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Chris Hani

Mandela’s Heir

by Brandon Edmonds / 03.11.2009

Screw Che Guevara and his asthma pump, and that dull bloated Soderbergh movie, we got Chris to the Hani. He remains the second most popular political figure in our history – after you know who. He has a big ass hospital, one of the most remarkable on the planet, named after him and you can even find him on Facebook. Hani, like Che, crossed borders and took up arms. His Marxism was a way of life which meant jungle dinners and flying bullets. If ever there was a ‘rooi gevaar’ menacing white class privilege in Southern Africa – Hani was it. His is a story of armed resistance to oppression. A true revolutionary.

Chris Hani, aka Martin Thembisile, grew up amidst goats and poverty near Cofimvaba in the Transkei. His pop was a politically conscious migrant worker. His family couldn’t read or write. He liked to call himself ‘a commoner’ as a point of rueful pride – try to imagine the ANC elite, adrift in self-serving kleptomania, especially that faux aristocrat Mbeki, embracing such a laden term. You can’t. Hani loved books, Homer and Plato, and Latin, instinctively hating Caesar, that bullying poster boy for autocratic rulers everywhere, and often walked 20kms to church. Thankfully, his dad ultimately nixed the idea of joining the priesthood. Bantu Education, that systematic assault on black potential, reflected still in the mediocrity of our public language and life, meant dumbed down teaching to close minds. It was debased learning meant for miners and maids and it inevitably irked a smart, sensitive kid like Hani – getting him thinking about fighting back.

The endless Treason trial of the late 1950s (the transcripts of which are a kind of Magna Carta of inspired resistance that ought to be standard reading in schools) and the outrage of Sharpeville (shooting kids for throwing stones) soon led him to the SA communist party and the armed wing of the ANC, in 1961.

So began a long distinguished career in liberation struggles. The meaning and example of which grows in importance each day. Strikes and civil unrest escalate and the claim to legitimacy of our leaders and institutions unravels in the face of chronic unemployment and social inequality. People are looking to fight back and Hani is a touchstone of popular anger.

Unfortunately a new biography, penned by mainstream journalists, suffers from poor writing – “The howl of a jackal, the hollow bark of a hippo. Hearts pumped furiously with excitement. Fear. Anticipation.”
A guerrilla night raid is being laughably described. The authors would have been better off reading Trotsky over Wilbur Smith! It is also weak on the Quito era of ANC prisoner abuses and the extent of Hani’s culpability. The publisher’s website, Jonathan Ball, had this to say when trying to access the books’ page, “Sorry! You do not have authorization to view this story.” Oh we do. Anyway, there’ll be more and better books on Hani. His life and work remains richly suggestive.

Here’s a tiny example. We are slowly beginning to understand that identity politics (the endless quibbles over race which has so weakened the Left since the 1980s) is empty without understanding class exploitation. Hani wrote, tellingly for a South Africa seeing race give way to privilege and ownership as dominant markers of power today,
“My conversion to Marxism also deepened my non-racial perspective.” The two require each other. Not being racist is not enough. Active resistance to a society that uses racism to maintain all kinds of exploitation is the next step.

Hani would go on from 1961 to fight the SADF and its reactionary affiliates in Lesotho, Zimbabwe and Angola (and elsewhere) for almost thirty years.

His entire working life was a radical lesson in righteous violence – courage and conviction on the run. Those years fighting for liberation are why he will not be forgotten. Hani’s radical legacy is an ongoing thorn in the side of those cashing in on their struggle credentials:

“The perks of a new government are not really appealing to me. Everybody, of course, would like to have a good job, a good salary…
but for me, that is not the be-all of a struggle. What is important is the continuation of the struggle…the real problems of the country are not whether one is in cabinet…but what we do for social upliftment of the working masses of our country.”

What is important is the continuation of the struggle. This is the kind of unflinching honesty and integrity we lost when Hani was gunned down outside his house in April 1993. A far-right Polish nut job put a bullet in his head – a hit planned by an odious shitbag called Clive Derby-Lewis. Their parole was justly denied in March this year.

They had hoped the killing would end transitional talks to democracy and reap the whirlwind of civil war. It almost did.

Until Mandela gave what remains a radiantly moving speech to ease tensions – “Tonight I’m 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… now is the time for all South Africans to stand together against those who wish to destroy what Chris Hani gave his life for – the freedom of all of us”.

The assassination quickly set a date for our first (and best) non-racial democratic election in 1994, but robbed South Africa of Mandela’s most natural successor. Chris Hani is deeply mourned and truly missed. 

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  1. Phalafala says:

    This article is awesome! Imagine where the country would be if Hani instead of Mbeki was our second president? Hard to imagine… He definitely had much more potential than Mr Aids-Denialism and Mugabe’s business partner Thabo Mbeki

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  2. djf says:

    Would South Africa have safely made the transition to free democracy and avoided widespread bloodshed if Chris Hani were at the helm of the ANC? I have my doubts.

    We’re too quick to view the past through rose-tinted glasses and to confer martyrdom upon slain revolutionaries, no matter how pronounced their weaknesses or how one-dimensional their faculties may have been. South Africa was guided to relative peace and prosperity by more carefully considered moderates on both sides of the fence, people who knew how to balance idealism with practicality and the art of well-measured compromise. Mandela, Ramaphosa and Sexwale were some of these people, Chris Hani certainly was not one of them.

    During the period between the unbanning of the ANC and his assassination, Hani breathed fiery rhetoric of an overtly dogmatic nature, which raised tensions in the country at a very delicate time and gave rise to the counterproductive “hawks vs doves” debate amongst ANC observers. There are many examples the world over of people who are useful as freedom fighters but not much good as politicians in the liberated societies that follow. Did Chris Hani demonstrate any of the wisdoms that are required today in a competitive and globalised world – the ability to root out and conquer state corruption, economic prowess that harmonises state and public enterprise interests or the ability to unify and galvanise a diverse set of population groups?

    If Hani were alive today he’d probably be on the sidelines with his old-school communist cohorts, merely critcising decision-makers for nothing more than being “counter-revolutionary” – much like our dear friend Julius Malema does. In fact, Hani may well have seen much of his younger self in Malema – more kneejerk rhetoric and unconsidered condemnation than nation-building inspiration.

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  3. Andy says:

    DJF, good points. I think Hani displayed better leadership potential than Mbeki, at the time. And I reckon he was the front-runner to take-over Mandela’s baton come 1999. But there is a tendency to view possible futures with a grass-would-have-been-greener filter. You could do the same for Biko and wonder what a Biko presidency would have been like. And who would have won out in a leadership battle between Biko and Mandela? However one thing is clear to me, the Hani / Ramaphosa axis within the ANC, coming from marxist and trade-unionist backgrounds, were better placed, ideologically, to serve the needs of the majority of South Africans than the exile faction / Mbeki / Zuma team. I don’t think they would have been as quick to sell out on the principles of the freedom charter that guided the movement throughout the struggle.

    But that’s pure conjecture. Then again, it’s also hard to argue that they would have done a worse job than Mbeki.

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  4. Moose says:

    Well said Andy. The socialist/marxist arm of the ANC was sidelined or co-opted. What we got was expat UK influenced, Labour third-way, free-market weirdness from Mbeki and co. It was good for ‘the economy’ and kept the place fiscally stable but it radically widened the gap between haves and have nots. The result is that South Africa is unstable and even more crime ridden along class lines.

    I certainly hope for a more Socialist agenda from Zuma and also from Gill Marcus at the bank now. It’s the only way to truly tackle the class problem. Business and the IMF might not like it but they should think longer term. Social stability is essential and imagine how much more potential the country would have if we dealt with 35% unemployment and 50% illiteracy…

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  5. faith says:

    great article brandon.. thanks..

    may he rest in peace and may his ideologies live on…

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  6. Fereshte says:

    ozoneblue // Mar 20, 2009 at 1:34 pm oh my god grow up troll! go see a shrienk, yhcpso!! fuck me you have such issues hey??khosithe only thing that this is proving is the complete arrogence of your beloved anc using political interference of an Independent organisation by both Mbeki and Zuma .Zuma apparently has a tape that will embarrass Ngcuka and the scorpians and proof of political interference that is Ngcuka not Pikoli, remember Pikoli got suspended by the Mbeki camp and fired by the Zuma camp ..Pikoli is clean no political interference in his decision remember he got fired for going against the ANC thats the bottom line. See your doing exactly what the FAKE anc committee did with firing pikoli blaming him on things that really is Ngcuka doings, lets just be fair hereThere are calls for zuma to put a Zuma friendly cadre for the NPA post. On top of that the ANC is putting alot of pressure on the NPA and one of them will be jobs under a Zuma administration.Then you got the release of Shaiks another political interference, there goes your key witness. but the onus is on him to die within a year.Then you got his brother going directly to the media saying tomorrow you will see headlines saying the NPA are going to drop chargers but then again Ozoneblue who really is the reactionary hypocrites??ozoneblue u go boy you racist xenophobic dumb ass nimph

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