive threat to South Africa. Farm murderers and right-wing bombers share the same frustrations. "`Violence is always the consequence of hurt and shame". Her research shows the root of the problem lies in either; people's lack of self-worth or 'exaggerated entitlement'. When people have been belittled and humiliated for as long as they have been in South Africa, violence becomes inevitable. If you know how people have been hurt, you can start breaking the cycle, for future generations.''

Two months ago, Ginn heard a radio interview with Letlapa, in Cape Town to promote his biography, Child of this Soil. He spoke openly about the attacks on the Heidelberg Tavern and the St James Church in Cape Town.

Meeting Letlapa was a watershed, says Ginn. Had it not been for her research she might not have understood why he still strongly maintains the attacks were "justifiable acts of war'' rather than crimes. She also understands his critique and resentment of politicians who'd let their soldiers down after 1994, and white people who share the blame for the attacks because they didn't work harder for change. "It might have been so much easier if he'd been a monster with horns and a tail -- if there was something to hate!''

She sees integrity and humanity behind Letlapa's strong exterior (his name means stone) and also feels they share a vision: a dream of empowerment, restitution and conciliation. "It's precisely the healing that soldiers who were involved in the armed struggle need, they should be nurtured by their communities and welcomed home as ordinary people. I had to be at the home-coming.''

As we weave between dongas and goats on the last bit of dirt road. There are things she'd like to ask him, what he means when he says in his autobiography that he won't rest until the last inch of ground has been wrested from the oppressor and given to the wronged. She wants to tell him about her brothers who are farmers here and in Zimbabwe, of her rural childhood and her family's love of the land.

We find the Mphahlele home easily. There's still half an hour before the start of the ceremony, there's already a crowd around the residence. An imposing man in a cream shirt and black trousers walks over. Letlapa greets Ginn with an outstretched hand and a warm smile.

His mom, Lydia, comes out of the bustling kitchen where huge pots of food are being prepared, to embrace her white contemporary. She teaches her the traditional Sotho greeting. "Dumela, ke gona, wena okai'' Ginn says confidently as she's introduced to the extended family.

People have come from far and wide to share in the festivities. The Mphahleles are a respected family in the area. Many animals were slaughtered to feed the hundreds of guests.

In the dusty street a group of young PAC supporters, the Young Lions, are singing freedom songs. They follow the crowd into the Solly Colman Hall (the late business man and benefactor) where high-ranking officials have already taken their places on the stage on either side of the tribe's queen, Kgosigadi Ngwana-Mohube Mphahlele.

One speaker after another honours their golden son. Most of the speeches are in Sotho and have a political slant. "The better-life promised to the people after the election has become a bitter one", says one speaker. "Poverty and unemployment are forms of violence", says another. The skin-clad praise singer loudly proclaims his approval with a horn.

Letlapa's bravery and leadership are extolled. His personal sacrifices in the fight against apartheid are eulogised. Some of the speakers joke about his stubbornness. He has the potential to be the next president of the PAC, says current PAC president Dr Stanley Makgoba.

WHEN it's Ginn's turn she asks Letlapa to translate her words into Sotho so the "Tatas'' and `"Mamas'' can understand. The hall is unbearably hot. It's 2 pm and silent. She looks fragile next to the burly, bearded Letlapa.

"I think of Letlapa as a man of stone who has been weathered by a formidable struggle to become a child of this soil,'' says Ginn. "I too am a child of this soil.'' An approving rumble comes from the crowd and the praise-singer's horn sounds.

"Your comrades' bullets killed my daughter. That terrible pain will always be with me. But I have forgiven this man who gave the command I feel his humanity.'' Ginn fights back the tears. Her voice quivers."Lyndi died nine years ago. It's been a long and healing journey, I don't know where it will end. But now I know there is work for us to do.

"From the comrades who killed Lyndi I've heard about your ancestors' message of peace. I consulted my own ancestors. They came 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, whom they regarded as unintelligent savages. They are sorry (my father told me, before he died in January). They seek forgiveness for their demeaning and degrading attitudes and behaviour.

"How dare we ask for forgiveness? We called you kaffirs and treated you with indignity through slavery, colonialism and apartheid. You responded by calling us 'the white scum that came in on the sea!'. We deserved it.

One of our poets from up North said at the beginning of last century, `What have we done, we the wretched black men of the earth, for the whites to hate us so? What have we done to weigh so little in their scales?' (Rene Depestre)

"`We have to learn to acknowledge our feelings, to listen and to talk. Please teach us how. We must be able to freely say what we think and feel and not hide our emotions as our westernised culture has taught us to do. To 'hide our feelings in our sleeves' and present 'the stiff upper lip'. What about your poor men who must not even flinch during circumcision?!" The horn sounds.

"I see a bright future for our country if we can get together and blend the best of our cultures. Instead of honing our weapons for war, we could beat them into ploughshares. The politicians aren't going to do it for us. We ordinary South Africans are going to have to do it.''

Ginn's words are greeted with loud applause. The horn sounds. She says: "Keya leboga'' (thank you).

She asks Letlapa to read the words on the photo collage of Lyndi's life and grave which she's made for him. "To Letlapa Mphahlele. It's a memorable day for the children of this soil. We've spilled each other's blood. Now our sweat and tears will form the daga to build a new country. From Ginn Fourie.''

Letlapa takes the momento respectfully. A shower of rain brings temporary relief from the heat. His turn at the microphone finally arrives.

His words are sobering: "We shouldn't fool ourselves that we've achieved reconciliation here today. It's a process, not an event. It has to be material as well as emotional. (Viva - viva shouts the audience) Reconciliation cannot be blind to the injustices of the past. Bridges can be built only if we reach out to one another over colour and cultural barriers. In the past apartheid divided us on the basis of race and ethnicity. Future generations won't forgive us if we remain apart by choice. Let's follow the example set by Ginn Fourie, who's chosen to understand and to forgive. Thank you so, so much, Ginn, that you've come to show us the war is over.'' The horn blares... Viva, viva.

"A tree will be planted today in memory of Lindiwe and the others who died in the liberation war", Letlapa announces and the horn blares loud and long.

OUTSIDE the hall Ginn is surrounded. A tearful older woman rests her head on Ginn's shoulder. A young man asks to have a picture taken with her, because otherwise people won't believe him about the white woman with the great heart. A polio victim on crutches asks whether he can have a copy of her autobiography; he wants to treasure her story for ever.

The message comes from all directions: "Ginn, we appreciate your being here today. You're as brave as Letlapa, Mama. Your child didn't die in vain.'' She's given a choice salutation name: Pheladi.

Be prepared for your people to call you a "white kaffir'', says a man who's come to pay his respects. "Your own people will reject and scorn you.'' Ginn is shaken by his words. Someone gives her a PAC T-shirt.

The festivities shift to Letlapa's parental home. Children crowd around Ginn; they want to touch her. She meets Constance, a warm, lively young woman with whom she bonds immediately.

A middle-aged man in an academic gown introduces himself as "little Stanley Makgoba''. He speaks the Queens English, he's barefoot, tipsy and unemployed. Later someone tells Ginn he was a respected science and maths teacher.

At sunset the festivities reach a high point when traditional musicians gather around calabashes of beer and make their drums talk. Ginn's swept away by the dance, by the love of these people who accept her as "a mother of the nation''. She's never experienced so much sincerity, compassion and vibrance, she says.

Later Letlapa's brother shows us to the room where we'll spend the night. There's no running water and the only sanitation is one wonky outdoor toilet. We wash the red dust of GaMphahlele off our hands and feet in red plastic baths. This reminds her of a time in Europe when the bathroom was unheated and it was too cold to undress in there, Ginn says with a chuckle.

Strange night sounds and the day's emotions keep us awake. Just before three am Ginn wakes with a blinding headache and hunts for painkillers in the dark. Then she's sick. It's just your body's way of dealing with all the emotion, I say to comfort her.

Suddenly something in her gives way -- like a dam wall bursting. Raw sobs wrack her body. I knew how she'd howled for three days after her daughter's death. But now she's not just weeping for Lyndi: She's also crying for the poverty, the privation of the people she's met today. So much injustice, so much to do. Today she experienced grace greater than anything she's ever experienced before, even in her own culture.

"The most wonderful thing was the enormity of their forgiveness. Their unconditional acceptance -- the women cried with me about my child's death. How grateful I feel at having shared my pain and fear with them. There's so much wisdom and dignity in spite of the poverty.''

The hospitality and generosity will stay with her forever, says Ginn the next morning. "Such spiritual wealth, although so materially poor. Which is preferable spiritual or material wealth?''

Ginn listens to their wishes for employment, careers, fresh vegetables, a library, a computer centre. She vows to do everything she can to empower the people of Seleteng, she won't rest before these changes are made to their lives.

The next morning Letlapa comes to say goodbye before we leave. He and Ginn make plans to meet in Cape Town the same week. There's lots of work to do: plans to make, bridges to build.

They discuss land redistribution. Ginn gives Letlapa a book about alternatives to violence -- Jesus' Third Way by Walter Wink, in which a creative alternative to the fight or flight mechanism is outlined with specific reference to South Africa. He promises to read it.

Ginn thinks Letlapa will become an ally in her dream to unite apartheid-era victims and offenders to share their experiences and feelings. To bring conciliation on a scale hitherto undreamed of in this country. She believes in "The Power of One'', she records in her journal. In your mind's eye see how one person's example (Letlapa's) can strengthen two, three, four other people. How thousands can be set free from the need for revenge and violence.

"Can I give you a hug?'' Ginn asks Letlapa before we leave. Two children of Africa embrace. Today is his birthday, according to his book. Lyndi's was last week, says Ginn.


Originally published in HUISGENOOT (Afrikaans) and YOU (English) magazines in South Africa.

Posted here with the permission of Hannelie Booyens and respecting the COPYRIGHT Huisgenoot & You, 2003. Ginn's e-mail address. See also The Michigan Daily and Sidney Mornng Herald.


© TFF and the author


Tell a friend about this article

Send to:


Message and your name




Photo galleries

Nonviolence Forum

TFF News Navigator

Become a TFF Friend

TFF Online Bookstore

Reconciliation project

Make an online donation

Foundation update and more

TFF Peace Training Network

Make a donation via bank or postal giro

Menu below












The Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research
Vegagatan 25, S - 224 57 Lund, Sweden
Phone + 46 - 46 - 145909     Fax + 46 - 46 - 144512

      © TFF 1997-2004