About this site

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Apartheid Foe Hani Slain in South Africa

By Paul Taylor
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, April 11, 1993; Page A01

JOHANNESBURG, APRIL 10 -- Chris Hani, leader of South Africa's Communist Party, former head of the African National Congress's armed wing, archvillain to white conservatives and folk hero to millions of militant blacks, was assassinated today outside his home.

Police said they arrested a suspect shortly after the killing, a 40-year-old white South African of Polish origin and as-yet-unknown political affiliation.

The charismatic Hani, considered by many to be second only to ANC President Nelson Mandela in popularity and political influence among South Africa's blacks, had been engaged in a crusade in recent weeks to convince black militants that the surest path from white-minority rule toward a post-apartheid, nonracial political order lay in nonviolence and negotiation.

Hani's killing has touched off fears that South Africa's recently renewed multi-party democracy talks might be derailed and that the first stirrings of political trust between blacks and whites might be shattered.

"I fear for our country," said a shaken Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu. "Chris Hani, more than anyone else, had the credibility among the young to rein in the radicals." Tutu voiced an opinion shared by many when he added that the assassination must have been the work of forces that do not want South Africa's transition to succeed.

The struggle against South Africa's white domination of the black majority and apartheid system of racial separation has been bloody, with centuries of racial conflict followed by more than 9,000 political killings in the three years since the system began to be dismantled. But Hani is the first top liberation movement leader slain since black consciousness leader Steven Biko died during a police interrogation in 1977.

Hani, 50, was shot four times at about 10:15 a.m. as he stepped out of the car he had just parked in the driveway of his home in Boksburg, a Johannesburg suburb with an unusual mix of blue-collar whites and professional and middle-class blacks. A survivor of two previous assassination attempts, Hani normally traveled with bodyguards but had given them Easter Saturday off.

Less than an hour after the shooting, police arrested a suspect in a car at a nearby shopping center. The car reportedly matched descriptions by neighbors who saw a red car speed from the scene. Police identified the suspect as Januzu Jakub Wallus and said he had two guns with him.

By mid-afternoon, a police spokesman said a preliminary investigation suggested that the suspect may have acted alone -- a conclusion immediately criticized by Hani's colleagues in the anti-apartheid movement as "premature." At a news conference, spokesmen for the ANC and Communist Party also noted that government security forces had been involved in previous killings of anti-apartheid activists, and they called for international observers and independent local monitors to work with police on the investigation.

President Frederik W. de Klerk condemned the killing and called for "maximum restraint." Mandela appealed "to all our people to honor the memory of Chris Hani by remaining a disciplined force for peace."

Police reported scattered protests in some black townships tonight but no mass civil disorder. The ANC-Communist Party alliance has called for a national day of demonstration and mourning later in the week.

Hani, a fiery orator with a ready laugh and a classical education -- he was fond of quoting Shakespeare, Keats and Shelley -- was a legend among militant black youths from his years in the leadership of the ANC's armed wing, which mounted isolated acts of terror against the apartheid regime throughout the 1970s and 1980s. A member of the armed wing since the early '60s, Hani became its deputy commander in 1982 and was named chief of staff in 1987.

When a ban on the ANC was lifted in 1990, Hani emerged as the leader of its militant wing and was considered one of two or three potential heirs to Mandela, now 74. But Hani's career took a surprising turn in late 1991 when he agreed to replace the ailing Joe Slovo as secretary general of the South African Communist Party.

As a black African in an organization otherwise dominated by white Jewish intellectuals, Hani was an important catch for the Communists. But his move effectively removed him from the running for a top leadership spot in the ANC -- and likely from a cabinet post in a post-apartheid government. Like many other top Communists, however, Hani remained active in the ANC.

The ruling National Party used the ANC's alliance with militant Communists to play on whites' fears about what lies beyond apartheid, but in recent months the Communist leaders have emerged as leading moderates in the anti-apartheid movement. Late last year, Slovo crafted a power-sharing deal that accelerated the stalled democracy talks.

Last Tuesday, on the same day that Mandela made a dramatic admission that the ANC has been "just as involved" in political violence as its rival, the Inkatha Freedom Party, and the government, Hani urged ANC members to become "combatants for peace."

Hani also had sharp words for the Pan Africanist Congress's armed wing, the Azanian Peoples Liberation Army. In recent weeks, the group's spokesmen have claimed responsibility for the racially motivated killing of white civilians and have called for an acceleration of the armed struggle. But Hani said, "I don't accept people calling for war."

Outside Hani's home this afternoon, where mourners included the ANC's Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu and Winnie Mandela, some black youths began to vent their anger. "The man starts to talk peace," said one, who asked not to be identified, "and this is what he gets."

Another anomaly of Hani's death was its scene. A man who spent more than a decade in exile and in guerrilla camps, he was killed in an antiseptic, racially mixed suburb where he had moved, in part, because he wanted one of his three daughters to attend a nearby private school that offered an education in Greek culture and language.

Hani's move to conservative Boksburg at first created a stir, and in the past year the makeup of the suburb shifted sharply from white to black. But neighbors of both races said today that there was little overt tension. "I think he had come to feel quite relaxed here," said neighbor Jerome Geyer, "though I remember once we were standing in his driveway talking, and he sort of joked that we had better go inside before the right-wingers get him."

© Copyright 1993 The Washington Post Company

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to theThis resource is hosted by the site.