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From South Africa to South Sudan: Lessons in Forgiveness

  • Anthony Mogga

Letlapa Mphahlele is a member of parliament in South Africa. In 1993, during the country’s apartheid era, he organized an attack in Cape Town that killed 23-year-old Lyndi Fourie.

Nine years later, Lyndi’s mother, Ginn Fourie heard an interview with Mphahlele on the radio.

"I knew he had been dodging the public prosecutor and had not applied for amnesty (under South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation process), and so with a sense of anger and righteous indignation I took myself down to his book launch," she writes on the website of the foundation that carries her daughter's name.

"During the event I stood up and asked him whether he was trivialising the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process by not taking part in it. To my surprise he responded in a very positive way."

The two went on to set up the Lyndi Fourie Foundation to "further conciliation in South Africa."

"We feel extremely privileged through discovering conciliation ourselves to extend the opportunity for others to cross the divides of race, gender and differing ideology," the foundation's website says.

Fourie and Mphahlele have been able to forgive one another, and the same is possible for South Sudanese, Fourie told more than 200 peace mobilizers who were finishing a month of training in Juba -- one of the first tentative steps toward getting South Sudan's reconciliation process under way.

"We in South Africa thought it was very important to capture the truth of what has happened in order for justice to be taken care of," Fourie said.

"I believe if the peace mobilizers can demonstrate and live as if the peace has already happened, it will happen," she said, speaking with Mphahlele at the training event.

Mphahlele said true reconciliation can only be achieved by talking honestly and openly about what has happened in the past.

"Story-telling should be given space," he said, adding that it was essential for people to admit to their wrongdoings -- much as he did with Fourie.

"It is quite a struggle, it is not easy," he said.

Fourie told the peace mobilizers that reconciliation could help South Sudanese to move beyond the tribal affiliations that are often the source of conflict in the country.

"When people feel represented and they have their voice heard, they are much more willing to do what is necessary, rather than just impose (solutions) from the top," she said.

"You have a wonderful opportunity in South Sudan to negotiate a change and to define a way forward for yourselves," she said.

A key step will be to ensure that everyone in South Sudan participates in reconciliation, said Mphahlele.

That could be the toughest challenge faced by the reconciliation process in South Sudan, where, earlier this month, President Salva Kiir abruptly canceled a reconciliation conference organized by Vice President Riek Machar -- who is also seen as a rival to Kiir for the leadership of the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM).

South Sudan's healing and reconciliation campaign was approved in January by the Council of Ministers and was supposed to get under way this month.

It was to follow the model of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa, where victims and perpetrators of apartheid-era injustices met and reconciled.

Machar, who last year apologized for his role in the massacre of hundreds of civilians in Jonglei state in 1991, some eight years into the civil war in Sudan, headed a committee in charge of preparing for the launch of the reconciliation effort, until he was relieved of those duties by Kiir earlier this month.

Last week, Kiir appointed a new committee to organize the conference, but no date has been set for the healing and reconciliation project to get under way.