[News] Tribute to Chris Hani on the twentieth anniversary of his assassination

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Apr 11 11:16:11 EDT 2013

  Tribute to Chris Hani on the twentieth anniversary of his


10 April 2013 marks the twentieth anniversary of the tragic 
assassination of Chris Hani, a 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

Throughout the 1950s, the ANC's stock had grown as a result of its 
effective disobedience and defiance campaigns along with its propaganda 
work. The Freedom Charter, which put forward the core principles of the 
Congress Alliance (which included the ANC, the SACP, the South African 
Indian Congress, the South African Congress of Democrats and the 
Coloured People's Congress), was adopted in 1955 at the Congress of the 
People and became a rallying cry for opponents of apartheid across the 

However, with the banning of the ANC, the Pan Africanist Congress (PAC) 
and other organisations of the liberation movement in 1960, following 
the Sharpeville Massacre, the introduction of ever more repressive laws, 
and the Rivonia Trial of 1963 that saw the imprisonment of almost the 
entire leadership of the MK (including Mandela, Govan Mbeki and Walter 
Sisulu), the movement had hit a low point by the mid-1960s. Underground 
activity inside South Africa was almost non-existent, and the exile 
movement had not yet become very effective.

At this point, a critical lifeline was offered by the Soviet Union, 
which provided extensive military training to hundreds of MK cadres, 
including Hani (as detailed at length in Vladimir Shubin's very useful 
book, 'ANC - A View From Moscow'). Tanzania and Zambia, which gained 
their independence from Britain in 1961 and 1964 respectively, allowed 
the ANC and MK to set up bases in their newly liberated territories, and 
Hani was involved in setting up the first military camps of South 
African liberation fighters.

In 1967, Hani led an operation to insert ANC and ZAPU (Zimbabwe African 
People's Union) troops into Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), with a view to 
opening up infiltration roots into South Africa. Militarily the campaign 
was far from successful - ending as it did in the loss of more than half 
the cadres and a forced retreat into Botswana - and yet it raised the 
spirits of black South Africans at an exceptionally difficult period for 
the liberation struggle. As Nelson Mandela says in 'Long Walk to 
Freedom', "it was a milestone in the struggle" to see MK cadres engaged 
militarily with the enemy for the first time, even killing some soldiers 
of the racist Rhodesian regime.

Hani noted at the time:

    "This was a virgin victory for us, since we had never fought with
    modern weapons against the enemy. For us that day was a day of
    celebration because with our own eyes we had seen the enemy run. We
    had seen the enemy frozen with fear ... We had also seen and
    observed each other reacting to the enemy's attack. A feeling of
    faith in one another and recognition of the courage of the unit
    developed." (cited in Shubin)

Veteran people's lawyer Albie Sachs noted that this operation (known as 
the Wankie Campaign, owing to its location in the Wankie Game Reserve) 
turned Hani into "an admired leader ... he'd been in combat and now had 
an unofficial, intangible sense of authority". (More can be read about 
the campaign here 

    Deepening the armed struggle

By the mid-1970s, Hani was at the head of an MK base in Lesotho, the 
purpose of which was to reinfiltrate small groups of cadres back into 
South Africa for short periods in order to organise armed sabotage 
cells. Hani was one of the first to be reinfiltrated, in 1974, 
successfully avoiding the South African intelligence services and 
setting up several cells in Johannesburg, before making his way back 
over the border four months later. Chris wrote of that period:

    "Now we 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. I was in touch with
    trade unions. I used to go in and out. Meet comrades at Sterkspruit
    in Transkei. I used to send some of my colleagues from our
    collective in Lesotho to Cape Town, to Johannesburg, to Durban for a
    few days. We had little meetings and discussed strategy... 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. We would say: go and form
    a cell or two, then come back. We are giving you a week ... 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." (Smith and

This activity quickly became the main theatre of the armed struggle. The 
operations stepped up in a serious way after 1976, as thousands of young 
militant South Africans were forced out of the country, or chose to 
leave, in the aftermath of the Soweto Uprising. These young people were 
ready to fight, and eagerly joined the MK's camps in Tanzania and 
Zambia. Chris, who by this time had been placed on the ANC's 
Revolutionary Council (and was Assistant General Secretary of the SACP), 
was at the forefront of providing military training and political 
education for these new recruits.

    "All those who worked with Hani noted his humility, his charm, his
    deep concern for the troops, and his incorruptibility - refusing to
    enjoy the privileges that his reputation might have earned him, and
    eating, sleeping and training with his comrades" (Smith and Beauregard).

In an interview with the ANC journal Mayibuye in 1985, Hani spoke of the 
need to extend the war into the white areas in order to create greater 
pressure for the dismantling of apartheid:

    "It's a situation of complete ruthlessness, of acts of atrocities
    against the blacks in our country. Now, in the face of that
    situation, it is important that the whites should realise that our
    country is in a state of civil war, because nothing is taking place
    where they stay. Their suburbs are still pictures of peace and
    stability and the usual rhythm of life continues. Their lives are
    not disturbed... Life for white South Africans is good. They go to
    their cinemas, they go to their barbecues, they go to their
    five-star hotels. That's why they are supporting the system. It
    guarantees a happy life for them, a sweet life. Part of our campaign
    is to prevent that sweet life."

Through this revolutionary upsurge in South Africa, the liberation 
forces started to break the back of apartheid. Hani's brilliant 
leadership was noted, and he was made MK's political commissar in 1982 
and its chief of staff four years later.

    Return to South Africa

In April 1990, Hani was able to return to South Africa on a provisional 
amnesty order from the white government, as it inched towards a 
negotiated settlement. He immediately began working tirelessly, 
travelling the country to educate people about the political process 
taking place and also to raise their socialist consciousness. He was 
everywhere received with undisguised joy, perhaps second only to Nelson 
Mandela in popularity 

Although he had been a military man for nearly thirty years, Chris 
strongly believed in the peace process. He understood only too well that 
the revolutionary forces were not strong enough to defeat the South 
African state outright, but that the combination of armed and mass 
struggle, described by Nelson Mandela as the liberation movement's 
hammer and anvil 
could together force a negotiated solution which would move the overall 
freedom struggle many important steps forward. Hani stated 
<http://www.sacp.org.za/main.php?ID=2294>: "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". And just a few days before his death, he said 
<http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/death-of-the-soldier-obsessed-with-hamlet-last-week-chris-hani-called-for-peace-yesterday-he-was-killed-in-the-street-john-carlin-in-johannesburg-reports-1454553.html> : 
"The issue now is not armed struggle but elections. That needs a climate 
of peace and stability; we cannot afford to have that process delayed 
and disrupted by violent elements ... Every ANC supporter should be a 
combatant, but a combatant now for peace."

In December 1991, Hani was elected to the post of general secretary of 
the SACP, and gave up his post as MK chief of staff in order to focus on 
grassroots development of the party. By this time it was fairly clear 
that the apartheid era was coming to an end, and Chris saw the need to 
consolidate the position of the left within the Congress alliance, in 
order to push for the specific interests of the workers and peasants in 
the post-apartheid era. This was consistent with the vision he had 
always had, articulated in some brief autobiographical notes 
<http://www.sacp.org.za/main.php?ID=2294> he wrote in 1991: "In 1961 I 
joined the underground South African Communist Party as I realised that 
national liberation, though essential, would not bring about total 
economic liberation."

    Communism and the struggle against apartheid

Hani described his enduring commitment to socialism and the SACP in the 
following terms:

    "Why did I join the SACP? Why was I not just satisfied with the ANC?
    I belonged to a world, in terms of my background, which suffered I
    think the worst extremes of apartheid. A poor rural area where the
    majority of working people spent their time in the compounds, in the
    hostels, away from their families. A rural area where there were no
    clinics and probably the nearest hospital was 50kms away - generally
    a life of poverty with the basic things unavailable. Where our
    mothers and our sisters would walk 3km and even 6km whenever there
    was a drought to fetch water. Where the only fuel available was
    going 5-6 km away to cut wood and bring it back.

    "I had seen the lot of black workers, extreme forms of exploitation.
    Slave wages, no trade union rights, and for me the appeal of
    socialism was extremely great. Where it was said that workers create
    wealth, but in the final analysis they get nothing - they get
    peanuts in order to survive and continue working for the
    capitalists. I didn't get involved with the workers' struggle out of
    theory alone. It was a combination of theory and my own class
    background. I never faltered in my belief in socialism despite all
    the problems currently. For me that belief is strong because that is
    still the life of the majority of the people with whom I share a
    common background." (cited in Smith and Tromp)

One important - and controversial - issue related to the life of Chris 
Hani is the relationship between the struggle for socialism and the 
struggle for national liberation; and more specifically, between the ANC 
and the SACP. This relationship has been under almost constant attack 
from the 1930s onwards. The apartheid regime and its western imperialist 
backers used the relationship to 'prove' that the anti-apartheid 
struggle was simply part of an evil Soviet plot against western-style 
freedom and democracy. Meanwhile, there were plenty of people within the 
anti-apartheid camp who opposed the relationship on the basis that the 
SACP was allegedly white-dominated and that Marxism was an imported 
ideology that was not relevant for Africans.

Nelson Mandela comments on this issue in 'Long Walk to Freedom':

    "It is perhaps difficult for white South Africans, with an ingrained
    prejudice against communism, to understand why experienced African
    politicians so readily accepted communists as their friends. But to
    us the reason is obvious. Theoretical differences amongst those
    fighting against oppression are a luxury we cannot afford at this
    stage. What is more, for many decades communists were the only
    political group in South Africa who were prepared to treat Africans
    as human beings and their equals; who were prepared to eat with us;
    talk with us, live with and work with us. Because of this, there are
    many Africans who, today, tend to equate freedom with communism."

The fact is that the communists were extremely consistent in their 
support of the national liberation goals of the Congress movement, and 
proved themselves in struggle to be capable, courageous fighters and 
strategists. Indeed, the SACP "has the distinction of being the first 
organisation in the history of Africa to call unambiguously for black 
majority rule on the basis of universal suffrage. This was at a time 
when even the ANC stopped short of this demand." (Statement of the SACP 
Central Committee in 1976 

Longtime ANC President Oliver Tambo notes:

    "There was a time when anti-communism reared its head in the ANC and
    there were often moves for the removal of communists from ANC ranks,
    but ... to all intents and purposes we are running a common struggle
    together." Pointing out that the leading members of the Party were
    also leading members of the ANC, Tambo said: "From my experience,
    you could not have asked for more loyalty." (cited in Shubin)

In another interview, in response to the question "is the ANC under the 
undue influence of white communists?", Tambo responded:

    "I don't know where these white communists are. When I ask who they
    mean, they reply: Joe Slovo. When I ask who else, they are silent.
    It is extraordinary how white communists are credited with so much
    power and influence and supremacy and superiority. Why are we not
    being influenced by black communists? And why can't the influence go
    the other way? Individual members of the Communist Party are like
    any member of the ANC ... Our movement has never hidden the fact
    that there is a relationship between the African National Congress
    and the South African Communist Party on those questions of policy
    which both organisations share in common. In particular both
    organisations believe that in the present stage of the revolutionary
    process in South Africa, the primary aim is the national liberation
    of the most exploited and most oppressed section of the South
    African people - the Africans."

Naturally, the ANC-SACP alliance also helped to cement Soviet, Eastern 
European and Cuban support for the liberation struggle, which proved to 
be invaluable.

    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 
<http://www.marxists.org/subject/africa/anc/1969/strategy-tactics.htm> - 
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 
<http://www.anc.org.za/show.php?id=4399>: "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 
<http://www.greenleft.org.au/node/4194> 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

    "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

In remembering Chris Hani, we must resolve to be more like him.


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