S.Africa remembers communist stalwart Chris Hani
South Africans on Wednesday paid moving tributes to slain anti-apartheid activist Chris Hani, whose death at the hands of a right-wing gunman 20 years ago today plunged the country into crisis.
Hani, former leader of the South African Communist Party, was assassinated by Polish immigrant Janusz Walus outside his house in Boksburg on the outskirts of Johannesburg on April 10, 1993.
His death prompted riots and was a formative experience for the nation, which was fast approaching democracy but still feared the end of apartheid would prompt civil war.
A fierce opponent of the apartheid government, Hani’s death prompted Nelson Mandela, although not yet president, to appeal for calm.
“Tonight I am reaching out to every single South African, black and white, from the very depths of my being,” Mandela said in a televised address.
“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.”
Twenty years on, with South Africa free but still riven with deep inequalities and inter-race tensions, political leaders and Hani’s friends and family called for the realisation of his dream.
“We must hasten to usher in the type of society comrade Chris lived and died for,” President Jacob Zuma told a memorial service held in honour of Hani.
He preluded his speech with a popular Zulu song “senzeni na” meaning “what did we do to deserve this.”
“We must honour the memory of comrade Chris by delivering the better life for all that he believed in, as quickly as possible,” aid Zuma.
But he blamed apartheid for the slow delivery of decent public service to South Africans, saying it is “impossible that within 20 years you could change the damage of centuries.”
“The legacy of apartheid runs too deep and too far back for the democratic administration to reverse it in so short a period unless you were a magician,” said Zuma.
“To suggest that we can’t blame apartheid for what we are doing now or for what is happening in our country, I think is a mistake, to say the least,” Zuma told the crowd.
Trevor Manuel, one of South Africa’s top-ranking cabinet ministers, had last week said it was time government grasped its responsibility and stop blaming apartheid for its current failures.
He wrapped up his nearly hour-long speech with another song “inde indlela esihambayo” translated as “we’ve got a long journey to travel.”
But Zwelinzima Vavi, head of the main trade union Cosatu, said “Hani would surely be angry that we have moved so slowly to eradicate our racially skewed levels of inequality.”
Vavi said had Hani still been alive, he would be “appalled by the scale of greed and crass materialism” of a new clique of ruling party politicians “who see access to political office as a ladder to personal wealth.”
“He would never have tolerated the levels of corruption, fraud and squandering of public resources, and would have been absolutely devastated at the assassination of political rivals over the spoils of office, and the factional battles and disunity that this has unleashed,” he said.
Hani was also chief of staff of the ANC’s armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe, founded by Mandela.
The largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance added its voice to the chorus of tributes.
Hani’s death “marked a particularly turbulent moment in our history – a moment where South Africans had to decide between reconciliation and confrontation,” the DA said in a statement.
Zuma led Hani’s family, politicians, and trade union leaders in laying wreaths at the late fighter’s grave in the east of Johannesburg. Dozens of people at the function were sporting red T-shirts emblazoned with Hani’s portrait.