Tribute to Chris Hani on the 20th anniversary of his assassination

Published on Pambazuka News, by Carlos Martinez, April 10, 2013.

10 April 2013 marked the 20th anniversary of the tragic assassination of Chris Hani, the legendary freedom fighter and one of the most courageous and talented leaders of the anti-apartheid struggle. Although he was only 50 at the time of his death, Hani’s contribution to the struggle was that of several lifetimes.  

Born in 1942 in the Transkei, he was politicised by the sheer poverty that he saw around him in his early life. He joined the ANC’s Youth League at the age of 15, and quickly went on to become a dedicated organiser. As a student radical at the University of Fort Hare (whose alumni include Nelson Mandela, Oliver Tambo, Robert Mugabe, Julius Nyerere and Kenneth Kaunda), he was recruited to the South African Communist Party (SACP) by the veteran anti-apartheid leader, Govan Mbeki. In 1962, Hani became a member of the newly-formed Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) – the military wing of the ANC – and it was above all his heroic activities in this organisation over the course of three decades that led to his well-deserved reputation as one of the most important figures in the history of the anti-apartheid struggle.

REGENERATING THE STRUGGLE: … //

… LOOKING TOWARDS A NON-RACIAL FUTURE:

Another important and controversial issue that is worth raising when we talk about Chris Hani is that of the ANC/SACP policy of non-racialism: the idea that the struggle against apartheid, whilst primarily fought in the interests of the most oppressed group (black Africans), was also a struggle to transcend the division of society along racial lines, and that therefore the struggle should embrace people of all races, so long as they were genuinely committed to a non-racial democracy.

The ANC’s Strategy and Tactics document – one of its defining documents – is extremely clear on this issue: ‘This confrontation on the lines of colour is not of our choosing; it is of the enemy’s making. It will not be easy to eliminate some of its more tragic consequences. But it does not follow that this will be so for all time. It is not altogether impossible that in a different situation the white working class, or a substantial section of it, may come to see that their true long term interest coincides with that of the non-white workers. We must miss no opportunity to try and make them aware of this truth and to win over those who are ready to break with the policy of racial domination … Our policy must continually stress in the future (as it has in the past) that there is room in South Africa for all who live in it but only on the basis of absolute democracy … Committed revolutionaries are our brothers, regardless of the group to which they belong. There can be no second class participants in our Movement. It is for the enemy we reserve our assertiveness and our justified sense of grievance.’

Tambo also elaborated on this idea: ‘We call upon those in the white community who stand ready to live a life of real equality and nonracialism to make common cause with our struggle for genuine liberation … In sharp contrast to the racists who have sought to divide our country and people into racial and ethnic compartments, we have upheld the ideal of one country, one people and one democratic and nonracial destiny for all who live in it, black and white.’

The close links between the liberation movement and the Soviet Union very likely had an important role in affirming the ANC’s non-racial perspective. In their biography of Hani, Smith and Tromp describe his first visit to the Soviet Union (in the early 1960s):

‘In the USSR now, the men were witnesses to the way a powerful nation was run. For Hani, having joined the Communist Party a mere two years earlier, but having read extensively on socialism and Marxism, it was the culmination of theory, reading, imagining… There were no beggars and no blatant poverty. The activity in the city was frenetic: houses being built on one side, flats on the other. Later the men marvelled at the fact that education and medical attention were free to all. This was the product of the revolution. All the propaganda, the lies cranked out by the Western imperialists denouncing life in the Soviet Union, had been disproved.
‘For some of the cadres, this was the first time they had experienced compassion, understanding and support from white people. This treatment strengthened their will to fight for a nonracial society.

‘With three square meals a day cooked by white women, and being taught by white instructors, this was ‘a new world of equality where our colour seems to be of no consequence … where our humanity is recognised,’ wrote Hani.’

Although the policy of non-racialism was criticised harshly and frequently by separatist elements within the movement, it proved its value in practice: creating a highly effective fighting alliance, and inspiring the broad masses of the people with a vision of a brighter future.

THE LEGACY OF CHRIS HANI:

Chris Hani was murdered on 10 April 1993 in Johannesburg by a fascist gunman by the name of Janusz Walus, who was working with a senior South African Conservative Party MP on a plot to assassinate a number of prominent liberation fighters and thereby spark a civil war along race lines, derailing the negotiations to end apartheid. Their plot was unsuccessful, as the massive wave of shock and grief at Hani’s death was channelled towards a new momentum in the peace process. South Africa’s first democratic election – one of the most historic events of the twentieth century – took place a year later, on 27 April 1994.

Looking at some of the problems that South Africa still suffers today, it seems obvious that Hani would have been hugely important in the search for solutions. His words just two weeks before his death were prophetic:

‘I think finally the ANC will have to fight a new enemy. That enemy would be another struggle to make freedom and democracy worthwhile to ordinary South Africans. Our biggest enemy would be what we do in the field of socio-economic restructuring. Creation of jobs; building houses, schools, medical facilities; overhauling our education; eliminating illiteracy, building a society which cares, and fighting corruption and moving into the gravy train of using power, government position to enrich individuals. We must build a different culture in this country… and that culture should be one of service to the people.’

Chris was a relentless voice for the poor and oppressed, a legend of the struggle, a man of the people who had the confidence and support of the radical youth. As Nelson Mandela wrote in his autobiography: ‘He was a great hero among the youth of South Africa, a man who spoke their language and to whom they listened. South Africa was now deprived of one of its greatest sons, a man who would have been invaluable in transforming the country into a new nation.’

Mandela’s moving words at Hani’s funeral perhaps give an indication of the type of man that the world lost on 10 April 1993:

‘I would like to address a final word to Chris himself — comrade, friend and confidant. We worked together in the National Executive Committee of the ANC. We had vigorous debates and an intense exchange of ideas. You were completely unafraid. No task was too small for you to perform. Your ready smile and warm friendship was a source of strength and companionship. You lived in my home, and I loved you like the true son you were. In our heart, as in the heart of all our people, you are irreplaceable. We have been struck a blow that wounds so deeply that the scars will remain forever. You laid down your life so that we may know freedom. No greater sacrifice is possible.

‘We lay you to rest with the pledge that the day of freedom you lived and died for will dawn. We all owe you a debt that can only be repaid through the achievement of the liberation of our people, which was the passion of your life. Fighter, revolutionary, soldier for peace, we mourn deeply for you. You will remain in our hearts forever!’

In remembering Chris Hani, we must resolve to be more like him. Amandla!
(full long text).

Links: Find Chris Hani

  • on YouTube-search;
  • on en.wikipedia … (28 June 1942 – 10 April 1993) 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. He was assassinated on 10 April 1993 …;
  • on Google News-search.

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