Today marks the 25th anniversary of the assassination of Chris Hani, an event that nearly saw the undoing of the very fragile peace negotiations in South Africa.
It’s difficult to imagine so many years on, but Chris Hani was a hugely popular figure in South Africa, with some even believing that with him at the helm of the SACP, the party stood a good chance of beating the ANC at the elections. Prior to being appointed Secretary General of the South African Communist Party in December 1991, Hani had been a long standing member of the ANC’s National Executive Committee. During the ANC’s first national conference held in Durban in 1991, Hani received the highest number of votes, and a public poll put him as the most popular leader in the ANC, after Nelson Mandela.
His assassination rocked South Africa, particularly the more volatile youth, many of whom were SACP loyalists, believing that the ANC, and in particular, Mandela, were too moderate in their dealings with the government. Yet the two men were not that different, both ardent readers, with a love for classical literature. During a brief autobiographical essay Hani spoke of the influence of books on his life:
My studies of literature further strengthened my hatred of all forms of oppression, persecution and obscurantism. The action of tyrants as portrayed in various literary works also made me hate tyranny and institutionalised oppression
While leader of Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) Hani clearly understood the necessary role that military action played in the fight for democracy, prior to his death he had publicly acknowledged that the time for peaceful negotiations had arrived, an action that some people believed put his life in even greater danger.
In 1992, Hani relinquished his position as leader of the MK in order to support the drive for peace. In the autobiographical essay published in February 1991, Hani stated:
In the current political situation, the decision by our organisation to suspend armed action is correct and is an important contribution in maintaining the momentum of negotiation.
But having survived three previous assassination attempts, Hani saw the need to employ the services of a bodyguard, who was always at his side in public. It was a rare occasion when on the Easter weekend of 1993 Hani decided to take some time off, with the result that his bodyguard was not present when Janusz Waluś drove into Hani’s driveway just after 10am, following him to his front door, and shooting him four times at point-blank range, leaving his fifteen year old daughter who was home alone at the time to discover the body of her murdered father.
In a call for public calm Tokyo Sexwale, then chairman of the ANC in Gauteng, pleaded:
Just two days ago he preached peace which made him dangerous. He said let’s get away from the violence. He died for peace. I beg all our supporters to remember this.
Postscript: Polish immigrant, Janusz Waluś, was denied parole in November 2017. His South African citizenship was also revoked in the same year. Justice Minister Michael Masuthahas stated that Waluś still did not show enough remorse for the murder of Chris Hani to warrant his release. Clive Derby-Lewis , a member of parliament in the Conservative Party, also served a life sentence for his role in the assassination of Chris Hani. Derby-Lewis was granted medical parole on the 29th May 2016. He died on the 3rd November 2016 from lung cancer.