A second chance at life

2014-03-30 14:00

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One man was on death row for murder, the other bombed a school. Now, 20 years later, they tell Biénne Huisman how Nelson Mandela’s appearance at the 1995 rugby World Cup freed their hearts from hatred.

At first glance, Justice Bekebeke and Koos Botha don’t have much in common.

One man was raised in a township in Upington; the other in a small Afrikaner settlement flanking the Hartbeespoort Dam.

Today, Bekebeke (52) is director- general of the Northern Cape and is based in Kimberley. Botha (66) rents out children’s toy carts from his face-brick home in Cresta, Johannesburg. But on closer inspection, parallels emerge. Bekebeke is a convicted murderer and Botha is a convicted terrorist.

Both men’s radical political convictions incited them to extreme acts in the old South Africa. Both were poised to exterminate the enemy?–?each other.

Bekebeke was 24 when he headed a mob that beat a black policeman to death at a political gathering in 1985.

He recalled how they had opened the disastrous meeting with a prayer.

Botha was 44 and represented the Conservative Party in Parliament when he masterminded a school bombing in 1991. He had also prayed before detonating the dynamite.

Both men were caught and charged, and both received amnesty under the new South African dispensation?–?in effect, a secondchance at life.

Both men underwent profound changes and found liberation in tolerance and forgiveness.

In 2010, Bekebeke and Botha appeared in Cape Town director Clifford Bestall’s documentary, The 16th Man. Actor Morgan Freeman was an executive producer and narrator.

Both men were interviewed for the programme by John Carlin, the journalist whose book Playing the Enemy, about Mandela’s masterly use of rugby to forge links between races, became the film Invictus.

In separate interviews with City Press four years after the making of the movie, Bekebeke and Botha credit Madiba’s appearance at the 1995 rugby World Cup as pivotal to the evolution of their hearts and minds.

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