South African Communist Party leader and ANC military commander made enormous contributions to national liberation
By Abayomi Azikiwe
Editor, Pan-African News Wire
On April 10, 1993 the racist in South Africa struck killing Chris Hani, the-then General Secretary of the South African Communist Party and commander of Um Khonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation, MK) the military wing of the African National Congress. Hani was out for a morning run and was heading back home when a Polish immigrant Janusz Walus approached him saying wanted to ask the leader a question.
Soon Hani was shot dead right outside his front door. The people of South Africa were shocked and outraged and rightly felt that this was an attempt to derail the negotiation process between the ANC and the ruling Nationalist Party then headed by President F.W. DeKlerk.
It was later revealed that a Clive Derby-Lewis, a Conservative Party member of parliament under the apartheid government, had provided the weapon to the assassin. The reasoning behind the assassination was to ignite a race war and consequently prevent a national nonracial election and therefore preventing the ANC from coming to power which they did one year later.
Both Walus and Derby-Lewis were arrested and prosecuted by the Nationalist Party government. They were given the death sentence which was later commuted to life in prison after the ANC-dominated government in 1995 adopted a new constitution which outlawed the death penalty.
On the 20th anniversary of Hani’s assassination there was a commemorative program held at the Thomas Titus Nkobi Memorial Park in Elspark, east of Johannesburg, where he is buried. His widow, Limpho Hani, was present along with South African President and ANC leader Jacob Zuma, Blade Nzimande, the current General Secretary of the SACP and Zwelinzima Vavi, the General Secretary of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).
The Life and Times of a Freedom Fighter
In a short autobiography written by Chris Hani in 1991 after returning to South Africa to pursue the transitional process, he noted that “I was born in a small rural town in the Transkei called Cofimbvaba. I am the fifth child in a family of six. Only three of us are still surviving, the other three died in their infancy. My mother is completely illiterate and my father semi-literate. My father was a migrant worker in the mines in the Transvaal, but he subsequently became an unskilled worker in the building industry.” (sacp.org.za)
Hani went on to say that “Life was quite harsh for us and we went through some hard times as our mother had to supplement the family budget through subsistence farming; had to bring us up with very little assistance from my father who was always away working for the white capitalists.”
Consequently his working class roots under the settler-colonial system of apartheid provided him with a political framework for becoming active in the struggle for national liberation and socialism. At the age of 15 Hani joined the ANC and during his college years at Fort Hare, he would be recruited by Govan Mbeki into the SACP.
In 1962 Hani became a combatant in MK leaving the country for military training. He joined the Luthuli Detachment, a joint ANC and Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) unit that waged a military campaign in Rhodesia during 1967.
He was able to escape after the operation failed at the Wankie Game Reserve in Rhodesia. In 1968 he relocated in Botswana and later Zambia. By 1974, he was working to establish guerrilla bases in Lesotho where he remained until 1982.
Hani revealed that while he was in Lesotho they “were actually building a number of units from Lesotho into South Africa…. We built a network of structures inside the country. We trained people in guerrilla affairs, in politics, in intelligence and everything else….Those were exciting days for me because I was receiving these cadres coming from the Transvaal, from the Orange Free State, from the Cape and Natal.” (Hani: A Life to Short, Smith and Beauregard)
He went to point out that “I was in touch with trade unions. I used to go in and out….We began to build education groups inside Lesotho. We prepared them in terms of understanding the ANC and our struggle. We would select the best to send back into the country underground…all the theory that we had acquired in our training and our limited experience we began to apply creatively in a new situation. And for me that was a turning point in terms of our struggle.”
With the re-emergence of the mass struggle inside South Africa on June 16, 1976 when thousands of students struck in protest against the racist Bantu educational system, the people inside the country never looked back. The struggle soon spread to the working class centers of production in mining and heavy industry.
Many of the young people who fled South Africa joined the ranks of the ANC and the SACP. By 1983, the United Democratic Front had been formed and two years later, the COSATU was founded with hundreds of thousands of trade unionists organized in alliance with the ANC and the SACP.
Significance of Chris Hani Today
Nzimande in his address at the Hani memorial castigated the corporate media for its hypocrisy in relationship to honoring the life of this fallen leader. Nzimande said that “some in the media, and a few in our ranks, are playing an old reactionary, and often anti-communist, card of ‘praising’ the dead in order to condemn the living. For instance some of the media that is praising Comrade Chris today had condemned him as a very dangerous ‘hawk’ whilst he was alive, and being accused of secretly training some imaginary army in Zimbabwe. Now that he is no more, he is being ‘praised’ by the same media, dishonestly of course, in order to attack the current leadership of our movement. We must expose this hypocrisy.” (sacp.org.za)
Jay Naidoo, formerly the General Secretary of COSATU, wrote in the Daily Maverick that “Twenty years on and it is sometimes convenient, or simply too easy, to forget the abyss of civil war from which our leaders drew us back and to speculate on what might have been had the ANC taken a harder line in the negotiation process that led to South Africa’s first democratic elections. We sometimes need reminding that the liberation movement achieved a ‘political miracle’ and we need to remind ourselves of the values held dear by Chris Hani, who represented the best of our patriots a meaningful democratic outcome for our people.” (April 10)
In another tribute to Hani, Mbulelo Musi, the director of communications in the department of military veterans, stressed “His dedication and commitment to the struggle for freedom, equality, justice, peace and democracy; his vision; his bold leadership and his compassion for the poorest and most vulnerable working masses of our country inspired many young people to defy death so that the people of South Africa could be free.” (Mail & Guardian, April 12)
Musi goes on to stress that “Had he been alive today, he would have reminded us that we are free because of the immense sacrifices made by the people of the African continent…. As the nation reflects on the life and times of Chris Hani, the best way to honor him would be to emulate his commitment to freedom and democracy, his devotion, patriotism and love for South Africa, as well as his commitment to building a better country, a better Africa and a better world.”