Adriaan Vlok, South Africa’s controversial former Minister of Law and Public Order, died on Sunday at the age of 85. Vlok was a prominent part of the repressive apartheid regime. As minister between 1986 and 1991, he was responsible for the police, among other things. He covertly had death squads kill anti-apartheid activists.
Vlok appeared in 1995 before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that then-President Nelson Mandela had set up to expose the crimes of the apartheid regime. He was the only minister to plead guilty to government crimes. He had bomb attacks carried out against, among other things, the headquarters of a trade union and a church association that opposed apartheid. Vlok was also responsible for detaining and repressing 30,000 people.
The commission pardoned Vlok for the crimes he confessed to. He was again discredited in mid-2006 when he made a public apology for another series of atrocities during his ministry. It turned out that he had tried to kill anti-apartheid activist and reverend Frank Chikane in 1989. Chikane’s underpants were laced with poison. The activist became seriously ill, but survived the assassination attempt.
To atone for his sins, he washed Chikane’s feet and those of the widows and mothers of ten other young black activists whom he had burned alive and had their deaths faked as a traffic accident. Critics saw the symbolic action as a publicity stunt designed to divert attention from other crimes that Vlok had overseen.
Vlok had the intention to also drag other apartheid ministers into his downfall. wrote at the time NRC that sources had heard him say that “big names will have to answer for their role.” In the end, few accomplices of the apartheid regime were convicted. Vlok himself was given a 10-year suspended prison sentence by the Pretoria High Court for the attempted murder of Chikane.
Vlok repeatedly expressed regret for his role in the apartheid regime after his resignation, and said he was a born-again Christian. “I am ashamed of many things I have done. I was harsh, I was heartless towards people,” said Vlok during his sentencing in 2007. “I supported apartheid, I maintained apartheid and that is why I think I should say sorry.” In 2014, he called on other important apartheid figures to plead guilty. In 2015, he started a humanitarian organization dedicated to food security for children.
Vlok died in a hospital in Pretoria after a short illness.