The victims of the 1996 Christmas Eve bombings in Worcester, which claimed the lives of three children and two adults, still live with the pain of that day, with some calling on the president to visit and hear from those affected.
The scab on this old wound was lifted recently when it was announced that the Worcester bombers could be exonerated along with 145 other high-profile SA criminals in terms of newly proposed presidential pardons.
It has also highlighted the anguish of the bombers’ relatives, with the wife of one of the bombers saying the past 16 years have been hell.
One of the victims has called on President Jacob Zuma to visit the town to hear the victims’ story.
The blasts also injured 67 others.
Gertrude Louw, 72, said she was close to where the second bomb exploded and often relives the day in her mind.
“It (the impact) shattered the window near to where I was standing. I was scared and confused. I didn’t know what was going on. I saw black smoke. I ran across the street. I was running and I can’t describe the lady full of blood next to me. But luckily she survived.”
Louw is on medication for the head and ear injuries she sustained.
“We are still waiting for reparations, our case is before the Constitutional Court. The victims need money and food, they lost their children and breadwinners… they are suffering.
“The president must first come to Worcester before anything (pardons) is going to be done. No one from the government has ever come to us to see if we are okay. We want Mr Zuma (President Jacob Zuma) to come and meet us. We see him on TV, going to other places.”
Louw said Stephanus Coetzee was the only bomber who had offered an apology, but she didn’t want the bombers to be released.
Peter Felix, whose daughter Bianca was injured in the blast, said: “Bianca was eight years old when the bomb went off. She was standing next to a Christmas tree. She needed skin grafts and psychological help.
“I’m against amnesty. The government has not helped, only made promises. After the bomb Mr (Nelson) Mandela made promises on national TV that the presidential fund would help victims. We are still waiting.
“My medical aid ran out and I had to sell my house to pay for daughter’s treatment.”
On Sunday, the Worcester Hope and Reconciliation Process said it could not support a pardon for three of the four perpetrators because they had not communicated any form of remorse.
The organisation, which among other things promotes reconciliation in the Breede Valley, started an initiative to support the Khulumani support group for victims of the bombings.
“The (organisation) would be able to support a presidential pardon for Mr Coetzee after he has met the other victims… and they agree to support a presidential pardon.”
Coetzee had met one of the victims, Olga Macingwane, who had forgiven him. A formal written apology from Coetzee was read to victims on December 16 last year.
The organisation hasasked Correctional Services many times to transfer Coetzee to Worcester temporarily to meet the other victims.
The request was formally declined on May 8 and the organisation said it wanted to make an urgent appeal to the department.
Meanwhile, the wife of one of the perpetrators says her husband is truly sorry for manufacturing the bombs.
Explosives expert Abraham “Koper” Myburgh, 38, was convicted of four counts of murder, two of attempted murder, three counts of sabotage and counts of illegal possession of explosives and firearms, in the Western Cape High Court in October 1997.
Speaking from Joburg on Sunday, Myburgh’s wife, Irene, 36, said she ahd been a few months’ pregnant at the time of the blasts.
The first bomb exploded in a busy supermarket, and the second in a concrete dustbin outside a pharmacy.
Myburgh, Coetzee, 34, Johannes van der Westhuizen, 64, and Nicolaas Barnard, 56, were sentenced to 40 years in prison. All were members of extremist groups linked to the AWB.
Myburgh prayed “night and day” for her husband to be pardoned. She had written to the victims’ families for forgiveness and would apologise personally should he be given parole, for which he had applied.
“It is very difficult. The past 16 years have been hell, but I have to be strong for my 15-year-old daughter. My husband has realised that what he did was wrong. He made a mistake…
“People will say a lot of things, but Abraham was very young, 22 years old, at the time, and very vulnerable.”
The NGO body Coalition for Transitional Justice has threatened legal action if the “fatally flawed”, “irrational and arbitrary” pardons go ahead. Speaking on behalf of the coalition, Dr Marjorie Jobson, the national director of the Khulumani support group who has been representing the victims and is in regular contact with two of the bombers, said the Justice Department should abandon the granting of pardons under the Special Dispensation for Presidential Pardons for Alleged Political Offences, which could be effected by the end of next month.
In November, the department published the names of prisoners being considered for a pardon. Families of the victims were urged to come forward if they wished to be part of the process. They had a month to respond.
Jobson said fieldworkers had been sent to interview the victims and their families and that the documents had been submitted to the department.
“Civil society has criticised the process of consultation and reviewing of these pardons as deeply flawed and unconstitutional – potentially resulting in the release of criminals with no political motives, racist killers and those responsible for mass atrocities – all without victim input,” she said.
The victims’ families wanted to meet the perpetrators before approval was given or not.
Jobson said Coetzee and Myburgh were remorseful, but Van Der Westhuizen and Barnard refused to speak or apologise to the victims’ families.
Justice Department spokesman Tlali Tlali is out of the country and could not be reached for comment.
Pardons and the process
In 2007, former president Thabo Mbkei set up a special dispensation to process applications for pardons by offenders who claimed their offences had been politically motivated, to “promote national reconciliation and unity” and deal with the “unfinished business” of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC).
A reference group was established to review the applications and make recommendations.
It delivered a report recommending 149 applicants for pardon.
In 2009, a number of civil society organisations approached the High Court in Pretoria and obtained an interdict preventing acting president Kgalema Motlanthe from granting such pardons without seeking the views of victims and interested parties.
The Constitutional Court subsequently ruled that the victims had a right to be heard in the process.
The Justice Department then published the names of the applicants in newspapers.
President Jacob Zuma is assessing the reference group’s recommendations as well as submissions by the SA Coalition for Transitional Justice responding to the recommendations.