The Mark Kaplan film entitled Black Christmas about the Worcester bombing and the journey with one of the bombers, Stefaans Coetzee, that was initiated by Khulumani Support Group in meetings with Stefaans in the Kgosi Mampuru II Correctional Facility in Pretoria, was launched at an event hosted by the Institute for Justice and Reconciliation at the LABIA Theatre in Gardens, Cape Town last Thursday evening. Black Christmas was supported by funding to the University of the Free State from The Fetzer Institute and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.
Audience members reported the following impact of the film:
1. We are so pleased we saw the movie and have already passed it on to my daughter. It has led to some interesting discussion between my husband and I . He feels we should get on with it and look forward I feel stories such as this need to be told. With my own staff when I told them the story they came up with their own experiences of the apartheid-era – shocking stories but they said it was long gone and its forgotten!!
2. My wife and I were both deeply touched by the film. I work a lot in the areas of forgiveness – knowing that we free ourselves from captivity when we free others. I also work in the schools in disadvantaged areas – where there is a great need for building bridges. I wept at the moments when the folk actually decided to forgive – they were well presented in the movie.
3. I’m from CT but have lived in U.S. Since 1976 and was not aware of this or other similar acts. I was interested to learn but unfortunately I could not stay for the whole movie and discussion which was frustrating. So, I do not know how it all turned out. Stefaans despite his heinous act(s) was quite erudite and as mentioned in the movie, brutally honest about his feelings.
4. It’s a complex and thought provoking film, offering no easy solutions – but hinting at the difficult and long road we must all walk to make forgiveness and restitution a reality in this excruciating country of ours.
5. Black Christmas is the kind of reconciliation which should of being done and encouraged by SA government a long time ago. We would not of had this racism throughout the country at the moment.
6. I thought it an amazing work and it should be shown on National TV. Also it might be good if it were shown in all schools as part of Life Orientation and followed by a discussion on forgiveness.
7. The film and the discussion afterwards really did deconstruct what we think about reconciliation. In that it was totally successful.
8. No one seemed to comment on the obvious point that Stefanus had a lot to offer the ‘victims’ – none of which was material. He could offer his honesty in apologising and the ‘victims’ were able to make of that what they wanted.
9. There is always a tension between the agency of survivors and their victimhood. It is usually people who are not the victims themselves who rail against victimhood portayals in the media, when the survivors might feel quite agentic in what they are doing. That is the sense I got from the response from the two Worcester residents who spoke.
11. My foreign visitor (a professor of human rights law at Maastricht) was deeply moved (as I was) but also commented that this was a story no-one outside South Africa knows or could easily understand. He really appreciated it.
12. It was really an incredible film. It deeply touched me. It is important for people to understand that crime does not happen in a vacuum outside from people’s deep victimization scars over generations.
13. On a personal level I was deeply touched, being affected personally by apartheid myself…how can we hate one another made me tear..a deep wound.. I think this film and restorative justice, where spaces are created on a large scale to listen to one another and just speak face to face will change our society and make us better and more healed human beings.
14. Thank you for the screening. Thank you for asking us for our reactions to “Black Christmas”. It was a great event, and we were very glad to have been present. We were very moved by the film, and hoped it might open the possibility of similar processes being picked up in towns and villages all over South Africa, which as one of the panelists said, was so lacking in our very incomplete journey towards reconciliation. There was the sense of it addressing a terrible gap in our nation’s continuing state of woundedness. The intimate, personal scale of the filming, portraying individual positions and differences, gave it an authenticity that, as Steven Robins said, made the possibility of forgiveness somehow substantial” – and therefore truly healing. So we found it really inspiring in an area where there is so much despair. It was great too, to feel the level of leadership that exists in this country, from the Worcester community, from the panelists, speakers from the floor, and chairperson. If only it could be expressed on a national level! However we did have some sympathy with one of the speakers from the floor who felt the film focused too much on the “white boy’s” journey, and felt that perhaps exploring someone like Olga’s journey in similar depth, would have brought a better balance to the film. And we were also a bit uncomfortable with Harris’ portrayal, and thought some editing could reveal the pivotal role he played more effectively.
15. Hello! And thank you so much for the screening! What a powerful film!!! Very moving. To tears when Stefaans reads the poem. By his radical honesty, which sounds brutal when he speaks about how he was and what he used to think, and which is so healing now that he realises his own and others’ humanity… Because I think that is what it ultimately is about! I resonated with what he said that he thought at times that white people are slapgats, compared to black people. I have often thought that, especially about black women: they seem to endure and carry so much… I often feel a complete sissy when I compare (although one really can’t hey, I know that!). What moved me a lot as well, and invoked deep respect, is how so many people from the community forgave him. Especially Olga (I believe her name is), when she asked herself what she would have done had he been her sister’s son… I was very moved again when that woman from the community spoke, especially when she shared how so many people are still traumatised… And then the fact that these people were never helped or compensated and whatever… Outrageous!!! And that Shoprite made them come to work the following day, and they had to clean up the blood etc!!! HORRENDOUS. All in all a very powerful documentary! Thank you so much and well done to the makers and all the people in it!! I sincerely hope that the community will receive proper help, maybe because of the awareness created by this film!? Even though it is so many years later, it would still help a lot I believe.
16. I thought that the film was excellent, but I found it deeply disturbing. I had a brief discussion in a Grade 9 class with my colleague and two of the learners who had attended. My colleague, who is a young teacher, and I were profoundly affected by the film. The most disturbing thing for me was the hatred of Stefanus. I just don’t understand, I have never understood, that level of hatred. The other issue which I found challenging and thought provoking was the idea of a ‘qualified’ forgiveness. Or restitution in order to obtain forgiveness.
- Photographs are available here: https://www.dropbox.com/sh/85on4z13lw1jvmb/AAADPIEvNFVCjvVqTeSfcehTa?dl=0
- Read the review with more background by the University of Stellenbosch: ‘No offence too great for forgiveness’