Chairperson of the Apostolic Faith Mission International, the Reverend Frank Chikane; president of the AFM of SA, Dr Isak Berger; Adriaan Vlok and Pastor Mphikilile Mahlobo during a church service at which Vlok was congratulated for having had the courage to ask for forgiveness from those he had wronged during his term as the Minister of Law and Order during the apartheid era in South Africa.
A conversation with Adriaan Vlok tugs at the heartstrings. One has to have a heart of stone not to feel pity for the man, now 80, or even be inclined to forgive him.

Vlok was the apartheid Minister of Law and Order, a hard man who brooked no dissent from the black population that rose up against the racist system.

Today, he hands out food parcels to black children in Soshanguve and surrounds, travelling 120km in his bakkie from his home in Centurion.

The distance between the two points is itself an exercise in patience. But Vlok dutifully drives, like clockwork, to deliver the food to the needy.

“A 7-year-old was shot and injured while walking to the shops. ‘The government was sued on the child’s behalf. The Minister of Law and Order’s defence was that the child, by going into the streets at the time of unrest, voluntarily assumed the risk of being shot, and that the police, if they did shoot, were acting lawfully.

“At the trial, the child was subjected to rigorous cross-examination by the police counsel for at least five hours,’ the memorandum on children noted,” reads an excerpt from The Knock on the Door, The Story of The Detainees’ Parents Support Committee by Terry Shakinovsky and Sharon Cort.

Under Vlok’s watch, children were thrown into police cells willy-nilly - at some point “8 000 children had been detained in five months since the start of the second state of emergency”.

Another excerpt from the book reads: “The minister of Law and Order eventually admitted that over 2 000 children under the age of 16 were detained in the more than seven months of that Emergency. The youngest was seven.”

In an interview with The Star newspaper, published on June 10, 1988, Vlok is quoted saying: “My view on children in detention is well-known. I do not wish to see children being detained, but unfortunately circumstances sometimes cannot allow otherwise.

“Those who are still in detention are being held under the best possible conditions. They are not being held with hardened or adult criminals.”

Today, Vlok has seen the proverbial light. He says: “The basis of what I do is in the Bible, Matthew 25: 31-46.”

His family had a domestic worker he only identifies as Phinah, who worked for them for 53 years. She is 76, Vlok says, and he regularly takes her groceries “that I also buy from my own pocket”.

He is inspired by the Scriptures, he says. “That is why I reach out to people. You cannot sustain it if it is a guilt trip. It has to come from the heart.

“I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I believe this is what he would have wanted me to do. I have found the Lord. I have changed completely. Colour is not important to me any more.

“After what happened between me and the Reverend Frank Chikane, I changed.”

In 2006, Vlok famously washed the feet of Chikane, who was at the time director-general of the Presidency.

Chikane, who was nearly killed when his clothes were laced with poison, was at the time the secretary-general of the SA Council of Churches.

The washing of feet is a symbolic gesture of seeking forgiveness.

When Vlok showed up to ask for forgiveness from Chikane, he handed him a Bible with the message “I have sinned against the Lord and against you, please forgive me (John 13:15)” on its cover.

Vlok says he understands more now about fellow humans that his Dutch Reformed Church faith did not teach him: “Our blood is the same - black, white, coloured.”

Though he is still a member of the church, that was once described as “the National Party at prayer”, Vlok says he has learnt more valuable lessons outside the church.

He comes across as a genial man, making countless attempts at humour. In one joke, at which he laughs, he tells his age in days - 29 220.

He is remarried now to “a wonderful lady” after his first wife died 25 years ago.

He has three children - two boys, who both live in Australia, and a girl based here, he says.

Of his Damascus moment, Vlok says: “You cannot force change.”

He comes across as genuine, which cannot be said of the killers granted amnesty by the sham that was the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

Go on, feed the children, Vlok; those you could not throw into jail.

Weekend Argus