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".