28 August 2006

An Act of Contrition

Today’s Guardian carries a story concerning an act of contrition by a former South African cabinet minister. Adrian Vlok, who had been a minister of Law and Order during the apartheid era, washed the feet of Reverend Frank Chikane an anti-apartheid activist he allegedly tried to have murdered.

The ceremony took place in private earlier this month and was disclosed at the weekend by Mr Chikane. Mr Vlok had been accused of responsibility for an attempt to kill Mr Chikane in an incident in which his clothes and baggage were impregnated with poison while traveling in the US in May 1989. Mr Chikane headed the South African Council of Churches (SACC) when it was one of apartheid's fiercest critics.

The former minister of law and order has previously admitted responsibility for blowing up the offices of the South African council of churches and has received an amnesty for the incident. Mr Chikane, who is now director general of President Thabo Mbeki's office, said he was surprised and uncomfortable when Mr Vlok got down on the floor and washed his feet. Mr Vlok had sought a meeting to discuss "a personal matter

According to the South African News 24 website President Thabo Mbeki was reported to be "deeply moved" by Mr Vlok’s gesture "The gesture was from a committed Christian, who said that if Jesus Christ could do it, he could also." He said.

Mr Vlok and Rev Chikane said in a joint statement that it actually had been a private meeting, but decided that the action had been "so deep and important," they couldn't keep it secret. Mr Vlok said: "I want to thank him again for his attitude and the way he approached the situation." Mr Vlok said he had set a bad example throughout his life. "I'm deeply grateful that, through the grace of God, I received the opportunity to follow the example of my saviour, Jesus Christ, to set a better example for others. I give up my pride, my own self, my superiority, my uncharitable attitude, and my selfishness."

Independent Democrats leader Patricia De Lille said Vlok's gesture had been "a very personal extension of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. As we get older, we do more introspection about the good and bad we've done throughout our lives. As the only apartheid minister who acknowledged his sins before the TRC, he is apparently more honest with himself than others about the immoral nature of his previous deeds," said De Lille.

The Guardian & Mail reports that the South African Council of Churches (SACC) has welcomed an apology by apartheid minister of law and order Adriaan Vlok, but said considers it insufficient. SACC general secretary Eddie Makue commended Vlok, but felt that he and his former government colleagues still owe the South African people a full confession… "Many high-ranking members of the former government failed to participate unreservedly in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process. As a result, we are left with many unanswered questions concerning responsibility for gross human rights violations during the apartheid years." Makue said.

Shirley Gunn who spent more than two months in prison after former police minister Mr Vlok falsely accused her of bombing the headquarters of the SA Council of Churches, described the event as "provocative and insensitive".

I am sure that Mr Vlok was genuinely inspired by his faith to make this gesture, although through the eyes of this agnostic it seems does seem a curious way to make an apology….. but what do I know? What this incident seems to show (as if it would be a surprise) that, despite the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the ugly injustices of Apartheid are never far from the surface.


Renegade Eye said...

That was a really incredible post. I can't judge if it is sufficient, but atleast a great symbolic overture.

jams o donnell said...

I am sure it will be a long time before the scars are healed, Ren. It was obviously a heartfelt and sincere act by Mr Vlok.

mullet said...

great post! if only there were more like mr vlok

jams o donnell said...

Agreed, mullets. If only....