The affordable education loan option
Cape Town - At a face-to-face meeting meant to help survivors reconcile with one of the men responsible for the Christmas Eve bombings in Worcester nearly 17 years ago, all Neliswa Busakwa could feel was hate and loss.
Busakwa’s sister, Sweetness Busakwa, 31 at the time, was badly injured in the attack and died four years later in spite of a number of operations.
Stephanus “Stefaans” Coetzee, 18 at the time, met Busakwa and 40 other survivors and their families on Monday in Worcester.
He is serving a 40-year sentence.
Two bombs went off in Worcester on December 24, 1996 killing four people, two of them nine-year-old children, and injuring 67 others.
One bomb went off outside a Shoprite supermarket frequented by coloured and black shoppers and another at a nearby pharmacy.
Soon after, Coetzee and Nicolaas Clifton Barnard, 40, at the time of the bombings, Abraham Liebrecht Myburgh, then 23, and Johannes Benjamin van der Westhuizen, then 45, were arrested and admitted to the attacks, saying they wanted to destroy the new democratic order.
On Monday at a Department of Correctional Services Victim-Offender Dialogue Programme at the Pietman Hugo Hall in Worcester, Busakwa said seeing Coetzee again filled her with anger.
“I hate you,” she told him. “You took away someone very dear to my heart. My sister left me with big shoes to fill. I can’t forgive you, it’s now between you and your maker,” she said.
Before she spoke, an emotional Busakwa asked that Coetzee, who was seated behind her, be moved to a seat further away.
The Khulumani Support Group, which works with apartheid victims, set up meetings at the prison between Coetzee and some of his victims.
In January more than 60 of the survivors went to meet Coetzee at the Pretoria Central Correctional Centre where he had been serving his 40-year sentence.
Two weeks ago, Busakwa and several others, met Coetzee at the Worcester prison, where he was recently moved, for the first time since the attack.
While most of the families forgave Coetzee after the visits, Busakwa, 34, said seeing Coetzee again on Monday forced her to relive her loss.
“I was at home helping my mother with preparations for Christmas. At about 1pm we received a call to say that Sweetness was injured in a bombing at work.
“We rushed there, but they had already rushed her to hospital. Her left leg was broken, her stomach was open and there were stones in her chest. It was terrible to see her in so much pain,” she said.
Busakwa said the family had struggled to cope with her sister’s death and were still feeling the pinch after paying her medical expenses.
Survivor Lisle Philander, 34, who was a cashier at Shoprite at the time, said she had forgiven Coetzee.
“When I met him in Pretoria, I actually felt sorry for him once we spoke. I forgave him for what he did to me and everyone else that day,” Philander said.
The mother of three recalled complaining about a foul smell in the shop before a deafening explosion went off. She wasn’t seriously injured, but Philander said she still had nightmares more than a decade later.
“There was no support from the government or Shoprite. It’s only recently we’ve been going for therapy and learnt how to work through our feelings.
“Sometimes I find myself shaking and I still can’t bear to take my children out in busy places,” she said.
Another survivor, Olga Macingwane, who was the first to reconcile with Coetzee in 2009, received the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation’s Reconciliation Award in 2011.
On Monday, the hall was filled with relatives, Correctional Services Minister Sibusiso Ndebele, Khulumani Support Group members, prisoners and residents.
“I take full responsibility for the bombings. I know asking for forgiveness would be a selfish act, so all I can do is say I’m sorry. I hope that by meeting me, they can find healing…” Coetzee said.