Former apartheid police minister Adriaan Vlok tells of the Bible verse that led him to apologise for apartheid and serve the needy, writes Johnny Masilela.
Johannesburg - A cellphone rings in an upmarket restaurant in Centurion, on the southern outskirts of Pretoria. The gentleman at the corner table answers the phone, with diners wondering who the heck has the audacity to disrupt everyone’s meals.
Little do many of them realise that the gentleman at the corner table is none other than former apartheid-era Minister of Law and Order Adriaan Vlok.
On hearing the accent of the caller – a black stranger, nogal – Vlok becomes so kind as to suggest he temporarily abandon his dinner, to talk to the caller.
This call is to result in a heart-to-heart interview with the amazing old man river of the boys (and girls) in blue, Adriaan Vlok, in the Blikkantien Restaurant, on the premises of the majestic Voortrekker Monument, south of Pretoria.
Before the interview, it is suggested to Vlok that we take a walk up the stone stairs of the monument.
The objective is to observe the emotions that flash across Vlok’s face as the old man takes the slow upward steps towards the monument. There is just a friendly smile.
We sat side by side for a photo shoot on the “koeksuster” carved out of stone, on the slopes of the monument, with Vlok wondering, in a whisper and with a wink, whether the young black photographer knows who he is.
Asked what went through his mind as he walked up those stairs, Vlok says the monument was some form of statement by a people who survived brutal oppression by the British.
The question is: What about those who suffered the consequences of the apartheid system because of the colour of their skin?
Apartheid, Vlok argues, was detrimental not only to black people, but to whites too, with a particular emphasis on the Afrikaner.
Vlok wants to apologise over and over for his role in the sheer madness of the apartheid doctrine.
This is after the interviewer shares the story of former apartheid policeman and heavyweight boxer Kallie Knoetze, who emotionally confided how boxing legend Muhammad Ali refused to shake his hand because of apartheid.
“It was not only Knoetze – there was (the late cricket legend) Clive Rice and (rugby player) Naas Botha, who could not compete with the very best in the broader community of nations because of the sports boycott. And I do apologise for my role in the whole madness,” Vlok says.
He appeals to the broader South African nation not to be too harsh on young white people, many of whom, he says, have no idea what apartheid was.
Vlok has also apologised, symbolically, by washing the feet of his erstwhile enemy, the Reverend Frank Chikane, and of the nine Mamelodi, Pretoria, widows whose husbands were shot dead by the apartheid police force under his watch.
What does Vlok, as former apartheid police minister and now as a changed man, think of the Dutch Reformed Church ministers Beyers Naudé and Nico Smit, who turned against Afrikanerdom, supporting calls for racial discrimination to be declared a crime against humanity.
“At the time I considered Naudé and Smit to be bad news. But today I consider them among the greatest, most courageous Afrikaners to have emerged in this country,” Vlok says.
In the light of the charity work he is involved in, largely funded with his pension, Vlok could easily be described as a present-day Afrikaner of great courage.
When it is put it to him that there are growing perceptions that Vlok and his former colleagues have washed their hands of Eugene de Kock, the so-called “Prime Evil”, he narrows his eyes and moves his face closer to the interviewer’s.
“Look, I personally visited De Kock at Pretoria Central Prison and asked him a direct question: ‘Eugene, did I ever give you instructions to kill anybody.
“His answer was, ‘No, sir, but you gave me medals’.”
Vlok’s explanation of the “medals” controversy is that he considered recommendations made by the police chief about which officers deserved medals, and was not necessarily hands-on about the profiles of the recipients.
Just what was Vlok’s relationship with black people, whether they were policemen or worked on his father’s farm in Keimoes region of the lower Orange River valley in the Northern Cape?
“There was a coloured fellow called Willem, whom I really liked during my childhood. Willem worked for my father on the cotton farm.
“And then if you asked me who should be the next national police commissioner, my recommendation would be Gregory Rockman.
“And Gregory gave me a lot of trouble when I was the police minister and he a member of the old South African Police. He gave me trouble in the sense that he was at the forefront of the founding of the Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union.
“But in hindsight I have reason to believe Rockman could become the perfect national police commissioner, because of his experience as a cop, and also a labour union leader of note.”
Has Vlok made more black friends after publicly apologising for his role as apartheid police minister?
“The other day I got a flat tyre after delivering food parcels in Mamelodi. Three young black fellows approached me, and I said to myself, ‘Now I am in big trouble’. The three men smiled at me and asked: ‘Oupa (old man), can we help you?’
“And then they replaced the flat tyre with a spare wheel. I find this kind of amazing ubuntu whenever I work among black people. This is so good for the country.”
Asked what he so suddenly found wrong with apartheid, Vlok pulls out a copy of a small Bible from his briefcase, and reads a verse that declares that all with the same blood shall live all over the face of the earth.
“Now, during apartheid, we Afrikaners used the Group Areas Act to determine where black people could and could not live.
“This was clearly against the word of God. I apologise for my role in the whole thing.”
Vlok says he does not necessarily regret his elevation by apartheid to one of the most powerful Afrikaners in the land.
His elevation to police minister (Law and Order), he says, was part of his journey “to make peace with the Lord Jesus Christ”. This also explains why, in his old age, he is dedicating himself “to becoming smaller and less significant”.
He says he was humbled when former president Thabo Mbeki said he was “deeply moved” by Vlok’s gesture to Chikane and his charity work with the Mamelodi widows.
Vlok met Mbeki during the democracy negotiations between the National Party and the ANC and others.
He says that during these encounters his cabinet colleagues always remarked about the incredible intellect of the pipe-smoking Mbeki.
“President Jacob Zuma also came across as an honest negotiator, and a good listener.
“I think Zuma continues to be terribly misunderstood.”
Vlok’s Feed a Child charity
Since apologising publicly for his role in the enforcement of apartheid, Adriaan Vlok has been a frequent visitor to several townships to donate food parcels to those less fortunate than him.
The Feed a Child initiative, funded largely from the former apartheid Minister of Law and Order’s pension, reached more than 10 000 children.
Vlok said the initiative collected most of the food from chain stores, and there was the occasional donation from individuals. Schools are assisted to start food gardens.
According to the charity’s prospectus, the ultimate goal was to set up sustainable food gardens to diminish malnutrition.
“No child should suffer from malnutrition. Communities are therefore encouraged to be directly involved in this initiative,” the prospectus explained.
The Feed a Child initiative was also involved in what was termed “charity shops”, whereby people are encouraged to drop off items ranging from clothing and books.
The collected items were then cleaned and sold to raise more funds for the Feed a Child initiative.
There were charity shops in Centurion, Klerksdorp and Middleburg.
Vlok was on record suggesting that he used to enter the townships in an armoured police truck, but now drove to the townships in his small bakkie.
* The Feed a Child initiative can be accessed on www.feedachild.co.za
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.
The Sunday Independent