Adriaan Vlok was minister of law and order in South Africa during the apartheid years. As the New Republic reports, he is making amends in a dramatic way. He recently visited one of his victims, Frank Chikane, a black minister:

“He’d written it on the front flyleaf of a Bible. It read: ‘I HAVE SINNED AGAINST THE LORD AND AGAINST YOU! WILL YOU FORGIVE ME?’ Silently, he handed the Bible to Chikane, pulled a rag and bowl out of his briefcase, slid off the chair onto his knees, and bowed his head. Finally, stutteringly, he asked Chikane, ‘Frank, please, would you allow me to wash your feet?’ Chikane sat back in his chair, and in his confusion, he laughed. ‘But why would you want to do that?’ ‘I must humble myself before you,’ Vlok murmured. ‘For what we did, what we were trying to do.’ Chikane’s grin vanished. ‘I can see you are really serious,’ he said. He leaned forward in his chair, removed his shoes, and peeled off his black socks. With a quivering hand, Vlok took a glass of water off Chikane’s desk, poured it into the basin, sprinkled it onto Chikane’s naked toes, and dried them carefully with the rag. And then both men dissolved into tears.”

Vlok’s apologies aren’t universally admired by either blacks or whites in South Africa. Whatever the politics, the act has had a revolutionary effect on Vlok himself: “‘I regarded myself as better than black people,’ he told me. ‘More intelligent. I work harder. I thought to myself all the time: I am better than you. And it is wrong!’ he continued. ‘It is not so! I saw that I’m not better than they are. ... I started looking at black people through different eyes, because feet-washing put me in the place of the slave.’”

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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