Obituary: Chris Hani

MOST OBITUARIES of Chris Hani fail to reflect the ambiguities in his life, and of the two political organisations he led, the African National Congress and the South African Communist Party, writes Paul Trewhela (further to the obituary by John Carlin, 12 April). Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the ANC army, was founded and led mainly by the SACP. In exile, the SACP greatly strengthened its role inside the ANC through MK. This set the conditions for Hani's life, as MK chief of staff and SACP secretary general.

Violent resistance followed the Sharpeville massacre of 1960. Under the Cold War, this made the ANC dependent for military training, arms and funding on the Soviet bloc. The SACP was the essential conduit. For many years, the illegal SACP was the only non-racial body in South African politics, in which blacks, whites, Indians (of Muslim and Hindu origin) and Coloureds (of mixed origin) worked together at leadership level. Hani became a leading representative of this current.

From its formation in 1961, MK was non-racial. At that time, the ANC admitted blacks only. MK provided the main channel by which the ANC became a non-racial organisation. The price for this was uncritical participation by the ANC in the Cold War system of the Soviet bloc. In 1968, the ANC formally supported the invasion of Czechoslovakia; 10 years later came explicit control of opinion by a Stasi-type political police, the ANC security department, which built a string of prison camps across the continent. These came to house mainly dissident members of MK, as well as some South African spies. Torture and deaths, as Amnesty has found, were routine.

MK recruits admired Hani for his courageous role in a 1967 campaign in Zimbabwe, as well as for organising the underground from a base in Lesotho. In 1984, however, a full-scale mutiny took place among MK troops in Angola, directed at repression by the security department and their apparent diversion from combat in South Africa itself. It was the ANC's most severe crisis in exile. Hani played a vigorous part in suppressing the mutiny. By his own count, 18 or 19 ANC members were executed. As the most senior figure on the spot, he did not countermand these acts. Nor did he mitigate Gulag prison conditions for the mutineers. In 1989 he personally abolished representative committees in ANC camps in Tanzania to which former mutineers had been elected.

A process of mythology came to surround Chris Hani. His heritage in South Africa - by which Soviet methods of command served non-racial ends, and the 'armed struggle' came to serve negotiations - is more complex.

(Photograph omitted)

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