Worcester remembers … and builds hope!

worcesterOn the National Day of Reconciliation the people of Worcester joined a process of Hope and Reconciliation to remember those who died and those who were injured in the 1996 Christmas Eve Shoprite Centre bombing.  They gathered not only to mourn a difficult past, but to build a hope-filled future.  Recognising that this horrific event was but one of a painful past, people joined hands in the church just outside Shoprite in an act of penitence and community.  In this commitment to finding each other after centuries of pain, they offer us all a story of hope and healing.  The morning began with a short video telling the story so far, followed by introductions by Mr Basil Kivedo, the Mayor of the Breede River Valley, the reading of a letter from Mr Stefaans Coetzee, poetry and an address by Prof Jonathan Jansen.

Each newspaper has reflected on Worcester’s journey differently (below).  Dr Marje Jobson of Khulumani Support Group describes the event on their website.

Max Du Preez writes about the event in his weekly column  “For me, the South African story of the last week wasn’t Julius Malema mocking his party’s leader with a mock shower over the head or the forced resignation of yet another bad appointment by president Jacob Zuma. It was the Reconciliation Day meeting at Worcester in the Western Cape.
At that gathering, the right wing terrorist Stefaans Coetzee who planted a bomb in a shopping centre in the town 15 years ago, pleaded for forgiveness for killing four people and injuring 67 – a plea that was accepted by the victims and survivors. Coetzee is still serving a 20-year jail sentence. He was 18 years old when he and five other rightwingers bombed the Shoprite centre to kill as many black and coloured people as possible. His moving statement was read by his newly found friend, academic Tshepo Madlingozi of the Khulumani support group. (Cape Times, 19 December 2011)

The Rapport writes about Stephanus Coetzee’s letter to the Reconciliation Day gathering – a letter of remorse read out by his friend Tsepho Madlingozi of the Khulumani Victim Support Group.   In their editorial page Basil Kivedo, Mayor of Breede River Valley and member of the Worcester Hope and Reconciliation Process reflects on the 2 year journey in partnership with the Restitution Foundation to build this process of unity and solidarity across Apartheid’s boundaries.  This process has drawn in the survivors of the bomb, religious leaders, politicians, business people and ordinary people from Worcester and Zwelethemba.  “If we could be reconciled with Stefaans Coetsee, the rest of Worcester can reconcile.  Let us take this challenge seriously, by making it easier to believe that there is real sorrow about the human rights abuses that have happened in Worcester’s past.”  “The key objective of the project is to develop a strategy of reconciliation to heal the divisions in Worcester caused by Apartheid” (Kivedo: our translation).

Internationally known poet and member of the process, Floris Brown acknowledges the road ahead with the words “We are dealing with the past, very gently /working on a future for future generations / building safe havens step by step / because tomorrow remains unforeseen”.

The Sunday Times holds the Vice Chancellor of the University of the Free State, Professor Jonathan Jansen’s moving words as he considers victim Mrs Olga Macingwane’s response of forgiveness on meeting Stephanus at Pretoria Central Prison where she said, “Stefaans, when I see you, I see my sister’s son in you, and I cannot hate you … Come here my boy, I forgive you; I have heard what you said, and I forgive you”.  Professor Jansen’s speech takes us into deep reflection on the complexities of relating across our painful past, and the opportunities left open by the two bombs that did not go off that day.

The Burger reiterates Prof Jansen’s statement, “the community of this town exemplifies hope and reconciliation, and the rest of the country needs this outlook” (our translation).

Alexander Fuller of the National Geographic wrote of the early steps in this journey by sharing Tsepho’s comments “Meeting Stefaans has reignited my faith in the future of South Africa,” he says. “My worldview is black consciousness, and that hasn’t changed as a result of knowing Stefaans. But it has made me appreciate that even the most ardent racists—even murderers—can change and be humble. Yes, Stefaans’s intelligence, humility, acute appreciation of the consequences of his actions and the system of apartheid, as well as his appreciation that reconciliation is not merely about showing goodwill, have greatly inspired me.”

We know that the journey continues and we invite you to witness, to pray for ongoing peace and to be inspired to do restitution wherever life finds you.  We’d value your spreading the story by passing on this email, by “Liking” our Facebook page, or by joining our National Dialogue through sending us a paragraph or three on your view of The Role of Restitution in South Africa.

At the close of Friday’s service Worcester watched as Olga Macingwane lit a candle of remembrance and hope, and set free the doves of peace.  May the people of Worcester inspire us all across South Africa.


Deon and Sarah

The Restitution Foundation — PS.  Claude and Deon have just been interviewed by Lynette Francis on RSG’s Praat Saam.  Listen in!!

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