The Adriaan Vlok Surprise Apology

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To millions of black people in southern Africa, particularly those of South Africa and the-then South-West Africa, apartheid had become a household word during the more-than three hundred years of colonial rule. The Dutch came and colonized South Africa, ruled for a spell, and were then ousted by the British in 1795. Britain was master of the seas for centuries, and exported English to every corner of the globe. As Europe sought spices for delicacies churned out by the millions of hotels, restaurants and boarding houses, the black people of southern Africa were colonized in the process. Disgruntled Dutchmen and their families, instead of going back to Holland, today known as The Netherlands, opted to explore the interior of South Africa, at that time nameless, apart from its location, viz. the southern tip of Africa. The interior was found inviting, inhabited by black peaceful tribes who fought among themselves for land. The white settlers exploited this, and created divisions among the warring Zulus, Basotho, Batswana, Bapedi, and many smaller groups. The “Mfecane” wars created the right climate for the new arrivals to take over the country. Apartheid and racial domination had arrived. Some tribes, realizing the danger, quickly summoned the British in the Cape and asked for protection against the settlers. Basotholand, Bechuanaland and Swaziland were declared protectorates, while the rest of the black tribes opted for war against the Boers, as they were then called. The name had undergone changes from “free burghers” (free citizens no longer controlled from Amsterdam), to Boere (farmers) who lived off the land. Indeed, they had tamed the Cape region, and many settlements had become extensive fields of wheat, barley, vegetables, fruits farms and wineries. The Dutch East India Company’s dream of a halfway provision station had indeed been realized. But the politics of the era brought hardships to the indigenous tribes, to the extent that the Namaquas, simply called ‘Hotnot’ by the colonizers of the Cape – and here legend has it that when the English arrived and asked the Dutch if the blacks were friendly, a Dutchman, whose English was not that good, wanted to say that the people were not hot-blooded, not war-like, but instead the man said “they are hot not’ – fled northwards, and ended in today’s Namibia. The great movement of the Boers into the interior of South Africa therefore brought with it the ancestors of the man who would be born in the twentieth century and would in the twenty-first century wash the feet of Reverend Chikane in – of all places – the Union Buildings of Pretoria. The place: The Union Buildings, completed in 1913, is the masterpiece of Sir Herbert Baker, the Englishman who was given the assignment to erect them for the Union of South Africa on Meintjies Kop, a hill overlooking Pretoria town. In the face of countless new and beautiful buildings throughout the Republic of South Africa, the Union Buildings remain unrivalled for dignity and grandeur. The visitor has not completed his/her visit if the Union Buildings do not form part of the tour. Facing south, they command the attention of the main city centre of Pretoria town, with Church Street running parallel from east to west, a stone’s throw away. Fabulous gardens with exotic trees and shrubs adorn the surroundings. I am not sure whether this is still the same state of affairs, though. Black governments tend to ignore the beauty they inherit, and gardeners who used to work hard during the period of the colonial Governments, no longer seem to take orders from anybody. Result? All the beauty disappears as though in a dream. A look at the capital cities in Africa tells a story of neglect, carelessness, lack of knowledge, and laziness to protect the colonial inheritance. But, back to the Chikane story. With cities growing by leaps and bounds during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and the economy developing fast because of cheap labour, the country amassing great wealth and international stature, the South African minority white Government glowed in the light of achievement, and totally forgot that black powerful shoulders, although uneducated for there were no such opportunities for them, pushed wheelbarrows full of concrete to build every white home, every shop, every office, every building, every street, every railway station, every school, every clinic, every hospital, and indeed every prison in which they were later incarcerated in the pursuit of the administration of apartheid laws. Hell! Just to think about it! Out of the blue on a day of its own, Reverend Chikane, sitting in his office and quite possibly concentrating on his daily tasks, must have had a real shock. With the dark passages of the Union Buildings meandering into various directions, the place can look quite spooky. And to see a man who wanted to claim your life before, being announced into your office, can be quite scary. Reverend Chikane must have asked his bodyguards to stay on and see it through and, worse still, when Mr Vlok announced: “I want to wash your feet, sir,” the Reverend must have thought he did not hear well, that it was a hoax, a plot to whisk him away to hell, or to a far-off unearthly place. But no, there indeed was Mr Vlok, tall, older now, but cooler than in those far away years, greeting politely, apologizing, and requesting to perform what the Great Master Himself ordered Peter and his brothers to do to each other, viz. wash each other’s feet. My mind tells me that if Chikane was not a man of the cloth, he could perhaps never have comprehended the significance of the issue. But, being an apostle himself, he very quickly realized that he was in the presence of a very intricate and soul-testing situation. And I have read many of the comments made by various newspaper readers in South Africa, Namibia and elsewhere on this issue. Many of them do not come near to understanding what Chikane was confronted with in that office. To us Christians, Christ will come in many ways. He said it Himself while still on earth: “But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, (Matt 5: verse 44). Hence, Chikane’s momentous inspiration at the gesture of Adriaan Vlok’s “Please sir, may I wash your feet?” I am sure that after careful consideration of the issue at hand, and the light of the Holy Spirit flashing across Chikane’s mind, he immediately obliged. The reader must not take this matter lightly, and it does not happen every day at every place. Rev. Chikane may be the only man in this world who has ever lived to experience such an incident, the apostles excluded, of course. There are those who now demand: “Vlok must tell us about all his sins, who did he kill, where, how many, etc.,” How many did these readers kill? Or should the Lord come again before us and write in the sand in front of each and every one of us what we did? Surely God is the judge of Adriaan Vlok. Besides, the great Archbishop himself, sitting in the Judgement Seat of the TRC of South Africa, granted Vlok and many others forgiveness. What made him wake up that morning, do the things he normally did as a white man – get dressed, and bravely (he needed courage here) undertake the journey to the Union Buildings to face the man he once tried to kill? Those of us who believe, know that one needs more than just normal inspiration to even attempt such a task. The hands of the Godless don’t care about such issues and look elsewhere for their inspiration. I must not be misunderstood here. I’m not singing Vlok’s praises at all. He can defend himself, and I repeat that he was pardoned by the TRC some years ago – amnesty, that kind of pardon is called. If he lied then, the spirits of those whose bones lie bleaching in the African sun,far away from home, have probably kept him awake for years on end, eventually prompting him to visit the reverend, like Saul (Paul) did with Peter, to ask for spiritual cleansing. According to reports, Mr Vlok even went a step further, and joined Reverend Chikane in a service in his Apostolic Faith Mission Church in Soweto. The pastor has appealed to all those who know the wrongs of the past, to come clean and break with the trauma of keeping the dark secrets which haunt them. We all concur on this one, but in the final analysis, Mr Vlok has set an example worth emulating by his white fellow countrymen and women, to shame the devil and simply do what is right. Andrew N. Matjila

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