Afrikaner asks blacks` forgiveness


Chicago Tribune, 8 November 1990

A prominent Afrikaner theologian stunned a multiracial church conference discussing South Africa`s future Tuesday when he stood and begged black church leaders to forgive him and other Afrikaner communicants of the Dutch Reformed Church for having condoned apartheid.

The theologian, Willie Jonker, a professor who is also an ordained minister in the Dutch Reformed Church, said the church must acknowledge responsibility for the suffering that apartheid has inflicted on the country`s black majority.

His confession seemed bound to agitate many Afrikaans-speaking Christians.

The five-day conference, which attracted 85 black and white

denominations, the most to assemble in South Africa, was convened to work out guidelines acceptable to all Christians in a changing South Africa.

Seventy-eight percent of all South Africans call themselves Christians.

Jonker, who is professor of systematic theology at Stellenbosch University, the premier Afrikaans-speaking academic institution, has a liberal reputation in Dutch Reformed circles.

He had been invited to address the conference Tuesday on the theme of

”understanding the church situation and obstacles to Christian witness in South Africa.”

But when he was into the fourth page of his prepared speech, the slight, grey-haired professor pulled out another piece of paper on which he had scribbled his confession by hand.

It said, ”I confess before you and before the Lord not only my own sin and guilt, and my personal responsibility for the political, social, economic and structural wrongs that have been done to many of you and the results of which you and our whole community are still suffering from, but vicariously I have also to do that in the name of the NGK of which I am a member, and for the Afrikaner people as a whole.”

Jonker used the Afrikaans initials of the Nederduitse Gereformeerde Kerk, the largest of three white branches of the Dutch Reformed Church in South Africa.

The branch has been described as the governing ”National Party at prayer” because of the influence that its members exert over white politics. South Africa`s Anglican archbishop, Desmond Tutu, who contended Monday at the opening of the conference that racial reconciliation must be followed by white reparations to blacks, asked for a minute to respond to Jonker`s unexpected confession.