Monastery of the Visitation


AA frail, black woman stands slowly to her feet. she is something over seventy years of age.

Facing her across the room are several white police officers, one of whom, Mr van der Broek, has just been tried

and found to be implicated in the murders of the woman’s son and husband.


He had come to the woman’s home, taken her son, shot him at point blank range and then burned

 the young man’s body on a fire while he and his officers went to a party nearby.

 Several years later, van der Broek and his cohorts had returned to take away her husband as well.

For many months she heard nothing of his whereabouts. Then almost two years after her husband’s disappearance,

van der Broek came back to fetch  the woman herself. How vividly she remembers that evening,

 going to a place beside a river where she was shown her husband, bound and beaten, but still strong in spirit,

lying on a pile of wood. The last words she heard from his lips as the officers poured gasoline over his body and set him alight were,

’ Father forgive them’.


Now the woman stands in the courtroom and listens to the confessions offered by Mr van der Broek.

 A member of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission turns to her and asks ‘So what do you want?

 How should justice be done to this man who has so brutally destroyed your family?’

 ‘I want three things,’ begins the old woman, calmly but confidently.

 ‘I want first to be taken to the place where my husband’s body was burned so that I can gather up the dust

and give his remains a decent burial.’ She pauses, then continues. ‘My husband and son were my only family;

I want secondly therefore, for Mr van der Broek to become my son.

 I would like for him to come twice a month to the ghetto and spend a day with me

 so that I can pour out on him whatever love I have still remaining in me’.

 ‘Finally’, she says, ‘I want a third thing. This was also the wish of my husband.

 I would ask someone to kindly come to my side and lead me across the courtroom

so that I can take Mr van der Broek in my arms, embrace him and let him know that he is truly forgiven.’


As a court assistant came to lead the elderly lady across the room,

Mr van der Broek, overwhelmed by what he had just heard, faints.

As he does, those in the courtroom, family, friends, neighbours—all victims of decades of oppression and injustice

— begin to sing, softly and assuredly, ‘Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch . . . .’