Yesterday saw a remarkable ceremony take place in Worcester where the town's diverse communities came together to remember the Christmas Eve 1996 bombing that had caused so much devastation in the community of Worcester.
The commemoration opened with a welcome from Executive Mayor of Breede Valley, Mr Basil Kivedo who explained how proud he was to be mayor of "this valley of caring, sharing and hope" and how the Worcester Hope and Reconciliation process was informing his service a mayor of this beautiful wide valley stretching to the dramatic mountains that encircle the entire town. Mr Kivedo asserted that, "We need each other. We have only one country and we need to nurture and treasure it. We need to bring our communities together to say 'Simunye – We are One'."
Mr Claude Schroeder, Chairperson of the Worcester Hope and Reconciliation Process, then addressed the gathered crowd of around 200 people and spoke of the gathering as the culmination of two years of hard work spent building peace in our homes and in our communities. He asserted that no-one is born to hate and that hate is learned. Love comes more easily than hate, he said. He expressed appreciation for people not tolerating party politics and he spoke of the need for the community to do the hard work of reconciliation in Worcester and of how the journey to healing had begun with the visit of four Zweletemba residents to Stefaans Coetzee, one of the bombers, at Pretoria Central Prison on 9 November 2009. He spoke of the power of Mrs Olga Macingwane's words after meeting Stefaans and of how when she had forgiven Stefaans, the label of victim no longer had any power over her and she became Olga. Mr Schroeder concluded by calling on all Worcesterians to "build a society of which future generations will be proud". He reminded everyone that the time is always ripe for us to do the right thing. He then called on the Worcester poet, Mr Floris Brown, curator of the Worcester Museum, to render a poem for the Worcester Hope and Reconciliation Process. (Please see the attached short biography of one of South Africa's acclaimed Afrikaans poets). Mr Brown spoke of the day as a day when "we are scattering our past into the wind" and of how that past had left many scars.
Mr Tshepo Madlingozi of Khulumani Support Group then came to the podium to tell the story of the development of his friendship with Stefaans Coetzee and he explained how he had gone to meet Stefaans for the first time, ready to 'fight with him' but found a fellow human being with whom he had built a deep friendship.
The floor was then given to Professor Jonathan Jansen, Vice Chancellor of the University of the Free State who entitled his address "The bombs that did not go off". Professor Jansen spoke of the wounds of Christmas Eve 1996 that remain open for many people in this town which must be one of the most beautiful towns in the world. He asked the question, "What if the other two bombs had also gone off? What if Olga Macingwane had been killed? Would there still have been a meeting with Stefaans Coetzee?" He said that the explosion of the bombs in Worcester had been an indescribable act of violence while the failure of a further two bombs to detonate, could be viewed as an act of grace. "Exploding bombs push us away from each other. They are a sign of how deeply divided we came into the new South Africa. The unexploded bombs point to how much worse it might have been".
Professor Jansen expressed appreciation that the event was not taking place in the public spotlight and said that this is the real reconciliation. "The drama of the TRC was important, but this is the hard work of reconciliation. It is hard work because victims take time to heal and perpetrators take time to understand." He explained how the father of one of the Reitz Four students at his university had been unable to comprehend what his son had done (in taking part in humiliating the five workers who were employed at their hostel) because of the stories he carried in his head about black people that made him "unable to see the evil in front of him".
Professor Jansen continued by explaining that reconciliation would take time given that "we got into this mess over 350 years". Reconciliation is hard work, he said. It is uneven work because some will stay angry and will die angry, without forgiveness in their hearts. "Forgiveness gives you space to heal and takes the burden off your back", he said, but never forget that people do not understand at the same rate. He continued that reconciliation is costly work and in this work, victims must have priority and the focus must be on social justice. Remember, he said, that someone put things in Stefaans' head. He concluded with the assertion that reconciliation is necessary work and warned that we are still in deep trouble in South Africa; we are a country of "kwaai bose mense" and we need a Khulumani Support Group to bring us together in this wounded country where we still hear calls to 'get the whites.' He called for every South African to get to know the story of Worcester.
Professor Jansen then drew attention to the fact that Mrs Macingwane had not used the language so many South Africans use against each other when they are "the moer in with each other". On that memorable day in September 2009 she had said to Stefaans, 'Come here, my boy. When I look at you, I see my sister's son. I have heard what you said and I forgive you'. Professor Jansen then referred to the film, Finding Nemo in which Marlin and his wife, Dorie, go on a seemingly impossible search for their son Nemo in the vast ocean and Marlin begs to give up this exhausting search so that he can go home. Then Dorie says to him, "but when I see you, I am home". In the same way when Olga addressed Stefaans, she was declaring that when she saw him, she was home. What incredible generosity of spirit!, he asserted.
Professor Jansen concluded by expressing regret that there is so much noise this side of apartheid and that so much of our moral grounding has been lost. He mourned the fact that people are being whipped into not thinking for themselves and that South Africans have shown they are capable of burning alive, people who look like them. He asserted that the world needs the story of Worcester and that wherever angry tribal things happen, the story of Worcester needs to be told. In building a new country, we need to bring young people together and we need to discipline them. This is what has worked with the Reitz hostel students at the University of the Free State, he explained.
After a closing song and a prayer, the group gathered in the parking area outside Checkers where doves were released as a symbol of "hope and reconciliation". The participants then moved to the Worcester Museum where tea and refreshments had been prepared and where Khulumani facilitated a dialogue amongst all those who had attended the gathering. The space became a forum for victims of the bombing to share their stories and their continuing struggles with the consequences of the bombings. Mrs Elvina Ndamoyi of Khulumani Worcester, concluded with the words, "Ek kan sien ons gaan vorentoe". (I can see that we are moving forward)