Chris Hani Explained

Chris Hani, born Martin Thembisile Hani (June 28, 1942  - April 10, 1993) was the leader of the South African Communist Party and chief of staff of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC). He was a fierce opponent of the apartheid government. He was assassinated on 10 April 1993.

Early life

Hani was born on June 28, 1942 in the small town of Cofimvaba in a rural village called kuSabalele Transkei. He was the fifth of six children. He attended Lovedale school and later studied modern and classical literature at the University of Fort Hare.[1]

Political career

At age 15 Hani joined the ANC Youth League. As a student he was active in protests against the Bantu Education Act. Following his graduation, he joined Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the armed wing of the ANC. Following his arrest under the Suppression of Communism Act, he went into exile in Lesotho in 1963.[1] He received military training in the Soviet Union and served in campaigns in the Rhodesian Bush War in what is now Zimbabwe. In Lesotho he was the target of assassination attempts, and he eventually moved to the ANC's headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia. As head of Umkhonto we Sizwe, he was responsible for the suppression of a mutiny by dissident ANC members in detention camps, but denied any role in abuses including torture and murder.[1]

He returned to South Africa following the unbanning of the ANC in 1990, and took over from Joe Slovo as head of the South African Communist Party in 1991. He supported the suspension of the ANC's armed struggle in favour of negotiations.[2]


Chris Hani was assassinated on 10 April 1993 outside his home in Dawn Park, a racially-mixed suburb of Boksburg. He was accosted by a Polish far-right immigrant named Janusz Waluś, who shot him in the head as he stepped out of his car. Waluś fled the scene, but was arrested soon afterwards after Hani's neighbour, a white woman, called the police. Clive Derby-Lewis, a senior South African Conservative Party M.P., who had lent Waluś his pistol, was also arrested for complicity in Hani's murder.[3]

Hani's assassination was part of a plot by the far-right in South Africa to derail the negotiations to end apartheid.[4] An alleged hit list of senior ANC and SACP figures found in the Derby-Lewis home included Nelson Mandela and Joe Slovo at numbers one and two. Hani was number three on the list.

Historically, the assassination is seen as a turning point. Serious tensions followed the assassination, with 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[5] :

While riots did follow the assassination,[3] the two sides of the negotiation process were galvanised into action, and they soon agreed that democratic elections should take place on 27 April 1994, just over a year after Hani's assassination.[5]

Assassins' conviction and amnesty hearing

Both Janusz Waluś and Clive Derby-Lewis were sentenced to death for the murder. Clive Derby-Lewis's wife Gaye Derby-Lewis, also a senior Conservative Party figure, was acquitted and she emigrated to Australia afterwards. The two men's sentences were commuted to life imprisonment when the death penalty was abolished as a result of a Constitutional Court ruling in 1995 because of the adoption of South Africa's new constitution, which they had fought against.

Hani's killers appeared before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, claiming political motivation for their crimes and applying for amnesty on the basis that they had acted on the orders of the Conservative Party. The Hani family was represented by anti-apartheid lawyer George Bizos.[6] Their applications were controversially denied when the TRC ruled that they were not acting on orders.[4] They are still in prison.[7] [8]


Hani was a charismatic populist leader, with significant support among the radical anti-apartheid youth. At the time of his death, he was the most popular ANC leader after Nelson Mandela, and was sometimes perceived as a rival to the more moderate party leadership.[4] Following the legalisation of the ANC, Hani's support for the negotiation process with the apartheid government was critical in keeping the militants in line.[9] Given his popularity and relative youth (he was 51 when he was killed), had he lived, he would have been a strong candidate for a position as deputy president or even president in a future ANC government of South Africa.


In 1994, French philosopher Jacques Derrida dedicated the critically acclaimed Specters of Marx to Hani.

In 1997, Baragwanath Hospital, one of the largest hospitals in the world, was renamed the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in his memory.

In September 2004, Hani was voted 20th in the controversial Top 100 Greatest South Africans poll.

Four days after his assassination, the rock group Dave Matthews Band (whose lead singer and guitarist, Dave Matthews, is from South Africa) began playing a song, #36, to honour Hani. A live favorite for years, the music evolved into the basic foundation of the 2001 single, Everyday. The Introduction to the popular hit "Everyday" starts with the crowd singing "Honey, Honey, come and dance with me", and the crowd and band occasionally use the reprise as an outro to the song as well. (It was originally written as "Hani, Hani, come and dance with me," but Matthews believed the song to be too cheery with those lyrics, so he changed it.[10])

A township on the outskirts of Pietermaritzburg, KwaZulu Natal, is named "Haniville" in his honour.

One of the Municipalities in the Eastern Cape was named the Chris Hani District. This district includes Queenstown and Lady Frere.

Notes and References

  1. Web site: Martin Thembisile (Chris) Hani. 2007-04-10.
  2. Web site: My Life. Chris. Hani. South African Communist Party. February 1991. 2007-04-10.
  3. News: Hani Truth hearing resumes. BBC News. 1998-03-16.
  4. News: Hani killers denied amnesty. BBC News. 1999-04-07.
  5. Book: Sparks, Allister. Allister Sparks

    . Tomorrow is Another Country. Allister Sparks. 1994. Struik.

  6. News: Waluś denies Hani killing was his idea. 1997-11-27. Dispatch.
  7. Web site: Amnesty Decision. Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 1999-04-07. 2007-04-10.
  8. Web site: The Death of Chris Hani: An African misadventure. Arthur. Kemp. 2007-04-10.
  9. Obituary: Hamba Kahle Chris Hani: 1942-1993. Nthoana and Mbulelo. Mzamane. Southern Africa Report. 9. 1. July. 1993. 22.
  10. Song Listing for "#36"