At the Christian Amahoro gathering in South Africa in June, former apartheid-era Minister of Law and Order Adriaan Vlok publicly washed the feet of Sean Callaghan, a young white South African man who had been conscripted as a medic into Vlok’s counterinsurgency unit at age 15. In a powerful demonstration of biblical reconciliation, Callaghan returned the gesture.
Callaghan, who testified to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission about the psychological damage he suffered after his time in the counterinsurgency unit, told Vlok, “Whenever I would swear, I would never use a swear word, Mr. Vlok. I would use your name.” In Vlok’s address to the conference, he described how his conversion to Christ led him to seek reconciliation and forgiveness from those he wronged.
Vlok was granted amnesty in 1999 by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the only cabinet minister to have admitted committing crimes—including civilian bombings, torture, and assassinations. In 2006 Vlok also washed the feet of Rev. Frank Chikane, whom he had tried to assassinate years earlier.
“Seeing Vlok wash Sean Callaghan’s feet,” conference attendee Brian McLaren told Sojourners, “would be like seeing Donald Rumsfeld apologize for his role in the Iraq invasion and occupation. But, even while we celebrate Vlok’s change of heart, the problem isn’t as simple as dirt on the feet. Its deep scars will require a lot of time and a lot of grace to heal.”