The struggle for South Africa's freedom from the apartheid rule came with the loss of many lives. Some vocal people were assassinated while others died of many other causes such as sickness from the harsh conditions of the struggle. One of the famous figures who was murdered, was Chris Hani. Hani was a close ally of the late President Nelson Mandela and was very actively engaged in the campaign for human equality.
Martin Thembisile Hani hailed from Sabalele Village in Cofimvaba region which was formerly known as Transkei. He was the second last child of Gilbert and Mary Hani. Thembisile was born on the 28 of June 1942. His name, Chris, was his nom de guerre. Chris was his brother's name. Chris Hani family members were staunch Christians. Gilbert was a member of the African National Congress (ANC.) His active involvement in the party led him to seek asylum in Lesotho. What age did Chris Hani die? He died on the 10th of April 1993 at the age of 50 years.
Early life and education
Thembisile experienced the politics of inequality at a tender age as he watched his father, Gilbert, leave the family in the village to work in the urban area. He witnessed the struggles that Mary, his mother, underwent to provide for her household. Chris herded livestock with other young children until he attained the school-going age.
When he became of age, he enrolled at a Catholic school where he learned Latin and desired to be a priest. Gilbert opposed this dream and moved him to Matanzima Secondary School, Cala, which was a nondenominational school. At Matanzima, some of Hani's teachers lost their jobs after participating in the Unity Movement that opposed the introduction of Bantu education. This 1954 incident sparked his interest in politics. In 1957, he became a member of ANC's youth league, ANCYL. After graduating from secondary school, Hani joined Lovedale Institute, Eastern Cape, where he matriculated in 1958.
After his matriculation, Hani became a student at the University of Fort Hare where he pursued literature and classics from 1959 to 1961. He was exposed to the Marxist ideology while at this university. One of the famous Chris Hani quotes on the Marxist ideology was:
"In 1959, I went over to university at Fort Hare, where I became openly involved in the struggle, as Fort Hare was a liberal campus. It was here that I got exposed to Marxist ideas and the scope and nature of the racist capitalist system. My conversion to Marxism also deepened my non-racial perspective."
At the time, black students were not allowed to attend white universities according to the Extension of University Education Act. Hani opposed the takeover of his university by the Department of Bantu Education. It was at this point that he got to work with the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU) and became increasingly aware of workers' struggle. In 1962, he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Latin and English from Rhodes University, Grahamstown.
After completing his education, Chris got his first job as an article clerk in Schaeffer and Schaeffer legal firm, Cape Town. He was there from 1962 to 1963, but he did not complete his article assignments. All along, he was frustrated with the Apartheid system. In 1961, he had joined the South African Communist Party (SAPC) after being influenced by leaders such as Ray Simons, Govan Mbeki and Moses Kotane. He also joined Umkontho We Sizwe in 1962.
Chris was first arrested at a police roadblock in 1962 after being found with pamphlets that objected the government's way of detaining people without trial. He was charged under the Suppression of Communism Act and then incarcerated. He was later granted R500.00 bail after which he went for the ANC Conference in Botswana in 1962. He was arrested again at the border as he came back to South Africa from the conference. He was slapped with an 18-month lockup sentence.
After a successful appeal and bail, Chris went underground in Cape Town for about four months, then moved to Johannesburg where he was advised to go abroad for military training. He then flew to the Soviet Union for his training and came back in 1967 to be actively involved in the Rhodesian bush war. At the time, he was the acting Political Commissar of the Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA).
In 1967, Chris escaped to Botswana but was arrested shortly after for having weapons. He was imprisoned for two years. During his period under incarceration, he realised that ANC was weak and failed to assist him. Following his release, he called for the Morogoro Conference of 1969 where a decision was made to include non-Africans as ANC members. He continued working with ZIPRA in Zambia.
Hani came back to South Africa from Botswana in 1974 to set up the underground infrastructure for ANC. He then moved to Lesotho for about seven years where he organised units for guerrilla operations in his country. His popularity made him a target for assassination, so he moved from Lesotho to Lusaka, Zambia. In 1982, he was elected as a member of ANC's National Executive Committee. He worked closely with student recruits who joined ANC after the Soweto uprising of 1976.
ANC was unbanned on 2nd of February 1990. In April 1990, Chris came back to his home country where he was recognised as a compelling and popular speaker. He was Joe Slovo's close associate. Hani became the secretary-general of SACP after Slovo announced he had cancer. Chris, in 1992, stepped down from the position of Umkhonto we Sizwe's Chief of Staff to focus on SACP. At the time, Chris Hani socialism ideologies were under threat because Marxism in Europe was collapsing.
Hani became very outspoken. Chris Hani speeches attracted the attention of most young people. He redefined SAPC into its position as a national political party, and in no time, it was doing better than ANC. He became a serious match for ANC in the 1994 elections, but he did not live to witness it.
How did Chris Hani die?
Hani was assassinated as he returned to his Dawn Park, Boksburg home. Who killed Chris Hani? Janusz Walus, an anti-Communist Polish refugee, shot Hani to death. Derby-Lewis was also involved in the assassination. During the killing, Chris Hani wife, Limpho, and his daughter Nomakhwezi were with him. At the time of Chris Hani assassination, Limpho and Chris Hani's daughters were 20-year-old Neo, 15-year-old Nomakhwezi and 12-year-old Lindiwe Hani.
Chris Hani death occurred at a critical time for the country because SACP was almost becoming the top independent political party. After his demise, the party weakened due to lack of funds and proper leadership. He was interred on the 18th of April 1993 in Soweto. ANC's guerrillas were the pallbearers at Chris Hani funeral. Walus and Derby-Lewis were arrested and sentenced. Both are still incarcerated in a maximum-security prison that is located close to Pretoria.
Remembering Chris Hani
The Chris Hani road in Durban, Kwa Zulu Natal, was named after this great icon to commemorate his life. A documentary titled The Life and Times of Chris Hani or as many people know it, the Chris Hani movie, was released in 1994. The documentary explores his non-sexist, non-radical and self-critical approach in the fight for South Africa's freedom.
Chris Hani pictures which are online are also a good way of keeping his memory alive. On his 24th death anniversary on the 10th of April 2017, former president, Jacob Zuma unveiled a Chris Hani Memorial and Walk of Remembrance plaque at the Thomas Nkobi Memorial Park. The park was declared a national heritage site.
Chris Hani was a critical figure in the fight for South Africa's freedom from the Apartheid era. Unfortunately, he was assassinated before the first general elections that saw the late President Nelson Mandela being elected into the presidency. Throughout his life, Thembisile proved to be a selfless, dedicated and non-radical leader. South Africans will always remember his role in the freedom they enjoy in the modern era.