Powell wept over the story. She was sickened by the murder and saddened by a quote attributed to Rampuru's 33-year-old widow, Adelina: "I hate every white I see. I think my kids are going to hate whites for their whole lives." Powell felt deeply connected to the sorrowing woman, whose photograph accompanied the article. "I don't know why, but it was like it had happened to me," Powell recalls, sipping tea in the kitchen of her adobe cottage. She's 45, a lean woman whose beauty is equal parts sinew and sweetness. "I felt as if her spirit was calling out for support, and it came to me to write to her." Powell, who is white, sent the woman a letter and enclosed $50, though she didn't have much money to spare. She'd never done anything like that before. She knew only the widow's name and the name of her town. She also knew what it was like to feel hopeless, frightened and alone.
Half a world away, Adelina Rampuru was comforting her boys after their father's funeral, attended by more than a thousand people. Rampuru kept catching herself looking for John in the crowd. On the day he died, she'd worked late at her job as a car-wash cashier, and she expected to find John waiting for her at home. Her sons, Isaac, then 13, and Success, then 9, were excited; their dad had promised to take them to the public swimming pool the next afternoon. "It was payday, so he said we could afford the tickets," Rampuru remembers.
Two years after her husband's murder, Rampuru, a small, vibrant woman, speaks of him with composure, but grief and outrage are never far below the surface. She smiles at a framed photograph of John, one of several in the living room of the pleasant brick house he'd nearly finished building when he was killed. The Rampurus live on a dirt road in the black township of Zamdela, a patchwork of tin shacks and small brick houses set between a coal mine and an oil refinery on the outskirts of Sasolburg. It's winter in the Southern Hemisphere, and a chilly wind spiked with chemical fumes finds the cracks where the walls don't quite meet the tin roof. That night, Rampuru says, she was relieved when her sister-in-law, who lives next door, came over at 8:30 to report that John had called. The Rampurus had no telephone, but John carried a cell phone on the job. "He said to tell me he'd worked late, and the boss had just invited him for a drink and would drive him home," says Rampuru. At home, she speaks Sotho, a major language in southern Africa, but she's as comfortable in English. "That was amazing. Odendaal doesn't like blacks. He called his workers kaffirs [the equivalent of "niggers"]. It was quite a surprise for me to hear that they were drinking together." Her husband, a forbearing man, never tangled with Odendaal. John was, however, planning to look for another job. He could take the bad attitude, he'd told his wife, but not the low pay, just over $100 a month.
I pray you receive this letter. My name is Beverly Powell, and I live in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA. I'm writing to you because I have read a newspaper article regarding your husband's murder. It broke my heart when this happened, and I cried. ... I pray [Odendaal] is served justice in South Africa. God shall surely serve justice to him when he is dead. Here in the United States recently, a black man named James Byrd was also dragged behind a truck to his death. ... I cried my heart out over that death, too. I'm so sorry about your husband. I read in the newspaper that you said you would hate every white person you see. I am a white person. ...I have cried over these crimes, and my prayers are for an end to all racism. I can't even imagine how much pain your family must be going through. I ask you please to know that there are many white people who are not racists and are devastated by these crimes, and all racial hatred. So please can you find it in your heart not to hate us all? I'm sending also this gift of money, which is not much but is from my heart. I am a housecleaner (servant). ... I hope that it is helpful to you and your sons. God be with you.
She sent this reply on October 27, 2000. It read, in part:
The Beloved Beverly:
It is in great grace of God that I received your letter and gift that meant so much to me. ... Your condolences made me feel that I'm not alone. My sons were so happy to receive a letter from the States. It meant so much to them that even though their dad is no longer with them, they are not forgotten. ... Thanks once again. Maybe we will meet sometime, only heaven knows. I will always remember you. May God bless you. If possible may you please send me your picture and your family's. Note: ... I did not say I hated white people, I said I am scared of them. I love you despite the fact that you are white as long as you are human and not racist. Thanks once again. I hope justice shall prevail.