Copyright 1998 Rusty Wright
SOUTH AFRICAN CONFESSION SPARKS CHILLING MEMORY
By: Rusty Wright
Recent news from a South African inquest gave me chills. A former cabinet minister confessed to ordering bombs placed in theaters showing a controversial movie. I had tickets for that film's opening there.
The confession recalled images of the old and new South Africa and a glimpse of hope for a troubled land.
In October, Desmond Tutu presented a long-awaited final report of his Truth and Reconciliation Commission to President Nelson Mandela. The TRC held hearings nationwide for two-and-a-half years and offers amnesty to those confessing politically-motivated crimes.
Adriaan Vlok was South Africa's minister of law and order in 1988. He claims that back then, apartheid-era President P.W. Botha ordered him to bomb the offices of the South African Council of Churches. (Botha denies ordering the bombing.)
Seeking TRC amnesty, Vlok also now confesses to ordering bombs placed in theaters screening the anti-apartheid film "Cry Freedom" which starred Denzel Washington as Black Consciousness activist Steve Biko.
Shortly before departing the U.S. in 1988 for my first lecture tour of South Africa, I enjoyed "Cry Freedom", Sir Richard Attenborough's inspiring depiction of the friendship between Biko and white editor Donald Woods. The film stoked my already burning anti-racist passions and helped prepare me for the complex society I would encounter that July.
My heart sank in Durban during an early morning jog as I saw busloads of black laborers arriving from poverty-infested townships to do strenuous work for subsistence wages. Near Cape Town, I visited a township with thousands crammed into shabby tin huts. Elsewhere I saw whites living in luxury.
Society in this lovely nation was and is complicated. White, Asian (mostly of Indian descent), mixed-race and Black citizens endured a strained social and political hierarchy. I encountered Whites who had never mixed socially with Blacks, mixed-race church members who thought Blacks should return to the jungle, and a confusing array of tribal and political feuds among Blacks.
The African National Congress was open to all races but espoused violence (since renounced). Black Consciousness was Black-only but nonviolent. The Pan-Africanist Congress was Black-only but violent.
Most encouraging was a multiracial university student Christian conference. Many students from around the nation socialized for the first time with those of other races. Pieter, an Afrikaner from the University of Pretoria, admitted that all his life he had thought the Bible mandated racial separation.
He was enthused to learn that it did not: "There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female," wrote Paul, a first-century believer advocating unity through faith in Christ. Pieter spread the message of love for Blacks among his classmates back home who, alas, were skeptical.
"You will face a dilemma here," warned Nathan, a Black graduate student. "Audiences will ask if you believe the current government is `Christian'. If you say `yes', you will enrage the blacks. If you say `no', you may lose your visa."
The self-proclaimed "Christian" government had a hard time with "Cry Freedom", banning it before it could open. After some roller coaster bureaucracy, government film authorities unbanned it, allowing its premier on my last full day in the country.
That morning I bought tickets for myself and a colleague for the evening showing in a Pretoria theater. By mid afternoon the state police confiscated the prints and prevented the openings. The next morning my colleague approached the theater only to find people fleeing in panic. A bomb had been discovered.
To learn now that bombings had been ordered by a high government official brings fear and anger. How would you feel if, for instance, Janet Reno had placed bombs in theaters showing the Clinton-spoofing "Primary Colors"?
The new South Africa is ruled by a democratic majority but is not without problems. Crime and violence abound.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has itself been controversial but something is to be said for confession and reconciliation in a land torn by painful strife. Where the old regime fostered official racism masquerading as "Christianity", perhaps the new one can help bring the forgiveness, peace and unity commended by the one who told people to "love your enemies".
Rusty Wright is an author and university lecturer who has spoken on six continents. "Real Answers" furnished courtesy of The Amy Foundation Internet Syndicate. To contact the author or The Amy Foundation, write or E-mail to: P. O. Box 16091, Lansing, MI 48901-6091; email@example.com. Visit our website at www.amyfound.org.