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Last Updated: Monday, 28 August 2006, 10:44 GMT 11:44 UK
Feet washed in apartheid apology
Adriaan Vlok
Vlok was granted amnesty during the 1990s
A prominent South African clergyman and opponent of apartheid has told how an apartheid-era minister washed his feet in a gesture of contrition.

Rev Frank Chikane survived a murder attempt in the 1980s. He said he was grateful for the gesture made earlier this month by ex-minister Adriaan Vlok.

Other former detainees say Mr Vlok should have apologised personally to all victims of police abuse.

Mr Vlok testified to the post-apartheid truth commission and received amnesty.

He can't just wash Frank Chikane's feet and think that that is the end of it ... he needs to apologise to his victims directly
Shirley Gunn
Former detainee
Mr Vlok was security minister in the late 1980s, a period when emergency laws granted police sweeping powers of arrest and detention against anti-apartheid activists.

Rev Chikane, former head of the South African Council of Churches, told at the weekend how Mr Vlok had arrived at his office and given him a Bible with the words "I have sinned against the Lord and against you, please forgive me (John 13:15)" on its cover.

"He said 'I take you as a representative and an embodiment of all the other people I should be talking to,'" Rev Chikane said, quoted by the Pretoria News.

"He then asked for water ... he picked up a glass of water, opened his bag, pulled out a bowl, put the water in the bowl, took out the towel, said 'you must allow me to do this' and washed my feet in my office," Rev Chikane said.


Mr Chikane, who was head of the South African Council of Churches during the state of emergency of the late 1980s, survived an assassination attempt when clothes impregnated with poison were placed in his suitcase while he was travelling.

Rev Frank Chikane
Rev Chikane survived an assassination attempt
Mr Vlok's symbolic apology has drawn some criticism.

Former activist Shirley Gunn, who was detained with her baby son for more than two months, described the foot-washing gesture as "provocative and insensitive".

"I still haven't got the truth out of (Mr Vlok) about what happened to me," Ms Gunn said.

"He can't just wash Frank Chikane's feet and think that that is the end of it ... he needs to apologise to his victims directly."

Current SACC General Secretary Eddie Makue commended Mr Vlok's gesture, but said it was no substitute for full disclosure.

"Many high-ranking members of the former government failed to participate unreservedly in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission process," he said, quoted by the South African Press Association.

"As a result, we are left with many unanswered questions concerning responsibility for gross human rights violations during the apartheid years."

Rev Chikane is now director general of the South African president's office.

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