Vlok case welcomed

This week former South African Council of Churches (SACC) general secretary Frank Chikane recounted his near-death experience in 1989 when apartheid security forces lined his clothing with a poison that attacks the nervous system.

He was on his way to Namibia when his would-be assassins struck at the then Jan Smuts Airport by intercepting his luggage on the conveyer belt and administering the deadly chemical on his clothes.

"I was banned from visiting Namibia, but at the time the country was under United Nations rule as part of the process ushering in a new political dispensation. Little did I know that the security forces had a Plan B that entailed using extra-legal measures to permanently get rid of me", Chikane told journalists during a media briefing at the Union Buildings.

He felt the effect of the deadly chemical 10 hours after his arrival in Namibia.

"It all started with profuse sweating, vomiting and then paralysis," said Chikane.

He was taken to the intensive care unit of the nearest hospital where he was revived and put on a life-support system.

He was subsequently transported back to South Africa in a plane chartered by the SACC.

In his emotion-stirring talk Chikane narrated how he overheard a nurse at the Johannesburg hospital, where he had been admitted, telling someone on the phone that, "Frank Chikane has been admitted at the hospital and he is dying".

Six days after that incident Chikane travelled to the US to visit his wife who was studying in Wisconsin. Some hours after his arrival, the deadly chemicals struck again.

Again he was taken to hospital and put on life support. Days later he recuperated and was discharged.

To his dismay and that of the specialists who were treating him he had a third relapse.

It was at this point that one of the specialists suspected that his condition had to do with his luggage because every time he was discharged and put on his own clothes, the symptoms recurred.

His clothes were quarantined and taken for laboratory tests. It was found they were lined with the deadly chemical.

Chikane also recalled how during one of the episodes he had in the US, a bishop was called in to deliver the "prayer for the dying" because everyone believed he would not live.

He also learnt that some members of the security forces had celebrated his "death" with a braai accompanied by "Klippies and Coke".

On Tuesday, Chikane said he had forgiven all those who had tried to kill him and all his torturers during his several bouts of detention.

He also saluted the National Prosecuting Authority (NPA) for deciding to prosecute apartheid-era minister of police Adriaan Vlok and four of his colleagues, including former police chief, general Johann van der Merwe.

"The law must take its course,'' said Chikane.

Chikane, now director-general in the Presidency, made his statement amid cries from certain sections of our society that bringing the two apartheid securocrats to book amounted to a witch-hunt that would undermine reconciliation.

Seemingly those making these assertions suggest that for reconciliation to prevail justice must be sacrificed.

In its final report the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) recommended that the state charge those who should have gone to the commission, but did not so, as well as those who had not made full disclosures.

Vlok did go to the TRC, but only made disclosures about the bombing of Khotso House, Cosatu House and the offices of the South African Bishops' Conference. He said nothing about his involvement in the attempt to kill Chikane.

Van der Merwe never bothered to appear before the TRC.

As Alex Borraine, former deputy chairman of the TRC, said this week: "The Truth Commission was a window of opportunity for people to come forward and disclose their activities. If they failed to used that opportunity, it is the state's responsibility to charge them."

If indeed the NPA now has evidence against these men, then they should be charged.

What is important is that they be given a fair trial.

In fact, having them charged is, as Borraine has suggested, a healthy sign that this country is committed to upholding its justice system.

It is also folly to argue that letting the law take its course will undermine reconciliation.

Those who argue thus seem to see justice and reconciliation as mutually exclusive.

As Borraine pointed out, justice and reconciliation are two sides of the same coin.

In this regard, the trial is a positive step towards reconciliation because the truth about the activities of the apartheid security forces will no doubt come out.