Celebrating the Life and Times of Chris Hani
This April the City commemorates Chris Hani and the role he played in the liberation struggle; a leader who was gunned down in the prime of his life – a year later the first democratic elections were held on 27 April 1994. It was 27 years ago this year that Hani lost his life.
November 2006, the City resolved to adopt ‘April month in which the LIFE and LEGACY of the late Chris Hani may be commemorated and celebrated on an annual basis’.
This also fits into the overall scope of the National Heritage Resources Act NHRA (Act No.25 of 1999) to identify, conserve and protect heritage resources. Ekurhuleni has a rich history of liberation struggle, and is home to a number of great political leaders and freedom fighters such as Hani. These heroes are celebrated and commemorated and in so doing the City protects and preserves its heritage.
So, who was Chris Hani?
Hani was a legendary figure in the fight against apartheid, and played a pivotal role in preparation for the first democratic elections of South Africa. Unfortunately, he never lived to participate in these elections, having been gunned down a year before in front of his home in Dawn Park in Boksburg.
It’s for his role before this that we celebrate and commemorate the life and times of Chris Hani.
THE EARLY YEARS
Born Martin Thembisile Hani on 28 June 1942 in Cofimvaba in Transkei, he was the fifth of six children. His father was a migrant worker in the mines, sending money home to his family in Transkei while his mother worked on a subsistence farm to supplement the family income.
You would note that his birth name is not Chris – in fact, ‘Chris’ was the real name of his brother and he adopted it as a nom de guerre as he was a highly wanted man in the eyes of the apartheid regime.
An academic at heart, he finished two grades in a single year and matriculated from Lovedale School in 1957. It was a 25km walk for him and his siblings to school every day. It was at school that he became a member of the Unity Movement’s Society of Young Africa for six months, and joined the ANC Youth League. He motivated his reason for joining, and for taking an active role in the liberation struggle, to the arrest of ANC leaders in the Treason Trial in 1956.
He attended Fort Hare University before graduating from Rhodes University in Grahamstown with a BA degree in Latin and English. Hani went on to work as an articles clerk at a law firm in 1962, but did not complete his articles.
GETTING INTO POLITICS
When Hani was 12 years old he wanted to join the ANC after hearing his father’s explanation about apartheid and the African National Congress – but he was too young. It was when he was in high school, at the age of 15, that he joined the ANC Youth League, even though political activities were not allowed at black schools under apartheid.
He was active as a university student and was involved in protests against the Bantu Education Act. After graduation he joined Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the armed wing of the ANC.
Hani joined the South African Communist Party (SACP) in 1961, and became a member of the ANC’s armed wing Umkontho We Sizwe a year later. This would be the start of his political career.
His involvement with Umkhonto we Sizwe forced him into hiding by the South African government. It was during this time that he changed his first name to Chris.
Hani received military training in the Soviet Union and was involved in campaigns in the Zimbabwean War of Liberation – also called the Rhodesian Bush War. There were joint operations between Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) and the Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army in the late 1960s. 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 in some quarters later as MK’s Deputy Commander (Joe Modise was overall commander).
In Lesotho he organised guerrilla operations of the MK in South Africa. By 1982, Hani was prominent enough that he was the target of assassination attempts, resulting in his moving to the ANC headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia. It was in 1990, when the ANC was unbanned that he was able to return to South African, taking over from Joe Slovo as head of the South African Communist Party on 8 December 1991.
Hani married Limpho Sekamane in 1974 in Lusaka at the Magistrate’s Court, with a wedding lunch at Wimpy. The couple were blessed with three daughters – Neo, Nomakhwezi and Lindiwe.
Chris Hani was gunned down on 10 April 1993 outside his home in Dawn Park, Boksburg, by Januz Walus as he stepped out of his car. Thanks to Margareta Harmse, a white Afrikaner housewife, who called the police when she saw Walus straight after the crime as she was driving past, he was soon arrested. A neighbour who also witnessed the crime later identified both Walus and the vehicle he was driving at the time.
Clive Derby-Lewis, at the time a senior South African Conservative Party MP and Shadow Minister for Economic Affairs, was also arrested for complicity in Hani’s murder as he had lent Walus his pistol.
THE COUNTRY RESPONDS TO ASSASSINATION
Historically, Hani’s assassination is seen as a turning point. Serious tensions followed the assassination, and there were 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.
The assassination started negotiation processes and a date was soon set for the first democratic elections – 27 April 1994, just over a year after Hani’s assassination.
“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. Our grief and anger is tearing us apart.
What has happened is a national tragedy that has touched millions of people, across the political and colour divide.
Our shared grief and legitimate anger will find expression in nationwide commemorations that coincide with the funeral service.
Tomorrow, in many towns and villages, there will be memorial services to pay homage to one of the greatest revolutionaries this country has ever known.
Every service will open a Memorial Book for Freedom, in which all who want peace and democracy pledge their commitment.
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.
Now is the time for our white compatriots, from whom messages of condolence continue to pour in, to reach out with an understanding of the grievous loss to our nation, to join in the memorial services and the funeral commemorations.
Now is the time for the police to act with sensitivity and restraint, to be real community policemen and women who serve the population as a whole. There must be no further loss of life at this tragic time.
This is a watershed moment for all of us.
Our decisions and actions will determine whether we use our pain, our grief and our outrage to move forward to what is the only lasting solution for our country – an elected government of the people, by the people and for the people.
We must not let the men who worship war, and who lust after blood, precipitate actions that will plunge our country into another Angola.
Chris Hani was a soldier. He believed in iron discipline. He carried out instructions to the letter. He practised what he preached.
Any lack of discipline is trampling on the values that Chris Hani stood for. Those who commit such acts serve only the interests of the assassins, and desecrate his memory.
When we, as one people, act together decisively, with discipline and determination, nothing can stop us.
Let us honour this soldier for peace in a fitting manner. Let us rededicate ourselves to bringing about the democracy he fought for all his life; democracy that will bring real, tangible changes in the lives of the working people, the poor, the jobless, the landless.
Chris Hani is irreplaceable in the heart of our nation and people.
When he first returned to South Africa after three decades in exile, he said: “I have lived with death most of my life. I want to live in a free South Africa even if I have to lay down my life for it”. The body of Chris Hani will lie in State at the FNB Stadium, Soweto, from 12 noon on Sunday 18 April until the start of the vigil at 6pm. The funeral service will commence at 9am on Monday, 19th April. The cortege will leave for Boksburg Cemetery, where the burial is scheduled for 1pm.
These funeral service and rallies must be conducted with dignity.
We will give disciplined expression to our emotions at our pickets, prayer meetings and gatherings, in our homes, our churches and our schools. We will not be provoked into any rash actions.
We are a nation in mourning.
To the youth of South Africa we have a special message: you have lost a great hero. You have repeatedly shown that your love of freedom is greater than that most precious gift, life itself. But you are the leaders of tomorrow. Your country, your people, your organisation need you to act with wisdom. A particular responsibility rests on your shoulders.
We pay tribute to all our people for the courage and restraint they have shown in the face of such extreme provocation. We are sure this same indomitable spirit will carry us through the difficult days ahead.
Chris Hani has made the supreme sacrifice. The greatest tribute we can pay to his life`s work is to ensure we win that freedom for all our people.”
The Chris Hani Heritage Site was launched during the 22nd commemoration of his passing held at Thomas Nkobi Memorial Park in Boksburg in April 2015.
The memorial takes the form of a circle to symbolise unity, equality and inclusion. The five circles represent the five decades of Hani’s life shared so selflessly. The circular stairs encourage interactions, illustrating his warm personality, hospitality and philosophy of sharing. From the middle of the podium, strong lines radiate outwards to symbolize the ripple effect that Hani had on the lives of millions of people, both in his personal and political lives.
A granite cube is placed at the top of the podium bearing a sand-blasted profile of Chris Hani on each side. The memorial is placed at an angle of 32 degrees to the existing grave of Hani. This number reflects the years Hani was a member of the South African Communist Party (SACP) and the angle allows for an optimal view of the grave from the shaded bench, creating a strong visual connection.
His selfless nature, vision, wisdom, dedication and compassion he dispensed so generously is expressed through the five concretes columns supporting the cantilevered concrete roof over the granite bench. The SACP’s popular slogan “for the workers and the poor” was not just words but a principle which guided Hani’s life. Those ideals are reflected through the use of natural materials and the inclusion of nature in the design symbolizing his dignity through simplicity, as well as his close ties to his rural base.
Hani’s Dawn Park home is set to be a heritage site and family museum telling the life and times of Chris Hani. This was announced by Executive Mayor Cllr Mzwandile Masina during his State of the City Address in March, stating it will present new tourism and economic opportunities.
DID YOU KNOW?
- In 1993, French philosopherJacques Derridadedicated Specters de Marx (1993) to Hani.
- In 1997, Baragwanath Hospital, one of the largest hospitals in the world, was renamed the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospitalin his memory. In September 2004, Hani was voted 20th in the controversial Top 100 Greatest South Africans
- Days after his assassination, the rock group Dave Matthews Band(whose lead singer and guitarist, Dave Matthews, is from South Africa) began playing on what would become “#36“. The first version contained lyrics about Hani’s shooting. Later versions, Hani was on Matthews’ mind, and the repeated line “Hani, Hani, come and dance with me” became the chorus of the song. Later, Matthews believed the song to be too cheery for the subject matter, so he changed it to “Honey.” A live favorite for years, the music evolved into the basic foundation of the 2001 single, “Everyday”. The introduction to the song in this latter form, a popular hit in 2001, starts with the crowd singing the “Honey” line, and the crowd and band occasionally use the reprise as an outro to the song as well.
- A short opera, Hani ,by composer Bongani Ndodana-Breenwith libretto by film producer Mfundi Vundla was commissioned by Cape Town Operaand University of Cape Town premiering at the Baxter Theatre 21 November 2010.
- A District Municipality in the Eastern Cape was named the Chris Hani District Municipality. This district includes Queenstown, Cofimvabaand Lady Frere. The Thembisile Hani Local Municipality in Mpumalanga also bears his name.
- In 2009, after extension of Cape Town’s Central Line, the new terminus serving eastern areas of Khayelitshawas christened Chris Hani.
- 2012 Awarded Gold Medal – Bravery for his leadership, role and distinguished acts of valour at Wankie, Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe); awarded Platinum Medal Class II for his leadership role in the ANC and MK in exile and extreme devotion to duty.
- The Freedom of the City was conferred on Hani posthumously in November 2006, the same time the City declared April as Chris Hani month.