The Man Who Washed His Victims’ Feet


I would not tell you firstly about who on earth this man is – but his life, coincidentally, had striking similarities with the one I saw in a Chinese, or perhaps, Hongkong, film.

Did anybody of you watch ‘Shaolin’?

Hou-chieh (portrayed by Andy Lau) was an ambitious, aggressive, and a barely forgiving army general in the early days of modern China. He had had exaggerative ambition in gaining power and in grabbing more territories, until he triggered a competition with his own elder brother, whom he shot to death in the long run. Meanwhile, he had poisoned his younger brother (perhaps?) Tsao-man (Nicholas Tse) with his life principles which were frequently cruel, intoxicating his mind into one with a monster’s, and who in the end shattered his career.

Hou-chieh was neither a good Samaritan nor a demon – he had been victimised by his own over-ambition. He was afraid that somebody would exceed him in terms of power and influence; which is why he would do everything at all costs to retain his power. But, voila, God speaks. He lost his only daughter, became totally hopeless for weeks, before he repented all his sins and became a Shaolin monk. (About how the film ended, I think I don’t have to make any spoiler here.)

But, take a deep notice. Hou-chieh has got a friend who, perhaps, was almost similar with himself.

Curiosity kills the cat. The man portrayed on the photograph above is Adriaan Vlok.

It was 1987. South Africa – already the most advanced country in the continent – was facing topsy-turvydom either inside or outside. United Nations had lifted economic sanctions to the country as a result of decades-old apartheid which had been creating more international condemnations, more worldwide and ampullaceous as ever. Nationwide, the country was facing mass chaos. Work strikes were frequently taken, which demanded apartheid be dissolved in leaps and bounds. Police and military reacted repressively; many activists, especially those from ANC (African National Congress; the party whose leader was once Nelson Mandela), were brutally tortured and assassinated. Namibia – which was still the territory of South Africa at that time – was demanding for independence. South Africa was on the brinks of destruction. During the presidency of Pieter Willem Botha, Adriaan Vlok was appointed as Minister of Law and Order. He was trusted by the then-president to solve all the troubles taking place nationwide. But Vlok had his own agenda.

There were protests being organized by South African Council of Churches and COSATU (some kind of the country’s trade unions). Adriaan Vlok subsequently ordered special operative teams and bombing experts of the country’s police forces to ‘make fireworks’ over the protest. Because the protests were held inside buildings, mainly Khotso House and COSATU’s main headquarters, several explosive experts had been hired to place the bombs inside. When the protests were taking place, the buildings suddenly exploded and were smashed to smithereens. Many civilians died during the protest (the exact number is, personally, I don’t know much about that). That was just one of Vlok’s misdeeds he had either committed directly or indirectly.

Then, came another case, in which Vlok was indirectly responsible (if he had been at that time more kind-hearted, they would not fall prey into the system). 10 activists, during a tour for ‘military training’ – a secret motive for the military and the police to murder them – were injected with a chemical by one of the police officers who guarded them. The police officers and the troops subsequently left the minibus they took a ride in, as these activists had fallen unconscious. All in a sudden, the military had placed bombs inside the minibus, and exploded. Whether they had woken up or not was unknown by the time the explosion occurred. Their bodies were shattered to pieces of flesh, and they were subsequently buried by the military in Johannesburg. The incident was known as ‘Mamelodi 10′.

Okay, to mention many more examples Vlok had misconducted would be long-winded, rambling, and pleonastic. Just move to the period after apartheid, when Nelson Mandela became the first Black to be appointed as president of brand-new South Africa. Initially, there was fear that South Africa would end up another Zimbabwe, whose leader has shattered the country all by himself and his destructive policies. But forgiveness changed everything. Mandela, rather than doing an eye for an eye, a roland for an oliver, or any diamond-cut-diamond vengeance, asked that South African, regardless of race, religion, and background, should unite for a better future for the entire nation. At least, the country is still in progress. Immediately after his appointment, Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) was set up as an opportunity for those who were once involved in pro-apartheid activities to confess all their mistakes, no matter how brutal, how sadistic they were, directly in front of the victims, or the victims’ families. Not all of them were willing to do so, but at least there was a majority of them who had willingness to repent.

Adriaan Vlok is one of them. Without any reasons to feel ashamed, he appeared in TRC, and confessed all his mistakes one by one. Suddenly I was just reminded of how Hou-chieh repented in front of the Shaolin monks. Many of the responses were positive, though some still insisted not to forgive Vlok for his brutal misdeeds in the past. He even washed their feet – in Christianity, this is known as paedalavium. A sign of apology, deep from his heart. Nobody except Vlok had never been doing such surprising thing like this before.

One of the victims, Frank Chikane – now a reverend, who was once targeted to be assassinated by Vlok himself – even had his feet washed by the man, who, like Hou-chieh, perhaps, had been victimized by his own hatred, his own ambition, and his own turmoils. In March 2010, he also washed the feet of 13 ex-soldiers and police officers whom he said had led them ‘to the wrong path’. It was done in a church, witnessed by hundreds of people, black and white, and they said that there were tears flowing on both Vlok’s eyes and the ex-soldiers and the police officers’ eyes as well. Regarding to the Mamelodi 10, he also washed the feet of the 10 activists’ widows and mothers, deep from his heart, and hugged them as if they were families.

Without that sense of forgiveness, South Africa would not exist until this second.

And Hou-chieh has got a good partner, too.

Google ‘forgiveness stories’, and you will find 9.430.000 search results, currently. What a better world we can make if we can apply what Adriaan Vlok has done to the victims – through our own ‘foot-washing’ deeds.

‘Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who have sinned against us.’

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