The years between the release of Nelson Mandela from prison in 1990 and the country’s first democratic elections in 1994 were a time of great political tension in South Africa. An estimated 14 000 people are said to have died in politically related incidents in those few years, double the amount of political deaths recorded from 1948 to 1990. Chris Hani, who was assassinated on the 10th April 1993, was one such death. But as leader of the South African Communist Party (SACP), his death had much greater significance than many others who had died in the fight for freedom. For a lot of people it was the final insult in a decades long battle for equality, and threat of civil war in South Africa as a result of Hani’s death was imminent.
Second only to Nelson Mandela in popularity there are some who believe that with Hani at the helm, the SACP would have been in line to challenge the ANC in the 1994 elections. A respected member of uMkhonto we Sizwe, where he had held the position of Chief of Staff, over time Hani had attracted a cult-like following, especially amongst the young who saw him as a viable alternative to the democratic ideals of the more moderate Mandela. But Hani supported the suspension of the ANC’s armed struggle in favour of negotiations, and was optimistic about the future of the country at the time of his death.
Chris Hani, born Martin Thembisile Hani – Chris was a nom de guerre adopted by Hani in exile – was shot and killed at the age of 50 by a Polish far-right anti-communist immigrant, Janusz Waluś, as he stepped out of his car at his home in Boksburg. With him at the time was his 15 year old daughter, Nomakhwezi, who saw her father killed. Hani’s neighbour, an Afrikaans woman, reported the incident to the police, resulting in the arrest of Waluś, and the subsequent arrest and imprisonment of Clive Derby-Lewis, Shadow Minister for Economic Affairs at the time, who had lent Waluś the pistol used to kill Hani.
The assassination was a turning point in South Africa and the impetus for setting a final date for the national elections, but things could have turned out very differently were it not for our leaders at the time. On the death of Hani Nelson Mandela addressed the nation appealing for calm:
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.
Lindiwe Hani, Chris Hani’s youngest daughter who was twelve at the time of her father’s death, has written a memoir entitled Being Chris Hani’s Daughter. The book was released this month, on the 24th anniversary of Hani’s death, and is available for sale at Exclusive Books or online via loot.co.za.
Image of Chris Hani courtesy of www.chronicle.co.zw