BY: SWIKAR OLI
For many, Adriaan Vlok was among those most feared in the apartheid era. He was the law and order minister for five years, for which he was the face of terror. His job was to quietly snuff anti-apartheid groups, and he oversaw the murder of their fighters. Once he even “disappeared a whole group of youth activists by packing them into a bus laden with explosives and pushing it off a cliff.”
For many, Adriaan Vlok was among those most feared in the apartheid era.
Vlok is a widower, now 77, trying to make amends that he may never be able to make. Twice weekly, “his car [is] loaded with trays of food donated by local supermarkets and bakeries,” which he takes to the town of Olievenhoutbosch for the hungry, Yahoo news reports, who claims that for the people who depend on the food he brings, “the help he provides now is more important than how he once loomed over their lives.” Vlok helps a daycare and a disabled charity with food too, but for all his good deeds now, he cannot shake what he’s done in the past.
At 77 years old, he is trying to make amends, but cannot shake what he’s done in the past.
“I feel ashamed of many things I have done. I was hard, I was heartless towards people, I locked people up,” he tells Yahoo, “I supported apartheid, I maintained apartheid, therefore I believe I have to say I am sorry.”
Vlok “lives in the suburbs of Pretoria in a modest house that he shares with a black man who repairs furniture in the garage, a former convict who killed his own wife, and a white family who was homeless.” He doesn’t charge rent but he accepts help with the bills.
Vlok’s attempts at doing right made news in 2006, when he washed the feet of the anti-apartheid leader who he brought near to death by poisoning his clothes with a powerful pesticide. He waited in the lobby of his old target Rev. Frank Chikane’s office. Vlok had become a born again Christian and had to attempt repentance.
In 2006 he washed the feet of Rev. Frank Chikane, an anti-apartheid leader he almost poisoned to death.
As New Republic reports, his growing up intolerant all his life was still affecting him, but in the end Vlok bowed and washed Chikane’s feet and the men ended up in tears.
Vlok told New Republic a passage that really affected him to change after his wife’s suicide in 1994: “If you are presenting a sacrifice at the altar in the Temple,” Jesus says, “and you suddenly remember that someone has something against you, leave your sacrifice there at the altar. Go and be reconciled to that person. Only then come and offer your sacrifice to God.”
For all the wrongs he wants to atone for and the hurt of the South African lives he has changed forever, his reconciliation could understandably take the rest of his life—and even then, it is likely unachievable. On one hand, it’s encouraging to witness a potential for change, and on the other cautionary to the nature of injustice to maintain in the face of even the most sincere attempts at repentance.