Mandela’s Heirby 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.