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How to Forgive: An inspirational journey to reconciliation

Letlapa  Ginn low res

What do you say when you finally come face to face with the man responsible for your child’s violent death? It is a proposition no parent should ever be faced with; but South African Ginn Fourie was, and her answer was part of an extraordinary process of healing and forgiveness that had begun long before that moment of truth arrived.

Ginn had nine years to contemplate what she would say to Letlapa Mphahlele—the man who gave the order for a 1993 retaliatory attack on a pub in Cape Town. Four people were killed, including Ginn’s 23-year-old daughter Lyndi, and many more injured when the restaurant was sprayed with bullets following the earlier murders of five black children by South African armed forces.

Ginn told a gathering at Catholic Mission’s national office in Sydney recently that those nine years brought a succession of immense suffering, gradual healing, and, remarkably, forgiveness. ‘I cried every day, many times a day, for the first year,’ she recalls, her voice wavering slightly. ‘That became less over time.’

Understandably, Ginn was initially distraught. As a grieving mother she desperately sought justice and revenge for what had happened to her daughter. But within two years of Lyndi’s death, the criminal trial and the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission had begun, changing Ginn’s perspective forever.

‘My acceptance of what had happened came with confronting the killers face to face at the criminal trial,’ she says. ‘I sent a message that I forgave them if they were guilty for what they did.’ Ginn believes her healing truly began at that moment. She knew, however, that the three men sitting shoulder to shoulder in the dock represented only a fragment of the bigger picture. ‘The judge referred to them as “mere puppets of a brighter mind”,’ she says. While they may have pulled the triggers that caused so much harm, it was well known that the order had come from a higher authority.

Letlapa Mphahlele commanded the Azanian People’s Liberation Army during a turbulent period in 1993. When the five children were shot dead, Letlapa swiftly ordered a retaliation attack, believing “terror had to be answered with terror”. He targeted the Heidelberg Tavern in Observatory, then one of Cape Town’s few ‘grey areas’ where people of different race could live freely together. Black artists and groups would often perform at the student-friendly pub, a fact that was heartening to Lyndi Fourie at a time when discrimination was still rife. It is a tragic irony that her desire to be united with black South Africans put her in the wrong place at the wrong time.

In the years that followed, Ginn was forced to confront the crime, the killers, and everything she understood about forgiveness and the human condition. The university lecturer poured over writings on the concept of forgiveness. ‘I wanted to know if I resonated with the definitions of forgiveness,’ she recalls. Ultimately, she formed her own eclectic definition based on her experience: ‘Forgiveness is a process in which you take a principled decision to give up your justifiable right to revenge, for to accept violation is a devaluation of the self,’ she says. ‘It seems to be a process that needs constant updating.’

In October 2002, Ginn changed the channel on her car radio. A seemingly unremarkable decision, it sparked a chain of events that would change the course of her life and countless others. She heard a report that Letlapa would be appearing at the launch of his new book. Ginn knew from the Truth and Reconciliation hearings who Letlapa was and that he was the man responsible for her daughter’s murder. ‘I just knew I had to be there,’ she says.

Stepping through the supporters, protestors and media throng that had gathered at the launch, Ginn spoke up, asking if Letlapa’s no-show at the Commission years earlier served only to trivialise it. Letlapa’s view was that the Commission had trivialised the fact that they had been at war; the defence force was still in power, whilst his soldiers were in prison. He invited her to talk privately, and days later the two met face to face at the gates of the Pan Africanist Congress. Of the thousands of things a heartbroken mother might have uttered, Ginn’s words were a humble summation of her nine-year journey to this moment: “Do you believe in God?” Letlapa revealed he was in fact an atheist. “Well, do you believe in spirituality?” Yes; he believes everyone has a spiritual self. “Then that’s good enough for me.”

Thus began an unlikely partnership. A year after their first meeting, Ginn and Letlapa established the Lyndi Fourie Foundation, which seeks to further the process of healing and reconciliation in South Africa, and to teach people around the world about the process of forgiveness, through sharing their story. Ginn tells us that Letlapa insisted on the name, simply because “people should forever associate Lyndi Fourie with conciliation.”

Naturally, Ginn’s willingness to forgive came as a shock to Letlapa, and she reveals that even some close to her found it difficult. ‘My ancestors may have found it unacceptable,’ she says. ‘But here I was forgiving him anyway.’ Worse still were the reactions of complete strangers, as Ginn and Letlapa’s work together grew in profile. ‘We once had our photos sent to us with bullet holes in our heads,’ she recalls sadly. ‘We received a lot of hate mail from right-wing groups. The response was not always comfortable.’


Mission Formation team with Ginn Fourie

On this sunny morning in a North Sydney boardroom, Ginn sits front and centre, a picture of courage and resilience. Yet it is clear that there are things even today that move her profoundly. Her voice breaks and she stops as she recites the epitaph on Lyndi’s grave, which she reveals is a sacred place shared only by the family and close friends: ‘Your angel face brought sunshine to a shady place.’

She describes the pangs of grief that still hit despite all of her healing and forgiveness. ‘The heart has a neural system as intricate as that of the brain. All incoming stimulus goes to the heart first, and when Lyndi was killed it felt like my heart had been ripped out.’ Ginn pauses to acknowledge a member of the small audience who is dabbing an eye. ‘Thank you. Your tears are a blessing to me,’ she says with genuine warmth and humility.

For his part, Letlapa revealed that it was a struggle for him to find a way to reciprocate Ginn’s forgiveness. He has always considered his ALPA orders to be acts of war, and he has never apologised. However, he has sought to reconcile as best he can with families of the victims. He is a poet of some note these days, and the verses dedicated to Lyndi are a sincere and touching tribute.

For those of us to whom forgiveness for such a crime seems almost unfathomable, Ginn leaves a gentle reminder that the responsibility of reconciliation lies equally on the shoulders of those who have been wronged: ‘People are often slow to forgive because they think forgiving is condoning or forgetting. It is neither.

‘Letlapa’s own search for healing came from forgiveness. He says “my humanity was restored that day”.’

Now living in Margaret River in Western Australia, Ginn is a quantum energy coach, a subject perhaps a little complex for an hour-long talk on a Friday. The gist of it, she says, is that each person has their own energy field, which is both measurable and changeable. It deals mostly with the subconscious and how we allow it to dictate who we are and what we do. ‘The subconscious operates millions of times quicker than the conscious, so our ability to forgive, for example, depends heavily on the beliefs in our subconscious.’ ▪


Ginn visited Sydney and Catholic Mission as part of a speaking tour organised by Creators of Peace NSW, which also took in Adelaide and Melbourne. Ginn was delighted to find their story is the focal point of a formation workshop for adults and students run by Catholic Mission. The workshop, which takes the form of an interactive play and has been running for over ten years, was founded on nothing more than a transcript of a radio interview with Ginn and Letlapa in 2003. Materials grew over time and the workshop is now delivered around the country. A powerful documentary, ‘Beyond Forgiving’, tells Ginn and Letlapa’s story in greater detail and is available to view online. More information can be found at or by contacting Jenny Collins-White on 02 9919 7821. 

For media enquiries please contact Matthew Poynting, Senior Communications Officer, on 02 9919 7833 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .


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