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Victims take the Peace Train

01 February 2013

Journey of hope: Worcester survivors wait for the Peace Train

Journey of hope: Worcester survivors wait for the Peace Train

SIXTY survivors of the bombing of a shopping centre in Worcester, South Africa, that left four people dead on Christmas Eve 1996, gathered at the town's train station on Tuesday to begin a 32-hour journey to visit one of the attack's perpetrators.

The Worcester Peace Train has been organised by the Worcester Hope and Reconciliation Process, the Restitution Foundation, and Khulumani, which represents survivors of human-rights violations, to enable the survivors to visit Stefaans Coetzee in prison in Pretoria. Mr Coetzee was 18, and a member of a white-supremacist organisation, when he and three accomplices set off the two bombs in 1996. He has since asked for forgiveness from the victims of the attack, and, in 2009, he was visited by Olga Macingwane, who was badly injured in the bombing, but was able to forgive Mr Coetzee.

The Department of Correctional Services has funded the train tickets to enable other survivors to follow in Ms Macingwane's footsteps, as well as support staff, including psychologists and nurses. The rest of the costs have been raised by sponsorship from the people of Worcester, and churches and individuals in the UK.

The Peace Train is due to arrive in Pretoria on Wednesday, and the meeting will take place the next day, facilitated by the Special Adviser to the Minister of Correctional Services, the Revd Themba Vundla.

Among the passengers will be the Revd Dr Sarah St Leger Hills, who is studying for a Ph.D. at the University of Durham, exploring the theology of restitution. Dr Hills recently spent three months in Worcester, and has been involved in the reconciliation process for a number of years. Born in South Africa, she moved to Northern Ireland as a child, before training as a psychiatrist and priest.

Last Friday, she said that "some [survivors] are still quite angry about [the attack], and some feel more able to forgive. That is part of what this journey is about . . . a pilgrimage of taking a big risk."

Dr Hills hopes that the Peace Train, "a catalyst and beacon of hope", will have benefits beyond South Africa, "giving a better understanding of forgiveness and restitution, and their place in the reconciliation journey".


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