• Written by  By Alexandra Fuller,
  • Published in Reconciliation
  • Read 4532 times

"Mandela's Children" an article reflecting on Khulumani's reconciliation work in South Africa

  • Read the full article online here.
  • View the article's photo gallery here.

A year ago the feature article of the June 2010 issue of the National Geographic Magazine was titled, "Mandela's Children", written by Alexandra Fuller. It provides a personal appreciation of the heart of Khulumani's work especially with regards to reconciliation in South Africa, with special focus on the town of Worchester. 



"South Africa is a vibrant, multiethnic democracy striving, with mixed success, to fulfill its promise. Photojournalist James Nachtwey offers a vision of contemporary life, and Alexandra Fuller tells an intimate story about the long shadow of apartheid."


 Quotes from the Article:

"Apartheid so effectively enriched a few at the utter debasement of the majority—to say nothing of the imprisonment of so many, the exile, the disappearances, the violent deaths—that a mere end to the system could not begin to repair the damage," Tshepo Madlingozi says.Madlingozi is a 31-year-old senior lecturer of law at the University of Pretoria and an advocacy coordinator for the Khulumani Support Group, an organization of 58,000 victims of political violence, mainly during the apartheid era. "You can say, Everybody is equal now; let's get on with it. That suits those who benefited from the system—but it does nothing to institute restorative justice, and it can't undo generations of habitual racism, palpable hate, or feelings of inadequacy." -

"Eugene was always telling me, 'Look Stefaans, you have to stop believing you are superior just because of the color of your skin,' " Coetzee says. "He said, 'Take it from me, I've learned the hard way.' I told Eugene, 'Please stop pestering me.' But he never shut up about it. He told me that until I stopped being a racist I'd be in two prisons—one around my body, and another one around my heart." -

"Everyone was exhausted by 1994. I think they just wanted apartheid to go away and the government to fix everything. But that didn't happen," Jobson says. "It's up to each individual South African to participate actively in restitution. You know, the power of one. The power one person has to perpetuate our violent past, or the power one person has to contribute to a just, peaceful society." -

Sometime in 2004 Jobson received a phone call from Eugene de Kock. Over the years de Kock has tried to help Khulumani locate people who disappeared during the struggle, describing in some detail the manner in which they vanished, mostly because he was responsible for what happened to them. De Kock told Jobson that he had become acquainted over the previous couple of years with a young man called Stefaans Coetzee. "Stefaans wanted to meet with his victims and apologize for what he had done," she says. Jobson wasn't opposed to being helpful. The only problem was that Coet­zee had no idea who his victims were. He could give no names and—beyond the fact that three of the dead had been children—no identifying characteristics. -

"On the one hand, the Khulumani group was part of a lawsuit to ensure that the rights of victims were taken into account in this pardoning process," Jobson says, clearing books off the kitchen table so we can eat lunch. "On the other hand, I was getting more calls all the time from Stefaans's social worker and his minister, begging me to see if I could get him together with his victims. Not surprisingly, the victims of the Worcester bombing were skeptical. They had questions. Why does he want to meet us now? How is it going to benefit us? Is he feeling guilty now? Has he really had a change of heart?" Jobson sets a bowl of chicken noodle soup in front of me. In her distraction, she fails to eat at all. "I was interested in justice," she continues, "but I was most interested in the process of reconciliation. It was a conundrum." In the end Jobson appealed for help to a trusted colleague: Tshepo Madlingozi. -

On the day I meet him in his law faculty office, Madlingozi is wearing black jeans, a long-sleeved, blue dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up, and casual leather sneakers. Our conversation is accompanied by the customary cup of tea. "Rooibos or normal?" Madlingozi had asked, offering either South Africa's native herbal tea or ordinary black tea. Now he blows into his cup and looks at me over the rim. "We made a decision that I should go and see Coetzee and see if he was for real. I was very nervous, very skeptical. I didn't know how I was going to react." -

A day in mid-April 2009 was set for a meeting between Madlingozi and Coetzee in the social worker's office at Pretoria Central. "I was expecting someone in my imagination that looked very racist, you know, not this guy who walks into the office. I see a boy the same age as me. He's somehow handsome, very diffident. He was surprised too. He was expecting to see an old, radical, militant ANC activist." -

Madlingozi shook hands with Coetzee and introduced himself. Coetzee shook Madlingozi's hand and thanked him for coming. The two men sat for a couple of hours and talked. "Mostly about ourselves," Madlingozi says. "What does he miss in prison? How did I become a lawyer? How did he become a prisoner? What do we hope for ourselves? What do we hope for our country?" -

Madlingozi leans forward. "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." Madlingozi has both hands under his chin now. "I can see how there might be people criticizing me for selling out. How can I visit this man? How can I have empathy? But this isn't just about winning. It can't be about winning. If we only want to win, then there will always be losers, and how is that so different from the way things were? This has always been about the big picture, about moving on together." Then he laughs and looks at me, almost challengingly. "Mmm, it's complicated, messy—it can be very personal and always in shades of gray. But that's where reality is. That's where we are. That's what we have to work with." -


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