Apartheid min­is­ter seeks re­demp­tion


Twice a week, an el­derly white man drives a bat­tered pick-up truck to de­liver free food around a town­ship where few would guess that he was once a much-feared fig­ure in South Africa’s apartheid regime.

Adri­aan Vlok, the for­mer law and or­der min­is­ter, over­saw bru­tal po­lice poli­cies that sup­pressed public anger against racist whitemi­nor­ity rule that was even­tu­ally over­thrown with Nel­son Man­dela’s elec­tion in 1994.

Now a 77-year-old wi­d­ower, Vlok seeks re­demp­tion from his past by open­ing his house as a refuge for the vul­ner­a­ble and dis­tribut­ing food to poor black fam­i­lies.

In the late 1980s, he was re­spon­si­ble for covert bomb­ing oper­a­tions that tar­geted church build­ings and trade union head­quar­ters, and he even tried to kill an anti-apartheid priest by poi­son­ing his un­der­wear.

“It was our job to make peo­ple fear us, be­cause ... they were fight­ing and com­ing for us,” Vlok told AFP as he pre­pared his next food de­liv­ery.

“We had the emer­gency reg­u­la­tions to lock up peo­ple with­out tak­ing them to court, so peo­ple were afraid of the po­lice. I be­lieved that apartheid was right.”

To­day 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.

Self-con­fessed Crimes

With­out any es­cort or pro­tec­tion, he drives a few kilo­me­ters to the town­ship of Olieven­hout­bosch with his car loaded with trays of food do­nated by lo­cal su­per­mar­kets and bak­eries.

There, the man who once sent in the riot po­lice dis­trib­utes pies, sand­wiches and cake to hun­gry fam­i­lies, a chil­dren’s day­care cen­ter and a dis­abled char­ity.

Vlok never served time in prison for his self-con­fessed crimes, and many black South Africans be­lieve that apartheid lead­ers evaded real jus­tice while the coun­try’s poor were left to live in tin shacks.

For Vlok, a born-again Chris­tian, it will be a life­time’s work to try to atone for his sins — and he knows that many of those who suf­fered do not for­give him.

“I feel ashamed of many things I have done. I was hard, I was heart­less to­wards peo­ple, I locked peo­ple up,” he said.

“I sup­ported apartheid, I main­tained apart- heid, there­fore sorry.”

In a sym­bolic act of con­tri­tion, in 2006 Vlok washed the feet of Frank Chikane, the priest whom he tried to kill when po­lice op­er­a­tives rubbed poi­son into clothes in Chikane’s lug­gage at Johannesburg air­port.

Chikane nearly died in the bizarre as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt, for which Vlok even­tu­ally re­ceived a ten-year sus­pended sen­tence.

His crit­ics dis­missed the feet-wash­ing as a stunt that avoided dis­clos­ing the scale of po­lice abuse, but Vlok’s sin­cer­ity is be­yond ques­tion for those whom he has helped di­rectly.

I be­lieve

I have to say

Sec­ond Chance?

I am

“In my youth days, we used to watch the news and ev­ery­thing you heard about this man was neg­a­tive,” said Rudi Hud­son, a for­mer con­vict who now lives in Vlok’s house.

“There were very few South Africans who didn’t know him be­cause he was so prom­i­nent.”

Hud­son, a re­formed drug ad­dict who was jailed for killing his wife in a botched sui­cide at­tempt, first met Vlok dur­ing a prison visit.

“We talked a lot about our pasts and how I was in prison and he was free out­side,” he said.

“He told me he had done a lot of things that could have put him in prison.

“When I was re­leased, he was one of the first peo­ple to come and visit me. I came (to live) here, and he helped me to get back on my feet.”

Vlok, who has two sons liv­ing in Aus­tralia and a daugh­ter in South Africa, does not charge his lodgers rent, but they chip in money to help pay for bills.

Moses Ne­makonde, 32, runs a small uphol­stery busi­ness ren­o­vat­ing old so­fas and arm­chairs in a work­shop in the garage.

“I told my clients this place is Adri­aan Vlok’s. And then that’s when I re­al­ized he was the min­is­ter of po­lice. But be­fore, I didn’t know any­thing,” he said with a smile.

Vlok also passes un­rec­og­nized through the dirt al­leys of Olieven­hout­bosch as he un­loads his reg­u­lar de­liv­er­ies.

For those who rely on the food, the help he pro­vides now is more im­por­tant than how he once loomed over their lives.

“I was a do­mes­tic (cleaner) un­der apartheid, and I was al­ways afraid of the po­lice,” said An­gelina Ma­maleki, 74, who now runs a day­care cen­ter for 20 chil­dren. “What hap­pened at that time is all gone.”


A file photo taken on Sept. 22 shows Adri­aan Vlok, left, for­mer South African apartheid gov­ern­ment law and or­der min­is­ter and born-again Chris­tian, un­load­ing food aid from his car dur­ing his weekly char­ity run in Olieven­hout­bosch Town­ship in Cen­tu­rion.

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