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Hani court told of accused's fanaticism

OVER-EXPOSURE to the Voice of America radio station as a child was a factor behind the fanatical anti-Communism of Janusz Walus, one of three right-wingers accused of the murder of the South African Communist Party general-secretary Chris Hani, the Supreme Court, Johannesburg, heard yesterday.

Maria Ras, Mr Walus's girlfriend, told the court that another reason was the experience of Mr Walus's uncle, a survivor of Buchenwald concentration camp. 'He told me he had asked his uncle what was worse, Communism or Fascism, and his uncle had replied 'Communism'.'

Ms Ras's psychological portrait of her Polish boyfriend, the man accused of firing the shots that killed Hani, came in reponse to questions from Mr Walus's counsel - who gave the impression, as lawyers observing the trial remarked, that he had given up hope of his client being acquitted and was pre-emptively arguing the case for extenuating circumstances.

The evidence so far indicates that Mr Walus will struggle to avoid a conviction. Ballistic tests, for example, showed that a gun found in Mr Walus's possession was the weapon used to kill Hani. Blood found on his clothing did not match his blood type, but did match that of Hani.

In addition to the murder weapon, Mr Walus, a karate expert, was in possession of another gun, a hunting knife strapped to his ankle and another knife in his back-pocket when arrested.

The trial had something of a United Nations flavour to it. None of the accused is an Afrikaner - the South African population group at the core of the country's far-right movement. Mr Walus emigrated from his native Poland 12 years ago. Gaye Derby-Lewis, a twice-married former nun, was born in Australia. (She managed a gay bar in Johannesburg before gaining notoriety as one of the more strident voices on the racist right.) Her second husband (and the third accused), the former Conservative Party MP Clive Derby-Lewis, was born in South Africa of English stock.

The key eyewitness, Margarita Harmse, and the officers who conducted Mr Walus's arrest and the subsequent investigation are all, by contrast, Afrikaners.

And Mr Walus, it emerged, is a former member of Eugene Terre- Blanche's Afrikaner Resistance Movement who speaks no Afrikaans. A Polish interpreter sat whispering at his side throughout the testimony of his girlfriend, barely a word of which he understood.

Ms Ras was poised and clear-voiced throughout her hour-long testimony, smiling warmly at her boyfriend and at his lawyers while simultaneously - in her capacity as a state witness - all but nailing the lid on his coffin.

An African National Congress official at the trial observed wryly that if Mr Walus was found guilty and was sentenced to hang, an ANC victory in next year's scheduled democratic election - the very idea of which is anathema to the far right - would secure him a reprieve. For it is ANC policy to reject the death penalty.