Creating platforms for engagement has become a phrase uttered more and more in local civic society in order to heal rifts between South African people. Keith Upton is a living witness to the power of forgiveness on such a public platform which occurred after he came face to face with a hit-and-run-driver who had caused him severe injuries and pain many years ago and had driven off without attending to the four cyclists who had been struck by him.
Six years after the horrific accident, they met on an Alpha course. Upton miraculously and instantaneously recognized the offender who had driven off after hitting the cyclists. Upton and the driver were reconciled shortly after that meeting in Umhlanga and Upton’s resentfulness subsided, although he still carried some physical scars and could no longer pursue his favorite pastime, road cycling.
On August 3rd, 2008, Upton was cycling with a group of friends in single file early in the morning. A driver travelling at high speed ploughed through the group. He first hit the cyclist at the rear of the group. Then, swerving to the right, he severely injured three other cyclists, including Upton.
"I didn't see the car coming from behind"
“I didn’t see the car coming from behind and my only recollection was a whoomph-sound and the next thing I knew, I regained consciousness some time later several meters up a rocky bank well away from the road,” Upton recalled. “I didn’t suffer the worst injuries but ended up with a fractured spine, damaged discs and vertebrae, a brain injury which affected my short term memory, my hearing and vision; and I looked as if I had gone through a mincer as there were so many cuts and abrasions over my body,” Upton said.
He could not sleep on any side of his shoulders for eight months after the accident and he had a terrible headache for months. The driver, despite his vehicle being almost a write-off, did not stop to attend to the injured. He drove off down the road with flat tires, buckled wheels, broken glass and badly damaged bodywork. Officially he handed himself over to the police three days after the accident. Upton asked many questions afterwards as he struggled to come to terms with the incident emotionally and said anger was eating away at him. Why did the culprit drive off with no contact afterwards and no apologies?
Some six years later, as a member of the Grace Family Church, Upton signed up for an Alpha course. He was assigned to a group to discuss each week’s video session. After the first week a friend moved to another group and simply told Upton they had moved him too. Imagine Upton’s surprise when sitting opposite him in the new group was the hit-and-run-driver. He did not recognize Upton, but the cyclist immediately knew it was him. He did not say anything during the session but waited until afterwards and spoke to the group leader, who set up a meeting for the driver and him to meet at the church outside of Alpha. They did so the following week, with the group leader present. He had rehearsed the accident a thousand times and he found afterwards it occupied some head space in the driver’s mind too.
"I had not gone to the meeting with that intent. The look on his face when he heard this was a mixture of surprise and relief. It was shortly after this that he apologised to me. Perhaps that was what I had been waiting for the past six years.
“We ended the meeting with a hug and went on our way.”
Upton believes God was at work in bringing the offender and victim face to face. At the time of the accident, the driver followed a different religion, and became a Christian four years later. He lived in a different area, but decided to join the Grace Family Church in Umhlanga and sign up for that specific Alpha course. Upton was only assigned to the group of which the driver was a part, a week later.
“The driver came to me a week after our conversation in which I forgave him and said that because I had forgiven him, he was now able to forgive others who had wronged him in the past, something he was never able to do,” Upton said.
Through that courageous conversation and Alpha he was changed and freed from the chains of the past. His anger had gone and he is no longer a victim he says. “I can no longer pursue my love of road cycling and racing, but that is ok as my mind is at peace. God is with me. I am a much happier person,” Upton said.