Hani's killers confront the truth test

As the men who shot dead SA's Communist leader seek amnesty, blacks fear that true justice may be sacrificed
Nomakhwezi, the teenage daughter of the late Chris Hani, one of South Africa's towering political figures, sat quietly in the front row of Pretoria City Hall yesterday looking at her father's killers just feet away.

As she gazed at Polish immigrant Janusz Walus, 42, and at Clive Derby- Lewis, 61, former South African Conservative Party MP, her mind must surely have drifted back to 10 April 1993.

That was the day Walus pumped four bullets into her father in the drive of their home. As her father's blood spilled across the paving stones and Nomakhwezi ran screaming for help, South Africa, in the middle of its precarious political transition, looked into the abyss.

With the murder of Hani - leader of the South African Communist Party (SACP), former head of the African National Congress's military wing and darling of the townships - the peace talks that promised to make Nelson Mandela the country's first democratically elected president hung by a thread. In the days leading up to his funeral, South Africa threatened to explode.

Yesterday Nomakhwezi, with her mother Limpho, watched Walus and Derby- Lewis ask the Truth and Reconciliation Commission for amnesty. Prominent ANC figures and SACP leaders joined them. It is the most politically sensitive case to have come before the Commission. According to Cheryl Carolus, the ANC's acting secretary general, it is the case which truly tests the credibility of the controversial TRC.

The Hanis, the ANC politicians and the SACP came to oppose the application of Walus, who pulled the trigger, and Derby-Lewis, who provided the gun and masterminded the assassination. The men are already serving life for the murder.

Central is the belief that Walus and Derby-Lewis were part of a wider political conspiracy. The most credible theory is that other extreme right- wingers were involved in the murder although the National Party and even Hani's ANC comrades have been accused of involvement.

The TRC balances its controversial power to offer amnesty with a promise to expose the truth about the atrocities of the apartheid era. Victims' families, barred from taking legal action against perpetrators if amnesty is granted, are expected to be comforted with the knowledge of how their loved ones died. Amnesty is, therefore, supposed to be granted only if full disclosure is made.

The Hani case highlights growing disquiet that the TRC is failing to reveal enough truths to justify depriving victims' families of redress through the courts.

"Hani was prepared to forgive," said Sam Tsiane, a local SACP official. "It is fine to grant amnesty, but only if they tell the truth. We want to know who gave them their instructions. Anything less and the TRC will lose the confidence of the community." His comrade was less compromising. "If they grant them amnesty it makes a mockery of the TRC."

The small group of right-wing supporters - including Derby-Lewis's wife Gaye, 58, who was acquitted of Hani's murder - was furious when the Hani family's counsel, George Bizos produced statements made by Walus and Derby-Lewis in detention which apparently contradict their claim that they acted alone. The statements were not used in the original court case and are crucial to the Hani family's contention that full disclosure has not been made and amnesty cannot be granted.

Walus's lawyer claimed the statements were inadmissible because the police had plied him with alcohol. Gerald Derby-Lewis, Clive's younger brother, said: "These statements were made under torture." Mr Derby-Lewis said he did not share his brother's politics but found it incredible that the TRC might not grant him amnesty after recently freeing four black youths who murdered an American student Amy Biehl.

Yesterday, Walus and Derby-Lewis insisted again that they acted alone. Walus claimed he killed Hani to prevent a handover to Communist rule. He said a "hit list" - comprising of nine names including Hani's and Mr Mandela's - found in his possession came from Derby-Lewis's home. He stuck by the explanation given at his trial: Gaye Derby-Lewis had drawn up the list for use in parliament. He had simply borrowed it.

When Walus and Derby-Lewis were originally found guilty, Limpho Hani said justice had been only half done. Full satisfaction would come when the other "plotters" were found. If the TRC fail to find any other conspirators and Walus and Derby-Lewis walk free, Mrs Hani, and countless South Africans, will feels she has had no justice at all.