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Chris Hani

Written by Ujamaa Team

Chris Hani (28 June 1942 – 10 April 1993), born Martin Thembisile Hani, was the leader of the South African Communist Party and chief of staff of uMkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC). He was a fierce opponent of the apartheid government, and was assassinated by Janusz Waluś, a Polish immigrant and sympathiser of the Conservative opposition on 10 April 1993, during the unrest preceding the transition to democracy.

General Secretary of the South African Communist Party
In office
1991–1993
Preceded byJoe Slovo
Succeeded byCharles Nqakula
Deputy Commander of uMkhonto we Sizwe
PresidentOliver Tambo
Personal details
BornMartin Thembisile Hani
28 June 1942
Cofimvaba, Transkei, South Africa
(now Cofimvaba, Eastern Cape, South Africa)
Died10 April 1993 (aged 50)
Dawn Park, Boksburg, South Africa
(now Dawn Park, Ekurhuleni, Gauteng, South Africa)
Cause of deathAssassination
Political partyAfrican National Congress
South African Communist

Early life

Thembisile Hani was born on 28 June 1942 in the small town of Cofimvaba, Transkei. He was the fifth of six children. He attended Lovedale school in 1957, to finish his last two years. He twice finished two school grades in a single year. When Hani was 12 years old, after hearing his father’s explanations about apartheid and the African National Congress, he wished to join the ANC but was still too young to be accepted. In Lovedale school, Hani joined the ANC Youth League when he was 15 years old, even though political activities were not allowed at black schools under apartheid. He influenced other students to join the ANC.

In 1959, at the University of Fort Hare in Alice, Eastern Cape, Hani studied English, Latin and modern and classical literature. He did not participate in any sport, saying “I would rather fight apartheid than play sport”. Hani, in an interview on the Wankie campaign, mentioned that he was a Rhodes University graduate.

Political and military career

At age 15 he joined the ANC Youth League. As a student he was active in protests against the Bantu Education Act. He worked as a clerk for a law firm. Following his graduation, he joined Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the armed wing of the ANC. Following his arrest under the Suppression of Communism Act, he went into exile in Lesotho in 1963. Because of Hani’s involvement with Umkhonto we Sizwe he was forced into hiding by the South African government during which time he changed his first name to Chris.

He received military training in the Soviet Union and served in campaigns in the Zimbabwean War of Liberation, also called the Rhodesian Bush War. They were joint operations between Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) and the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army in the late 1960s. The Luthuli Detachment operation consolidated Hani’s reputation as a soldier in the black army that took the field against apartheid and its allies. His role as a fighter from the earliest days of MK’s exile (following the arrest of Nelson Mandela and the other internal MK leaders at Rivonia) was an important part in the fierce loyalty Hani enjoyed in some quarters later as MK’s Deputy Commander (Joe Modise was overall commander). In 1969 he co-signed, with six others, the ‘Hani Memorandum’ which was strongly critical of the leadership of Joe Modise, Moses Kotane and other comrades in the leadership.

In Lesotho he organised guerrilla operations of the MK in South Africa. By 1982, Hani had become prominent enough that he was the target of assassination attempts, and he eventually moved to the ANC’s headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia. As head of Umkhonto we Sizwe, he was responsible for the suppression of a mutiny by dissident anti-Communist ANC members in detention camps, but denied any role in abuses including torture and murder. Many MK female operatives like Dipuo Mvelase adored Chris Hani for having protected women’s rights and caring about their wellbeing at military camps.

Having spent time as a clandestine organiser in South Africa in the mid-1970s, he permanently returned to South Africa following the unbanning of the ANC in 1990, and took over from Joe Slovo as head of the South African Communist Party on 8 December 1991. He supported the suspension of the ANC’s armed struggle in favour of negotiations.

Assassination

Chris Hani was assassinated on 10 April 1993 outside his home in Dawn Park, a racially mixed suburb of Boksburg. He was accosted by a Polish far-right anti-communist immigrant named Janusz Waluś, who shot him as he stepped out of his car. Waluś fled the scene but was soon arrested after Margareta Harmse, a white Afrikaner housewife, saw Walus straight after the crime as she was driving past, and called the police. A neighbour of Hani also witnessed the crime and later identified both Walus, and the vehicle he was driving at the time. Clive Derby-Lewis, a senior South African Conservative Party MP and Shadow Minister for Economic Affairs at the time, who had lent Waluś his pistol, was also arrested for complicity in Hani’s murder. The Conservative Party of South Africa had broken away from the ruling National Party out of opposition to the reforms of P. W. Botha. After the elections of 1989, it was the second-strongest party in the House of Assembly, after the National Party, and opposed F. W. de Klerk’s dismantling of apartheid.

Historically, the assassination is seen as a turning point. Serious tensions followed the assassination, with fears that the country would erupt in violence. Nelson Mandela addressed the nation appealing for calm, in a speech regarded as presidential even though he was not yet president of the country:

Tonight I am reaching out to every single South African, black and white, from the very depths of my being. A white man, full of prejudice and hate, came to our country and committed a deed so foul that our whole nation now teeters on the brink of disaster. A white woman, of Afrikaner origin, risked her life so that we may know, and bring to justice, this assassin. The cold-blooded murder of Chris Hani has sent shock waves throughout the country and the world. … Now is the time for all South Africans to stand together against those who, from any quarter, wish to destroy what Chris Hani gave his life for – the freedom of all of us.

Nelson Mandela

While riots followed the assassination, both sides of the negotiation process were galvanised into action, and they soon agreed that the democratic elections should take place on 27 April 1994, just over a year after Hani’s assassination.

Assassins’ conviction and amnesty hearing

Both Janusz Waluś and Clive Derby-Lewis were sentenced to death for the murder. Derby-Lewis’s wife, Gaye, was acquitted. Both men’s sentences were commuted to life imprisonment when the death penalty was abolished as a result of a Constitutional Court ruling in 1995.

Hani’s killers appeared before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, claiming political motivation for their crimes and applying for amnesty on the basis that they had acted on the orders of the Conservative Party. The Hani family was represented by the anti-apartheid lawyer George Bizos. Their applications were denied when the TRC ruled that they had not acted under orders. After several failed attempts, Derby-Lewis was granted medical parole in May 2015 after he had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer; he died 18 months later, on 3 November 2016.

On 10 March 2016, the North Gauteng High Court of South Africa ordered Waluś to be released on parole under bail conditions. The Department of Justice and Correctional Services lodged an appeal against the parole decision to the Supreme Court of Appeals in Bloemfontein. The Department of Home Affairs has indicated that Waluś may have his South African citizenship revoked.

Conspiracy theories surrounding assassination

Hani’s assassination has attracted numerous conspiracy theories about outside involvement. The final report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, however, said that it “was unable to find evidence that the two murderers convicted of the killing of Chris Hani took orders from international groups, security forces or from higher up in the right-wing echelons.”

Influence

Hani was a charismatic leader, with significant support among the radical anti-apartheid youth. At the time of his death, he was the most popular ANC leader after Nelson Mandela, and was sometimes perceived as a rival to the more moderate party leadership. Following the legalisation of the ANC, Hani’s support for the negotiation process with the apartheid government was critical in keeping the militants in line.

Honours

This is part of the Chris Hani Monument

In 1993, French philosopher Jacques Derrida dedicated Spectres de Marx (1993) to Hani.

In 1997, Baragwanath Hospital, one of the largest hospitals in the world, was renamed the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in his memory. In September 2004, Hani was voted 20th in the controversial Top 100 Greatest South Africans poll.

Days after his assassination, the rock group Dave Matthews Band (whose lead singer and guitarist, Dave Matthews, is from South Africa) began playing what would become “#36”, with lyrics and chorus referring to Hani’s shooting.

A short opera Hani by composer Bongani Ndodana-Breen with libretto by film producer Mfundi Vundla was commissioned by Cape Town Opera and University of Cape Town premiering at the Baxter Theatre 21 November 2010.

A District Municipality in the Eastern Cape was named the Chris Hani District Municipality. This district includes Queenstown, Cofimvaba and Lady Frere. The Thembisile Hani Local Municipality in Mpumalanga also bears his name.

In 2009, after extension of Cape Town’s Central Line, the new terminus serving eastern areas of Khayelitsha was christened Chris Hani.

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