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Ex-South African army commander shares inspiring tale of forgiveness and reconciliation

An ex-Army commander who ordered tit-for-tat massacres during the bloody struggles of South African apartheid visited Liverpool Hope University to spread his message of forgiveness and reconciliation. 

Letlapa Mphahlele was director of the military wing of the Pan-Africanist Congress, which carried out attacks on civilians in the early 90s, as their struggle against the divided nation’s white-majority Government raged.

In 1993 Mr Mphahlele ordered reprisal shootings in response to the killing of black school children, and among other brutal attacks, it led to the Heidelberg Tavern Massacre that saw four young people killed.

After the end of apartheid Mr Mphahlele was arrested on terrorism charges but they were later dropped and he was released.

He wrote a book about his experiences and during a promotional event met Ginn Fourie, whose daughter Lyndi was killed during the Heidelberg Tavern Massacre.

The story of her forgiveness and their joint work to spread the message of shared humanity is told in an award-winning film called ‘Beyond Forgiving’.

Since its release in 2013 the pair, along with British executive producer Howard Grace, have toured the world to talk about their powerful connection. On Thursday Mr Mphahlele and Mr Grace visited Liverpool Hope for the third time to speak to students and staff.

After a discussion in the Hope Park chapel, they answered many question during an emotional and inspirational two hours.

They discussed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a court-like restorative justice body assembled in South Africa after the end of apartheid, whether Mr Mphahlele could have personally carried out the attacks himself at the time, and the importance of spirituality in healing and moving on after such atrocities.

“I have since learned that there are alternatives to effectively resist oppression,” said Mr Mphahlele. “Actually the armed response played only a little part in the end of apartheid and it was other factors, for example international isolation, which had a bigger impact.

“Were I to live my life again and face the same situation, I would still struggle but I would certainly reconsider attacking civilians.”

Mr Mphahlele said he had latterly become inspired by the nonviolent resistance of Mahatma Gandhi, who famously led the successful campaign for India's independence from British Rule, and in turn inspired movements for civil rights and freedom across the world.

“Ghandi did that without firing a single shot,” he added.

Mr Mphahlele, who lives in Johannesburg, said he enjoyed his time at Liverpool Hope.

“Each time I come here I have experienced great warmth, friendliness and hospitality, he said.

“Each discussion has been deeper than the previous one and I have also been fortunate to have the privilege of meeting and talking with the Vice Chancellor Professor Gerald Pillay.

“It was especially heartening to see so many people come to our discussion and encouraging to have their participation and insightful questions.

“Even the people who did not ask question listened intently and I greatly appreciate that. It’s a wonderful place and it is bigger each time I come here to remind everyone of our important message.”

Published on 25/10/2019