Limpho Hani, Clive Derby-Lewis and the power of refusing to forgive

Limpho Hani is often visibly angry about the assassination of her husband. Twenty-one years later, she refuses to forgive or forget. In fact, she bristles with rage when the subject of her husband comes up. The loss of her husband, the father of her children, is not something she is prepared to approach gently. She has not forgiven Clive Derby-Lewis and her anger must be respected.

In the last few days the public conversation has turned to whether or not the country has moved on enough to release Derby-Lewis. Some have suggested that he is sick and old and has served his time. The grand narrative seems to be that treating him with kindness is a marker of our maturity as a society.

This sense that society has to be ‘bigger’ than the racist killer is a defining feature of the new South Africa. Forgiveness plays an iconic role in our post-Apartheid national identity; those who forgive are revered as heroes of a special kind. More than any other trait, South Africans see forgiveness as part of the miracle of our transition to democracy.

Women in particular are expected not only to forgive, but also to mother. Their role is to help the healing process, to not be bitter and outraged. As so, by rights, Limpho Hani should be cutting ribbons and opening memorial centres in her husband’s name. She should be smiley and chirpy, or serious but reflective, but always, always, forgiving. She should not be so angry because frankly, there is no space or time in this democracy for…

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