On the day in February 1992 that Deon Snyman was installed as a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church in Africa—the church's black branch—in Nongoma, in the heart of the KwaZulu homeland, his 54-year-old father stood up in front of the congregation, all of whom were Zulus, and said this: "Well, it is clear that South Africa is going to change. But I am an Afrikaner. I do not know if I have the capacity to change. Also, I am an old man. I do not know if I have the skills to change." Then the father indicated his 26-year-old son. "So today, I give you my son. If you can teach him the rules of the new South Africa, he can teach us those rules. If you can give him the skills to live in this new country, he can show us those skills."
In the dozen years Snyman lived among the Zulus as a minister, it became clear that the lesson he had to take back to his own people was this: "Those who supported the system of apartheid need to apologize in a way that will feel sincere. Then they need to make amends in a way that restores some of the dignity and some of the material opportunities that had been eroded under that system." Snyman started to think about the idea of community-led restitution—the creation, he says, of such emblems of remorse as a school, a clinic, or a skills training center. "Something everyone could point to and say, Here is our symbol of true sorryness, here is a symbol of our decision to build a new way to work together. It was a very deep idea in me."
But it would be years before Snyman's imagination was captured by a small Afrikaans farming town in the Western Cape, a community unable to deny that the effects of apartheid had spilled on beyond 1994, when white rule ended and Nelson Mandela became the reborn nation's first president.
Worcester is a somnolent, gingerbread town prickled with white church spires an hour and a half northeast of Cape Town. In winter, the surrounding mountains are snowcapped. In summer, heat holds like hell's breath in the valley and melts the tarmac. The streets are wide and orderly. The houses are gabled and picturesque; lawns are cajoled into neat pockets; there are steroidal roses and trellises hanging grapevines off verandas. It's the sort of town that makes you wish you'd worn a longer skirt and a higher collar.
In the mid-1990s the lines drawn deep in the geography and psyche of the place by apartheid were still evident, but no more so than elsewhere in the country. It is true that blacks still lived mainly in Zwelethemba township—Worcester's undernourished twin across the Hex River—while whites still lived on the dappled streets of the town itself or on farms laid at the feet of the mountains. On the other hand, Worcester had elected its first Coloured (mixed race) mayor and its first black deputy mayor. Also, in June 1996 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)—a courtlike body assembled after the abolition of apartheid—had held a hearing in the town. Victims and perpetrators of torture and abuse under apartheid had stepped forward and testified. The violent past was over, surely.