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S. African Whites Face A Mirror

Truth Report

By Kate DunnSpecial to The Christian Science Monitor / October 28, 1998


A single white rose blooms in the garden of the Dutch Reformed Church in Durbanville, a white Afrikaner enclave 12 miles outside Cape Town. The parish gardener obviously still struggles to keep the grounds green, but the desert on which the stolid white building sits keeps breaking through the tough buffalo grass, encroaching on the flower beds.

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Standing in the brilliant sunlight, Rian Verster tucks his Bible under his arm and looks toward the church where he is a part-time minister. The paint is chipping. There's rust on the spire.

The whole Dutch Reformed Church needs renovation, says Mr. Verster, and he credits the country's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) with opening the eyes of Afrikaners - whose Dutch ancestors first settled here in the 17th century - to that fact.

On Oct. 29 the TRC will publish a 3,500-page report, based on thousands of hours of hearings held in 61 towns and cities, and statements from 21,000 people, most of them victims.

"The TRC opened our minds to the reality of what happened in this country under apartheid and we have to stop it and get this society into a new way of thinking and living, especially the churches," says Verster.

The TRC's long and painful task since April 1996 has been to unravel the truth about apartheid and the struggle to end white domination in South Africa. It offered amnesty in return for full confession of human rights abuses committed for political purposes.

While black-liberation movements will be accused of crimes, the report will focus on torture, murder, poisoning, bombing, and germ warfare by whites against the black majority.

Despite Verster's conciliatory views, the report is likely to be rejected by much of his church, which refused an invitation to tell the TRC about its promotion of apartheid. The Dutch Reformed Church remains segregated into black and white congregations.

From the church sprang the National Party, which ruled South Africa and enforced apartheid from 1948 until Nelson Mandela's election in 1994 with support of the African National Congress (ANC). The subsequent TRC process has elicited far more resentment from Afrikaners than it has confession, truth, forgiveness, or reconciliation.

"The TRC has both healed and harmed South Africa," says Wilhelm Kruger, one of Verster's parishioners. Sitting on the church steps reading from a children's Bible to his two-year-old son, Mr. Kruger echoes the views of many whites who write letters to the editor and call in to radio talk shows:

"The TRC has gone too far. They are encouraging reverse discrimination and racism. They hammer the old regime too much, harder than they did the ANC, which committed atrocities in its own [guerrilla] camps [in Angola]. All that truth has been squashed."

A poll published in July revealed 60 percent of whites surveyed felt the TRC had not been fair to all sides in the apartheid conflict and had worsened race relations. The vast majority of blacks surveyed felt the opposite.

"We initially supported the TRC process, but to think now that they could come up with a fair report is expecting too much," says National Party spokesman Jaco Maree.