In June 2002, I went to the United Way World Congress in Cape Town, South Africa. United Way is the world’s largest charitable fundraiser raising some $9 billion for various charities in 2002. I was at the conference as a delegate from the Australian board and also as the recipient of the 2002 International Citizen of the Year award.
The keynote address at the Congress was to be given by Nelson Mandela. Unfortunately, Mr Mandela could not be there due to an urgent unexpected meeting with the United Nations. His place was taken by F. W. de Klerk, Nelson Mandela’s predecessor. Mr. de Klerk gave me my award. He was an interesting man.
Fortunately, even though Mr Mandela could not be at the conference. His inspirational speech was read out. It was a great speech and left me with so much to think about.
Especially the line ‘when you take away hope, people fly planes into buildings’.
Immediately after the reading, I was introduced to Linda. Linda was there to tell us her story. I am here tell you her story or at least an essence of it.
Some four years earlier, Linda and her husband were in their sitting room, watching the late-night news on television when the phone rang. The voice on the other end told Linda’s husband that their 19 year old daughter had died that day from injuries sustained. She was assaulted by two 12-year old black boys. We can only imagine the pain that followed after this announcement.
Linda’s daughter had made a decision at 18 to go to South Africa and work for one of the organisations facilitating the end of apartheid in that country. On the morning of her demise, two brothers had been told by protesters to ‘go out and kill a white person today’. So, they did. They found a white girl and stoned her to death, despite the fact that she was on their side. A mistake!
After enduring this pain for some days, Linda and her husband found themselves asking ‘what’s next?’ After struggling with this question for a few more days. It was decided that there were two options:
Linda and her husband chose the second option. Cutting the long story short. They sold their homes, possessions and moved to South Africa. Not only did they move to the country in which their daughter was killed, but they moved into the village from which the two killers had lived (the brothers were now in jail awaiting a trial). They even bought two failing businesses in the village out of the sales proceeds of their home with the view of building them up.
You see on reaching the village, they recognised the role unemployment and poverty play towards the behaviour of these boys. In carrying on with their daughter’s work. Linda and her husband realised they had to create employment in the town to eradicate poverty which was the root cause of their daughter’s death.
Through hard work and determination, the businesses became very successful and considerable employment was created over two years. Linda and her husband became valued and loved members of the community.
From this stage South Africa had changed and Nelson Mandela was President. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission was completing hearings involving the perpetrators of race-related crimes during the apartheid era. The brothers who had killed Linda’s daughter were scheduled to appear before the commission. Linda and her husband were asked if they wanted to present a victim’s impact statement. They did, and one can only imagine how harrowing it was.
Then came a twist. Linda and her husband were told that inline with the mandate of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission while the boys were facing an extended period in gaol for their crime. Linda and her husband prevented this by asking the court to release the boys under village supervision and in effect forgiving them.
This occurred and within months Linda and her husband adopted the boys, took them back to the village and enrolled them in school.
They not only forgave the boys, but they considered them as grandchildren. They took the view that the memory of their daughter was best served through kindness and taking action to ensure that these boys never became recidivists.
Linda and her husband demonstrated hearts bigger than planets. Kindness beyond comprehension and a vision to be marvelled.
Linda said that she loved both the boys with all of her heart and that she was proud that they both call her grandma (in their native tongue)
A year later Linda’s husband had a heart attack and died in the village. Linda was however not alone in the presentation. While one of the boys was at a school engagement, the other was at the event and was introduced to us all.