A brilliant leader died that morning. Perhaps one for the future. But certainly already a pivotal leader in that turbulent period 23 years ago.
For Nelson Mandela’s task of carrying the hopes and aspirations of millions, who were growing impatient for freedom with each passing day of negotiations, would have been impossible without Thembisile Martin “Chris” Hani.
He was popular without being populist.
A careful study of his mass rally speeches that goes beyond the newspaper headlines of the time reveals a man who was as committed to a negotiated settlement as Mandela himself. Just as long as those negotiations delivered a truly nonracial democracy.
He roused his audiences, mainly young and poor, with militant rhetoric and kept them mobilised and their spirits high as Mandela’s talks with then-state president FW de Klerk dragged on amid the chaos of what was later revealed to be state-sponsored violence in the townships.
While Mandela and his team visited world capitals to convince moneybags that their investments would not be under threat in a free South Africa, Hani was traversing the length and breadth of the country assuring the poor that liberation would mean “decent shelter” for the homeless and taps for those without safe drinking water.
As Freedom Day drew closer and many of his comrades began to position themselves for plum jobs in a future government, Hani seemed more interested in working closer with trade unions and civil society formations to keep the future government on its toes.
So when Janusz Walus shot Hani four times outside his home in Boksburg on Easter weekend, April 10 1993, he not only nearly plunged South Africa into a bloody civil war the vast majority wanted to avert, he killed a leader of rare calibre.
It is impossible to predict what sort of a politician Hani would have turned out to be in a free South Africa where greed and corruption are increasingly becoming the dominant features of politics and society.
Yet many still look back at his life with nostalgia, wondering what kind of South Africa we might have been had he lived, and had he become president.
It is therefore not surprising that, almost 23 years after his assassination, the news of his killer’s imminent release has generated so much anger and condemnation.
Judge Nicoline Janse van Nieuwenhuizen incensed Hani’s widow, Limpho, and legions of his supporters by questioning in court a week ago if it was not time for them to forgive Walus and “move on”.
This was after Limpho had refused to accept Walus’s apology, tendered in 2011, for the killing of the SACP general secretary.
The judge, who was hearing Walus’s appeal against the justice minister’s refusal to grant him parole, wondered aloud if the Hanis would ever be willing to forgive.
This prompted SACP second deputy general secretary Solly Mapaila to protest: “The point that Ms Hani must move on is completely unacceptable in the manner that it appears, because it calls on the victims to be the one that takes responsibility for the perpetrators of this atrocious violence.”
Limpho has since accused the judge of being racist, telling Radio 702’s Redi Tlhabi that the judge’s remarks indicated that to her “black lives do not matter … black lives are cheap”.
But Janse van Nieuwenhuizen is certainly not the only one puzzled by this inability to “move on” more than two decades after Hani’s death. And not all of those questioning the “obsession” with having Walus spend the rest of his life in jail are white and opponents of the ANC and the SACP.
A social media message doing the rounds this week among former anti-apartheid activists accused the government and the ruling party of “double standards” for condemning Walus’s impending parole while having no qualms over the close ties that seem to exist between current leaders and some of the most brutal apartheid security operatives of yesteryear.
Was Hani so special that his killer should be kept in jail by any means while self-confessed murderers of scores of other activists are embraced?
Vlakplaas co-founder and commander Dirk Coetzee died a free man in 2013 while his former partner in crime and ex-convict Eugene de Kock is now rumoured to be contracted by the same government he tried to stop from coming into being by spilling so much blood.
However, it is precisely because so many perpetrators of apartheid atrocities were allowed to literally get away with murder that many find Walus’s upcoming release infuriating.
Walus and his co-conspirator, Clive Derby-Lewis, were among the few that did not escape the sword of justice. Derby-Lewis was released on medical parole last year amid reports that he was terminally ill, and now his co-accused would be returning home in two weeks.
Meanwhile, scores of those who committed criminal acts in the name of fighting apartheid – many of them PAC members – are still in jail.
The most famous of these prisoners is Kenny Motsamai, a PAC member who has been in prison for the past 26 years for murdering a white traffic cop during a supermarket robbery aimed at raising funds for the then-banned political party.
Motsamai was scheduled for release on parole on January 18, but those plans had to be cancelled when he rejected his parole conditions.
His lawyer, Luleka Flatela, said one of the contentious conditions was that her client be electronically tagged.
Motsamai’s objection is based on the belief that, as a freedom fighter who was arrested for acting against the apartheid state, he should be granted complete freedom in a liberated South Africa.
Like Walus, Motsamai was denied amnesty by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
In Motsamai’s case the commission ruled that his crime was not politically motivated; Walus was adjudged to not have revealed all he knew about Hani’s murder.
To those campaigning for Motsamai’s release, it is a travesty of justice that he, a freedom fighter, should be treated the same as – if not worse than – Walus, who wanted to stop that freedom from being achieved.
So the anger over Walus’s impending release is as much about the present as it is about the past.
It is a protest about a post-apartheid South Africa whose justice system seems to make no distinction between those who fought for apartheid and those who fought against it.
It is also an outcry against a parole system that prisoners’ rights groups say is still skewed in favour of one racial group.
“I don’t think a lot was taken into consideration in light of the public interest, and the message that it sends out is that black lives don’t matter,” said Wits Justice Project co-ordinator Geraldine Moodley.
“What we have picked up from our side in terms of parole is that it is very hard for people to get parole at the time they are eligible for it because the department doesn’t adhere to its own rules.
“Parole is based on a series of things which includes some kind of rehabilitation. But some people don’t even get that far.”
In deciding whether he should be granted parole, the judge seemed to have relied heavily on the remorse that Walus, a former member of the Conservative Party and the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging, had shown for his crime.
But Limpho said parole should have been denied on the grounds that Walus and Derby-Lewis have never revealed who else assisted them in assassinating the SACP leader.
“I don’t want his apology. All I want is for him and whoever is supporting him to tell me what happened. We don’t know the truth,” she told Tlhabi.
Recognising public anger on the one hand, and on the other that appealing against the ruling might be an exercise in futility, the ANC is looking for what it believes to be an elegant solution: deportation.
The party wants Walus banished to the country of his birth, Poland.
But given that South Africa has no prisoner exchange agreement with Poland, deportation would effectively mean that Walus would not even be a parolee.
He will be a completely free individual in ways that Motsamai and other former freedom fighters in the same boat would not experience.
source: Sunday Times