A Courageous Heritage: Chris Hani
The life of Thembisile “Chris” Hani is a courageous history of a man who fought for the freedoms of many in pursuit of equality and basic rights for all South Africans. Hani was described as charming, passionate and charismatic, whose dedication to the fight for freedom was a shining light in the dark landscape of apartheid South Africa.
Hani came from humble beginnings,born in the rural village of Sabalele in the former Transkei. He was exposed to politics from a young age through his father, Gilbert Hani, who was an active member of the ANC. Gilbert left their village to find work. The absence of his father had an impact on young Chris, who became aware of his mother Mary’s struggle to raise and support the family. He was a dedicated student throughout his school career and developed a love for languages, especially Latin. The political activity of some of Chris’s teachers also played a role in shaping his political ideology. His political interests, particularly in Marxist teachings, developed further while attending the University of Fort Hare. Here he became a member of the African National Congress' Youth League (ANCYL) and graduated with a BA in Latin and English.
Hani’s political activism spanned from 1962 until his assassination in 1993. Following several arrests by the police, Chris’s determination to fight against the apartheid government drove him to leave South Africa in 1963. He joined other activists in exile who were part of guerrilla operations and went to the Soviet Union for military training. Upon his return he played an influential role in the Rhodesian bush war as a political commissar in the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA). ZIPRA also had operations in Zambia where Chris met his wife Limpho Sekamane. As a rising member of the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) and the South African Communist Party (SACP), Chris was transferred to Lesotho as part of an operation to infiltrate South Africa through organised MK guerrilla operations.
A number of unsuccessful assassination attempts in Lesotho led to Chris being moved to Lusaka. He was elected to the ANC National Executive Committee and promoted to political commissar of the MK, working with students who joined the ANC in exile after the Soweto Uprising. He continued to grow in leadership roles, becoming the Chief of Staff for the MK and acquiring senior membership in the SACP in the same period. Hani returned to South Africa when the prohibition of liberation movements was rescinded in 1990. As a popular Communist leader he was considered a dangerous figure in the eyes of the Conservative Party and Afrikaner Weerstandsbewging (AWB). In 1992, Hani stepped down as Chief of Staff of the MK to devote more time to the organisation of the SACP. He worked closely alongside his friend and ally, Joe Slovo. His fierce campaigning for the party attracted a dedicated following among radical youth who had become dissatisfied with what they considered temperate politics. Under Chris Hani’s leadership the SACP’s popularity and influence grew rapidly.
On 10 April 1993, Thembisile “Chris” Hani was assassinated in his reidential suburb of Dawn Park, Boksberg by an anti-communist Polish immigrant with ties to the AWB and Conservative Party. This was a massive blow not only for the SACP but the liberation movement in general. His murder robbed South Africa of one of its most visionary, dedicated and influential struggle icons. Despite his killer being brought to justice, his murder remains shrouded in conspiracy theories and the impact of his untimely death is still felt today. Chris Hani’s death galvinised the Multi-Party Negotiating Forum to set a date for South Africa’s first democratic elections after months of disagreement, which eventually took place from 27 to 29 April 1994 and changed the face of the country forever.