South Africa: Worcester Bombing Victims Meet Youngest Bomber

press release

Fifty survivors of the 1996 Worcester bombing are meeting the youngest bomber at the Pretoria Central Correctional Centre today, 31 January 2013.

Yesterday afternoon, 30 January 2013 Correctional Services Minister Sibusiso Ndebele welcomed the group of survivors and families of the victims who arrived by train from Worcester in the Western Cape at the Pretoria train station.

The Department of Correctional Services had arranged for the group to come to Gauteng to meet with Stefaans Coetzee, who had just turned 17 at the time of the bombing at the Worcester Mall on Christmas Eve in 1996. The incident left four people dead, including three children and one adult male. There were 67 survivors that sustained injuries. The meeting between Coetzee and the survivors is part of the Victim-Offender Dialogue (VOD) programme, launched by the department last year.

Addressing the victims yesterday (30 January 2013), Minister Ndebele said: "Today, Wednesday, the 30th of January 2013, is, indeed, a historic day for South Africa as part of our journey towards reconciliation. Last month, on the 16th of December 2012, we commemorated our 18th National Day of Reconciliation in a free and democratic South Africa - a day of promoting unity, social cohesion, forgiveness and a non-racial society.

"Sixty five years ago on this day, 30 January 1948, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the political and spiritual leader of the Indian independence movement, was assassinated in New Delhi. Known as Mahatma, or "the great soul," during his lifetime, Gandhi's persuasive methods of civil disobedience influenced leaders of civil rights movements around the world, especially Martin Luther King Jr. in the United States. Today, 30 January 2013, we welcome 50 victims of the 1996 Worcester bombing, here in Tshwane, who have just arrived by train from Worcester. Tomorrow, 31 January they will meet Stefaans Coetzee at the Pretoria Central Correctional Centre.

"The 8th of January 2013 marked 101 years for the oldest liberation movement on the continent, the African National Congress, which brought about freedom and democracy in our country. On the occasion of the 101st anniversary of the ANC, President Jacob Zuma said: 'Sixty five years ago, the National Party came to power on 26 May 1948, marking the formal introduction of 'apartheid'. This served to institutionalise racism and the total segregation of the races as well as the complete disempowerment and dehumanisation of black people'. Unquote.

"On 28 November 2012, we, as the Department of Correctional Services, officially launched the Victim-Offender Dialogue (VOD) Programme at the Secunda Stadium in Mpumalanga province. More than 3,000 people, including victims of crime, offenders, members of the public and government officials, attended this provincial launch, which marked the first leg of a series of Victim-Offender Dialogues across the country. On 6 December 2012, we hosted a VOD at Richards Bay stadium in KwaZulu-Natal.

"Through the VOD programme, we are embarking on a renewed focus to bring victims of crime, offenders and communities together so that relationships can be restored and forgiveness sought. The main thrust of the programme is to keep as many people as possible away from imprisonment, through reconstruction of family units, and community systems, as well as victim support and empowerment, while pursuing the rehabilitation of those already incarcerated through well-managed rehabilitation programmes.

"The objective of the Victim-Offender Dialogues is to put the victim back at the centre of the corrections system, as the victim is directly, and personally, affected by the criminal act of the offender. Equally, the offender must be given an opportunity to reflect on his or her wrongs and request forgiveness.

"We want to create opportunities where various stakeholders defined as victims of crime, those affected personally, their families, communities, community-based organisations, non-governmental organisations, religious and spiritual bodies, educators, councillors and local leaders, will assemble together with offenders with a single purpose to rebuild our communities ravaged by crime. We want to reinforce corrections programmes through music, reading for redemption, creative literature, the arts, cultural events, heritage renewal events, sporting events, formal education and acquisition of skills, economic renewal through cooperatives and enterprise development, spiritual growth and self-correcting interventions, among others. The trilogy of victim, offender and community must play a leading role in the implementation of the Victim-Offender Dialogues as corrections is a societal responsibility.

"Therefore, today, we want to congratulate the victims of the Worcester bombing for taking this important step to meet with Stefaans Coetzee. Another major influence in Coetzee's decision, to turn his life around, was meeting one of his victims. Olga Macingwane was still limping from the damage done by Coetzee's 1996 bomb, when she walked towards him on the morning just before Christmas in 2009, ready to face him. She had been paying for groceries when the first bomb went off. We also want to convey our gratitude to the community-based Worcester Restitution Project, as well as social justice movement Khulumani.

"In November 2011, the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation (IJR) bestowed its 11th annual Reconciliation Award on Olga Macingwane in Cape Town, for her continued commitment to community reconciliation since she travelled to Pretoria in 2009 to face Coetzee in order to tell him she forgave him.

"Receiving this prestigious award, Macingwane said: 'When Stefaans was created by God I was not there, when I was created Stefaans wasn't there. I said to Stefaans, 'I will pray for you to come out of Pretoria prison so that we can work together in order to change this SA. Maybe God elected me and you to use for a better South Africa'. Unquote.

"This woman's belief in 'live and let live' had been such a huge inspiration for the other victims, that it was announced, during last year's (2012) National Reconciliation Day remembrance in the Worcester town hall, that a "Peace train", with the victims on board, would leave for Pretoria early this year to meet with Coetzee in prison. And here we are today.

"In the words of Coetzee: 'Soon thereafter a desire was born in my heart to personally meet the victims whom I have wronged. This dream was fulfilled in 2009 when Olga Macingwane visited me in prison. I did not expect her to forgive me, but the love in her heart imparted grace and forgiveness which resulted in freedom beyond understanding. During the years I have learnt that happiness is created from within. There comes a time to let go of hurt by crushing the lemons thrown to me and to make lemonade from it'. Unquote.

"To this end, the community, as the victim of crime, needs to move away from retribution, and distrust for the concept of rehabilitation, into a new movement that seeks partnerships to reduce crime. This will be achieved by promoting the good values of good citizenship, which include empowering the victim and assisting the offender, to regain his or her best self and get re-integrated to society.

The purpose of the Victim-Offender Dialogues is to provide:

A restorative conflict resolution process that actively involves the victim, and offender, in repairing the emotional, and material, harm caused by a crime;

An opportunity for a victim, and offender, to discuss the offence, get answers to their questions, express feelings and gain a greater sense of closure;

An opportunity for a victim, and offender, to develop a mutually agreeable plan that addresses the harm caused by the crime;

An opportunity for broad community participation in the fight against crime; and

Prevention of repeat offending.

"Finally, in the words of President Nelson Mandela: 'Reconciliation requires that we work together to defend our democracy and the humanity proclaimed by our Constitution. Free at last, we are all masters of our destiny. A better future depends on all of us lending a hand - your hand, my hand.' Unquote," the Minister said.

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