Chris Hani, born Martin Thembisile Hani (28 June 1942 – 10 April 1993) was the leader of the South African Communist Party and chief of staff of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC). He was a fierce opponent of the apartheid government. He was assassinated on 10 April 1993
At age 15 Hani joined the ANC Youth League. As a student he was active in protests against the Bantu Education Act. Following his graduation, he joined Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the armed wing of the ANC. Following his arrest under the Suppression of Communism Act, he went into exile in Lesotho in 1963.
He received military training in the Soviet Union and served in campaigns in the Rhodesian Bush War in what is now Zimbabwe. Though the combined operations of MK and ZIPRA in the late 1960s were a military failure, they consolidated Hani’s reputation as a brave soldier of the first black army to take the field against aparthied. His role as a fighter from the earliest days of MK’s exile (following the arrest of Nelson Mandela and the other internal MK leaders at Rivonia) was an important part in the fierce loyalty Hani enjoyed later as MK’s commander. In Lesotho he was the target of assassination attempts, and he eventually moved to the ANC’s headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia. As head of Umkhonto we Sizwe, he was responsible for the suppression of a mutiny by dissident ANC members in detention camps, but denied any role in abuses including torture and murder.
Having spent time as a clandestine organiser in South Africa in the mid-1970s, he permanently returned to South Africa following the unbanning of the ANC in 1990, and took over from Joe Slovo as head of the South African Communist Party in 1991. He supported the suspension of the ANC’s armed struggle in favour of negotiations. However, he stated that he would not rule out violence in a speech on National television shortly before his death.
Chris Hani was assassinated on 10 April 1993 outside his home in Dawn Park, a racially-mixed suburb of Boksburg. He was accosted by a Polish far-right immigrant named Janusz Waluś, who shot him in the head as he stepped out of his car. Waluś fled the scene, but was arrested soon afterwards after Hani’s neighbour, a white woman, called the police. Clive Derby-Lewis, a senior South African Conservative Party M.P., who had lent Waluś his pistol, was also arrested for complicity in Hani’s murder.
Hani’s assassination was part of a plot by the far-right in South Africa to derail the negotiations to end apartheid.
Historically, the assassination is seen as a turning point. Serious tensions followed the assassination, with fears that the country would erupt in violence. Nelson Mandela addressed the nation appealing for calm, in a speech regarded as ‘presidential’ even though he was not yet president of the country: “ Tonight I am reaching out to every single South African, black and white, from the very depths of my being. A white man, full of prejudice and hate, came to our country and committed a deed so foul that our whole nation now teeters on the brink of disaster. A white woman, of Afrikaner origin, risked her life so that we may know, and bring to justice, this assassin. The cold-blooded murder of Chris Hani has sent shock waves throughout the country and the world. … 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. ” While riots did follow the assassination, the two sides of the negotiation process were galvanised into action, and they soon agreed that democratic elections should take place on 27 April 1994, just over a year after Hani’s assassination.
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