Shirley Gunn and her baby son spent more than two months in prison after former police minister Adriaan Vlok falsely accused her of bombing the headquarters of the SA Council of Churches.
Now, 17 years after her ordeal, Gunn has slammed Vlok’s foot-washing apology to the Director-General of the Presidency, Frank Chikane, the former secretary-general of the SACC, as “provocative and insensitive”.
Gunn said: “I still haven’t got the truth out of (Vlok) about what happened to me. He can’t just wash Frank Chikane’s feet and think that that is the end of it … he needs to apologise to his victims directly.”
Chikane – who is still seeking justice for those who tried to kill him by lacing his clothes with poison in the late 1980s – on Saturday detailed how Vlok had arrived at his office and handed him a Bible with the message “I have sinned against the Lord and against you, please forgive me (John 13:15)” on its cover.
“He said I take you as a representative and an embodiment of all the other people I should be talking to. He then asked for water … he picked up a glass of water, opened his bag, pulled out a bowl, put the water in the bowl, took out the towel, said ‘you must allow me to do this’ and washed my feet in my office,” said Chikane.
But, although Chikane described the apology as “genuine”, it failed to impress Gunn or Dumisa Ntsebeza, the former head of the TRC’s Investigative Unit. Ntsebeza said Vlok’s apology to Chikane was “too little too late”.
He pointed out that, two years after apartheid activist Stanza Bopape was shocked to death by police and then dumped into a crocodile-infested pool, Vlok had reported to Parliament that the investigation into the young man’s disappearance was continuing.
Vlok refused to reveal the names of the officers who Bopape had been with at the time he disappeared, but said he would do so if ordered to by the Harms Commission. The Harms Commission decided that there were insufficient grounds for holding a hearing.
It was only when the policemen responsible for torturing Bopape to death with electric shocks applied for amnesty that the truth about his disappearance emerged.
“My view has always been that he could not be unaware of these things,” Ntsebeza said.
“Yet he did not ease the anguish of Bopape’s family by telling the truth.”
Ntsebeza also described Vlok’s foot-washing gesture as “empty”.
“What does it help to wash the feet of the director-general?
“He should be washing Shirley Gunn’s feet, as well as the feet of all the other people he has hurt.”
During his successful amnesty application before the TRC, Vlok admitted that he had deliberately conducted a smear campaign against Gunn after the police’s 1988 bombing of Khotso House.
He said Gunn’s chance presence at Khotso House before the blast had been “a godsend” because it had provided the perfect opportunity to cover up police involvement by blaming her.
“He could not accept responsibility (for the blast) so he had to spread disinformation, ” Ntsebeza said.
According to Vlok, former president PW Botha gave the order to damage Khotso House so it could not by used by the SACC and members of other organisations.
In 1999, together with former police commissioner General Johannes van der Merwe, Vlakplaas death squad commander Eugene de Kock and 14 other apartheid police officials, Vlok was granted amnesty for the Khotso House bombing.
Speaking on Sunday, Gunn said she was still haunted by her arrest at a guesthouse in Victoria West and her subsequent detention for the bombing.
During evidence before the TRC, it emerged that police had taken Gunn’s 16-month-old son Haroon away from her for eight days and then used tapes of him crying to torture her.
One day she woke up to see a strange man putting something into the milk in her cell.
“It was very, very scary … and I still don’t know what the police were trying to do or why.
“All I would like now is for (Vlok) to come down and meet with me in Cape Town and finally tell me the truth, human being to human being”.
Meanwhile, Vlok’s former deputy Leon Wessels, now a SA Human Rights Commissioner, said he was “extremely happy” with Vlok’s apology.
Wessels apologised to South Africa for apartheid atrocities at an international conference in Oslo, Norway, in 1990.