My pain can't compare to pain of my victims - Worcester bomber

2016-05-31 08:30
Worcester bomb-planter, Stefaans Coetzee, ran the 2016 Comrades Marathon to honour 67 victims who survived the bombing that left four people dead in 1996. (Supplied)

Worcester bomb-planter, Stefaans Coetzee, ran the 2016 Comrades Marathon to honour 67 victims who survived the bombing that left four people dead in 1996. (Supplied)

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Durban - Convicted bomber Stefaans Coetzee ran the Comrades Marathon while experiencing indescribable pain, but the thought of giving up never crossed his mind

He knew that running the race was not for himself, but for the 67 Worcester victims who survived the bombings that left four people dead in 1996.

Saying he was a changed man, Coetzee, 38, added that he knew that whatever pain he experienced could never come close to that of the people injured on that fateful Christmas Eve when one of the bombs he planted exploded at a Shoprite shopping centre in Worcester in the Western Cape.

"Yesterday was about honouring them, the pain was worth it because I could never bring back the dead, even the pain I experienced yesterday cannot compare to the pain they experienced," said Coetzee, who is part of the Nedbank Running Club.

In the early hours of Sunday morning, standing among thousands of runners at the starting point of the 89km run from Pietermaritzburg to Durban, Coetzee already felt defeated by his cramping calf muscle. Conflicted over whether to pull out of the race, Coetzee remembered why he had taken up the challenge, and when the race started, he began to run.

"I was struggling with cramps before the race began and during the entire race, I started to slow down and sat down 63km into the race."

After catching his breath, Coetzee pushed on, running and walking, and 19km before the finish line he began to struggle and had to constantly remind himself why he was running the race.

Coetzee said his coach, Johan "Potties" Potgieter, who has run 23 marathons, was his hero.

"I joined him in the peak of the Comrades training and he told me to write down one positive and one negative thing about the race. He also told me that the race gets more difficult as you go along."

'If I didn’t finish, I’d be failing them'

To motivate himself, Coetzee wrote the number 67 on each of his arms.

"On my left arm was the 67 to honour the survivors, and on my right was to remind me that if I don’t finish the race, I would be failing them. I thought it was a fitting tribute to them because the Comrades began as a race to honour those who died in World War I."

Coetzee managed to cross the finish line in 10 hours, 47 minutes and 60 seconds.

"When you are cramping, you are fighting with your mind because your brain is constantly telling you to stop. Today [Monday], I am feeling fine. My right ankle is swollen, but I am okay."

This is not the only time he has been faced with pain in his life. It started when he was just five years old, when he was left abandoned at a sweet shop.

Coetzee often found himself lost and confused and very susceptible to being taken under the wing of one of the most dangerous men who led him astray.

"When I was five years old, my mother took me to the shop to buy lekkers [sweets], and I went into the shop and when I came back she was gone. My father became an alcoholic after that and my three sisters and I were taken to an orphanage."

Worcester bomber, Stefaans Coetzee running the Comrades Marathon in honour of his victims. (Supplied)

'I had so much hatred, I wished more had died'

Speaking about that fateful day on December 24, 1996, Coetzee - who was just a few months shy of his 17th birthday - went along with members of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbewegining (AWB), Mark Hammond and Jan "Voetbol" van der Westhuizen, with whom he had formed the group Boere Aanvals Troepe.

"On the day, we stopped at Kerkstraat and one of my co-accused said Mark went to detonate his bomb and he showed me where to detonate mine, and then I went to detonate it."

Coetzee’s bomb was planted near a pharmacy, while another was planted in a Christmas tree in the busy shopping centre. Coetzee said two of the three bombs went off.

The trio did not remain to witness the devastation left behind, with bodies strewn across the centre.

"I had so much hatred within me and I wanted so many people killed, more than the 67 that survived. The only regret I had at the time was that a few people died. I wished more had died."

Coetzee said his hatred was deeply entrenched and that while he was growing up, his parents had taught him that the white race was superior.

Changed man

Today, Coetzee is a changed man and he thanks God for saving him.

"It was August 10, 2007, and I was serving my 40-year sentence in jail. I was reading a book called The Fifth Mountain and a prophet was struggling with God, and that is when I decided to write to God and tell him that he had sinned against me because I lost my parents. I also confessed to sinning and doing bad things."

Coetzee said even though God did not respond to his prayers, he accepted Jesus into his life and was changed forever.

"I am not perfect and I still make mistakes," said Coetzee.

While he was in prison, Coetzee got the opportunity to meet his victims and, while he had forgiven himself, some of his victims were not ready to face the man who had ruined their lives.

"I remember the first victim who forgave me. Her name was Olga. She said to me: 'I am not here to forgive you.' But she still forgave me. Others said they will never forgive me and that they hated me."

Coetzee said he had learnt over the years that forgiveness was a painful process.

"I always wonder what I can do to make things better. The government honours struggle heroes, but the victims who were injured by the enemy are never honoured."

Today, Coetzee spends his time working at Feed a Child, an organisation in Klerksdorp.

The organisation feeds 10 000 children and Coetzee spends time teaching the children how to garden and do art.

He was released on parole in July 2015.

Worcester bomber, Stefaans Coetzee. (Supplied)

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