SAR, Vol 9, No 1, July 1993
HAMBA KAHLE CHRIS HANI
BY NTHOANA AND MBULELO MZAMANE
All observers are agreed that the loss of Chris Hani is a grievous one for the progressive forces in South Africa, in ways that are just beginning to be assessed. For example, the most recent issue of the South African periodical Work in Progress leads a useful symposium on "What's left for the left?" with a reading (by Moletsi Mbeki) of how important Hani might have been for sustaining a vibrant socialist agenda in the new South Africa; and many other tributes and appreciations have also appeared. In this issue, SAR is fortunate to draw on the services of Nthoana and Mbulelo Mzamane, two people who knew Chris Hani well through ties of family - Hani's wife is Nthoana's sister - and friendship, for their own appreciation of Hani's life and promise. The Mzamanes, who have worked for many years in exile, most recently at the University of Vermont, are returning to South Africa later this year to take up professorial appointments at Fort Hare.
"I've lived with death for most of my life . . . I want to live in a free South Africa, even if I have to lay down my life for it."
Chris Hani, in an interview shortly after his return from exile in 1990.
Chris Hani, the Secretary General of the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the most popular political personality in South Africa after Nelson Mandela, was assassinated outside his Dawn Park home in the East Rand town of Boksburg at 10:15 am on Saturday, April 9.
There will be those who will see divine justice that a man who led guerillas against the evils of his time should himself fall victim to an assassin's bullets. There will be others who will think that he signed his own death warrant by going soft on his enemies who had always wanted to snuff out his life. Neither stereotype fits the man who fought to give others peace, liberty and life - and paid the highest price for acting courageously on his convictions.
Chris was neither a hawk nor a dove, but a person who dealt with difficult tensions in a creative way. He was remarkably bright and brave; relentless in his fight for justice; unsparing in his criticism of those, even within his own party, who had become a threat to peace; a selfless person who, three weeks before his death, on his last trip through the rugged Transkei countryside where he grew up, stated: "I've never wanted to spare myself for this struggle. What right do I have to hold back, to rest, to preserve my health, to have time with my family, when there are other people who are no longer alive - when they have sacrificed what is precious, namely life itself?"
There can be no denying Hani's stature as the most important and powerful figure of the emergent generation of South Africa's leaders. The paroxysm of disbelief, anger and outrage which shook the country following his murder testifies to the importance of his leadership and the deep significance of his life.
Chris Hani, who was born Martin Thembisile Hani on June 28, 1942, in Cofimvaba, Transkei, became active in politics as a high school student in Cape Town in 1957. Recalling his political initiation, he once explained: "For about six months I was in the Unity Movement. But later I began to examine the movement and I didn't see them in the mass struggle of our people. Their struggle was in the mind, in the head. The activism of the ANC began to make me shift from the Unity Movement to the ANC."
After graduating from Rhodes University with a B.A. degree in Latin and English, he received instructions from the high command of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the ANC's newly formed military wing, to leave the country for military training. His life thereafter came to be characterized by many close encounters with death.
In 1967 he was political commissar for the Luthuli brigade, the unit that launched MK's first armed attack from Zambia against the Rhodesian security forces at Wankie in 1967. He explained his unit's military mission thus: "We had to work with ZAPU [the Zimbabwe African People's Union] to create an infrastructure in Rhodesia that would take us to South Africa."
He was elected to the ANC's national executive council in 1975 and appointed MK deputy commander in 1982. That same year, South African forces raided Lesotho, his base in the 1970s from which to set up networks in South Africa that would support a military incursion. When we arrived in Maseru, the capital of Lesotho, for the funeral of the 40 people killed in the raids, we found the Hani home destroyed; his wife, Limpho and their infant daughter - the same one who rushed out to find her father lying in a pool of blood - were fortunately away from home on that occasion. Chris, who for years had not spent two consecutive nights under the same roof, had survived yet another of countless plots to murder him.
He continued to rise through the ranks to become MK chief of staff in 1987, the number two post in the commando organization, a position he relinquished only in 1992. Nonetheless, Chris always saw the military struggle as a means to an end, and that end was very clearly defined in his head. He could thus announce - and perhaps, because of his record, he could do this with greater authority than anyone else in the movement - the termination of that phase of the struggle when the time came. A week before his assassination he had been promoting the creation of a "peace corps" among youth to curb internecine warfare in the country. He had also been working to shore up the ANC's fractious militant wing and to assert control over self-defence units, originally set up to defend communities from state sponsored violence but increasingly embittered in recent months. He died only four days after his dramatic appeal for peace. "I don't accept people calling for war," he told thousands of ANC supporters in the East Rand, "because I feel we have achieved something in this country, where those who oppressed us in the past are actually talking to us and showing readiness to negotiate for democratic elections. I am saying to these comrades here that everyone should be a combatant, a fighter for peace."
Fears were expressed, following Hani's death, that his passing now placed a negotiated settlement in great jeopardy. However, the total collapse of negotiations is neither in the interests of the ANC nor of the De Klerk government. The process, whose fragility at this stage is apparent to both parties, is likely to accelerate. Further swift concessions on three crucial ANC demands can be expected to expedite negotiations: the establishment of a Transitional Executive Council, as early as July; the drafting of an interim constitution, as a matter of urgency rather than mere expediency; and the announcement of a date for elections to take place no later than May next year [now apparently announced for April 27, 1994]. Thus, if the objective of right wing forces behind the assassination was to fan the flames of civil war, it is unlikely to be realised. Beyond the anger and the fear aroused by Chris Hani's death, there is only one sensible direction for South Africa to move: toward a negotiated settlement.
And yet to the ANC, as it tries to negotiate an end to white minority rule, Chris Hani's assassination has been a staggering blow. For Chris was unique in one further respect. Unlike any other leader of the liberation movement, he had a solid urban as well as rural base. Until required on a regular basis to take part in the negotiations, he was the only Congress leader of such popular standing to make his home in the rural areas, where he came to be regarded increasingly as a unifying figure, even between supporters of the Congress Alliance and members of rival organisations such as the Pan Africanist Congress and the Azanian People's Organization. Moreover, with his impeccable credentials as MK leader and his charismatic appeal to angry alienated youth, he gave the ANC credibility among its most disgruntled, volatile constituents. Without him, it will be harder to sell to disadvantaged and oppressed groups any kind of apparent compromise - however tactically astute - with the apartheid regime and to galvanize young voters for the first all-race elections, expected to take place in about a year.
It is one of the saddest ironies of our time that many of the greatest of modern figures, many of the brightest beacons of hope for the future, have been assassinated in their prime. For all South Africans, for all the struggling masses in our world, Chris Hani's death, like that of so many other African visionaries killed in the first act of nationhood - Patrice Lumumba, Amilcar Cabral, Eduardo Mondlane, Samora Machel, Steve Biko - will be meaningless if the work for which he laid down his life is not carried forward. Mandela's appeal in his April 13 televised address to the nation must be heeded: "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." The hope he gave us must never be extinguished. In death his example must remain as bright and potent as it was in life.
We want to remember Chris for the light he shed that others might see; for the life he shared so selflessly; and for the vision, the wisdom, the dedication, and compassion he dispensed so generously. We will remember him as the husband, father, brother, friend, and comrade that he was. We want to remember him for the cause that he espoused, which turned into his own life's quest for a humanity liberated from the stranglehold of tyranny, fear, hatred, prejudice, ignorance, and rapaciousness.
- 30 -
Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer(s) and not do necessarily reflect the views of the AfricaFiles' editors and network members. They are included in our material as a reflection of a diversity of views and a variety of issues. Material written specifically for AfricaFiles may be edited for length, clarity or inaccuracies.