Tuesday, April 10, 2012

This Day in Southern Africa History: Chris Hani, the SACP secretary-general, is assassinated

Date: 10 April, 1993

On 10 April 1993 the South African Communist Party (SACP) secretary-general, Martin Thembisile (Chris) Hani was shot and killed in the driveway of his Boksburg home. Soon after, , Janus Walus, a Polish immigrant who who came to South Africa in 1982 was arrested in connection with the murder. He was linked to co-conspirator Clive Derby-Lewis, a Conservative Party (CP) politician and his wife Gaye. During the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) hearing Walus said that “I did not want to shoot him in the back. I called to Mr Hani. When he turned I fired the first shot into his body. As he turned and fell down, I fired a second shot at his head."
Hani was killed in front of his 15-year-old daughter Nomakhwezi. The death of the leader of the armed wing of the ANC and popular communist leader on the eve of the first democratic elections in South Africa fuelled fears of violence and threatened the transition to democracy.

More below...

  • Smith J. And Tromp B. (2008), ‘The assassination of Chris Hani’, from IOL, 10 April, [online], Available at www.iol.co.za [Accessed: 12 March 2012]
  • Wallis, F. (2000). Nuusdagboek: feite en fratse oor 1000 jaar, Kaapstad: Human & Rousseau.
  • Coleman, M. (ed)(1998). A Crime Against Humanity: analysing the repression of the apartheid state, Johannesburg: Human Rights Committee, p. 256.

1652, 10 April
Only a few days after arriving at Table Bay on the Dommedaris, Jan van Riebeeck starts building work for a fort.

1881, 10 April
1881 French protectorate is imposed on Tunisia.

1900, 10 April - Boer War: Siege of Jammersberg Drift
The previous day's battle has turned into a siege with the arrival of Boer reinforcements. It will be 16 days before relief arrives.

The engagement
  Christiaan de Wet surrounds and attacks a British force under Col. Dalgety. This is something of a 'grudge match', because the British force consists largely of Cape colonial units including Cape Afrikaners, whom the Boers consider as having no business taking up arms against their Republican 'brethren'. This may explain why De Wet expended so much time and fruitless effort in trying to take the position. After 16 days and many unsuccessful attacks, De Wet is forced to withdraw in the face of a much larger British relief force.
Consequences & other information
  This fruitless siege distracted De Wet from the main purpose of his offensive - to cut off the British supply lines leading to Roberts's main force in Bloemfontein. This enabled Roberts to eventually resume his offensive and move on Pretoria, capital of the ZAR.

Reference: 'The Anglo-Boer War: a chronology' by P.G. Cloete.

1938, 10 April
Leaders of the Neo-Destour (New Constitutional) Party, the Tunisian nationalist movement, are arrested after riots in Tunis.

1978, 10 April
The prime minister of Transkei, Chief Kaiser Daliwonga Matanzima, announces that the Transkei government has decided to cut diplomatic relations with South Africa.

The assassination of Chris Hani

By Janet Smith and Beauregard Tromp 

Fifteen years ago today (Thursday), South African Communist Party secretary-general Chris Hani was assassinated outside his Boksburg home. Janet Smith and Beauregard Tromp recall the events of that day. 

On February 6, 1993, SAA flight 232 took off from Johannesburg en route to London. On board were South African Communist Party secretary-general Chris Hani and a man who would later be intimately connected with his killing - right-wing journalist Arthur Kemp. 

Hani was on his way to Cuba. Kemp, who worked for The Citizen, was already close to another reactionary zealot, Gaye Derby-Lewis, who worked for the white supremacist mouthpiece Die Patriot.
It is unlikely Hani would have known or even noticed Kemp, but Kemp would certainly have spotted Hani. 

Around that time, he had drawn up a list of 19 names and addresses, including those of Nelson Mandela, Mac Maharaj, Steve Tshwete and Hani. 

The list had been reshuffled and redrawn over time in order of priority. 

The former chief-of-staff of the ANC's armed wing, uMkonto weSizwe, was at No 3.
Derby-Lewis's husband was Conservative Party MP Clive Derby-Lewis, whose party regarded President FW de Klerk's decision to pursue negotiations with the ANC as nothing less than a cynical diktat. 

After all, in the late 1980s, the CP had been the official opposition, and there was a view that most whites found De Klerk's reformist mood so distasteful that the CP could win a future election.
Against this backdrop of furious political disappointment, Clive Derby-Lewis had taken possession of the list and discussed it with a right-wing associate, Polish immigrant Janusz "Kuba" Walus, a member of the Afrikaner Weerstands Beweging (AWB). 

Walus, who would later argue with the Derby-Lewis couple over what had been agreed at the time of the discussion, had abandoned his communist homeland of Poland in 1982, and emigrated to South Africa because he believed apartheid's ideological machinery would protect him from what he feared the most. 

Derby-Lewis and Walus discussed the possibility of an assault on Hani, and by early March 1993 they had decided to kill him. 

It had been dubbed the Year of the Great Storm. Disturbed by the slow pace of moves towards democracy, the Azanian People's Liberation Army had carried out attacks on restaurants, churches, farms and bars, killing mainly whites. 

Days were bloodied by extreme violence in the Natal midlands, with even children caught up in the ANC and Inkatha Freedom Party's war against each other. 

Even as it sought to manage the anarchy there, the ANC was still reeling from the previous September, when Hani and his former MK comrade Ronnie Kasrils had led a protest in Bisho, Ciskei, against the continuing oppression of the homeland government. 

Thirty people had been killed and 200 wounded. 

Hani's face and voice were everywhere as he embarked on an exhausting journey through townships and villages, city halls and TV studios, talking peace, accelerating the cause of freedom.
The ANC had laid down its guns upon its unbanning in 1990 and, many times, in different ways, he urged: "I can't accept people calling for war." 

Later, Tokyo Sexwale, then the chairperson of the ANC's Gauteng region, would say it was precisely because Hani had been talking peace that he had become "dangerous to this country". 

In early March 1993, Clive Derby-Lewis received an unlicensed Z88 and had it fitted with a silencer.
The gun, typical of those used by policemen and state security personnel, had started its journey at the Voortrekkerhoogte military base when it was stolen in a raid on the armoury led by rightwinger Piet "Skiet" Rudolph. 

West Rand rightwinger Lionel du Randt was to deliver the weapon, wrapped in a jersey, to Derby-Lewis at his house in Krugersdorp. The weapon had been dropped off at Du Randt's house by Faan Venter, who had procured it out of the lot stolen from the armoury. 

Du Randt took the weapon to Derby-Lewis, who organised for a silencer to be fitted by Cape Town rightwinger Keith Darroll, who used a sympathetic gunsmith in Tokai. 

Derby-Lewis gave Walus the gun on April 6 over breakfast, although it still required ammunition. The former MP would insist their arrangement was still loose at this time, with no date fixed for the hit.
But on the morning of April 10, Walus set out in his red Ford Laser from his flat in the shadow of the Union Buildings in Pretoria. 

He bought ammunition in Johannesburg then eased on to a road he had taken many times on reconnaissance - Hakea Crescent in Dawn Park, Boksburg. 

He would later say it was to do a final look around the Hani home, situated on a gentle curve, with a secluded driveway. 

Pulling up outside the house, Walus encountered Hani leaving home alone, so he followed him the few blocks to the local superette, where Hani bought a newspaper. 

"At that moment, I decided it would be the best opportunity to execute my task and that this opportunity would never be repeated," he would later testify. 

"I decided not to do it in the shopping centre because there were a lot of people."
Walus took a different route back to Hakea Crescent, arriving just as Hani pulled up in his Toyota sedan. 

Donning his gloves, and armed, Walus was ready. He pulled up in his car directly behind Hani's in the driveway. 

"I put the pistol in the belt of my trousers behind my back," Walus later confessed. 

"Seeing Mr Hani move away from the car, I did not want to shoot him in the back. I called to Mr Hani. When he turned I fired the first shot into his body. As he turned and fell down, I fired a second shot at his head." 

In the doorway was Hani's 15-year-old daughter Nomakhwezi. Having heard her father pull up into the driveway, she was opening the front door to greet him when the gunshots rang out. 

"What child should witness such a barbaric crime?" she demanded in a private piece which was only read out at her own funeral by her sister Lindiwe, after her death following an asthma attack in 2001.
Noxolo Grootboom, an SABC journalist and neighbour, was in her kitchen and saw the distraught girl. By the time Grootboom had rushed out of her house and grabbed hold of Nomakhwezi, the red Ford Laser had disappeared around the curve of the crescent. 

Retha Harmse - another neighbour - had seen it. 

At that moment, Harmse had no real sense of exactly what had happened, but her instinct was to call the police straight away. 

The information she gave them - the numberplate and description of the car - led to an almost immediate arrest. 

Walus, thinking he had made a clean escape, was driving towards the Boksburg city centre when police squad cars pulled up behind him and began to box him in, gesturing for him to pull over.
Even at that stage, he would testify, he thought this was a routine event, so certain was he no one had seen him. 

But the police ordered him out of the vehicle. In searching it, they found the murder weapon in its box with all the accoutrements of the killing neatly placed around it. 

Walus admitted at his murder trial: "I knew then that my time was counted." 

In his address to the nation that night, then-ANC president Nelson Mandela made special mention of the "white Afrikaner woman" whose swift actions would eventually bring Hani's killers to justice.
Many believe that had the police not got this crucial information timeously, the killers would never have been caught. 

With South Africa very much in the international news at the time, the killing resounded throughout the world, always with the echo of the terrible grief expressed by Sexwale, one of the first people to arrive at the scene after the liberation fighter's slaughter. 

"There is a time to cry," he said, standing in the road outside the house. 

"I saw Chris Hani dead in the driveway next to his car, his body lay." 

Not long afterwards, ANC chairperson Oliver Tambo arrived. There was absolute silence as he stepped out of his vehicle wearing a bright red neckerchief and strode down the guard of honour towards the mortuary van to see Hani before his body was taken away. 

Tambo's wife, Adelaide, could only take a glance before she burst into tears and was comforted by Walter Sisulu. MK commander Siphiwe Nyanda glared around him. 

"Hamba kahle Umkhonto, Umkhonto, Umkhonto we Sizwe." The chant wafted across the horrified gathering. 

"We heard it," recalls Pebetsi Lerutla, who lived nearby. 

"Everybody was running. Everybody was emotional. Everybody was crying.
A few months later, Lerutla found herself back at the house that was now for sale, and she bought it. She hasn't changed a thing. 

A small hole ripped through the wood near the centre of the double garage door, scarcely knee-high, is a reminder of how Hani fell when Walus pumped three more shots into his head at close range.
Walus and Derby-Lewis insisted they had hoped the assassination would propel whites into rebellion, if not revolution, and that the assassination would so destabilise the fragile relationships being established that negotiations would shut down and mayhem would rule. 

The Truth and Reconciliation Commission refused Walus and Derby-Lewis amnesty in 1997, following the commuting of their death sentences to life imprisonment in 1994. 

Today, songs will be chanted at Hakea Crescent and wreaths will be laid, as has happened every year since 1993. 

Those who have been at commemorations before say that Hani's widow Limpho will probably retreat to a corner of her old garden to smoke and cry quietly behind her dark glasses.

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