Witnesses identify 'Hani killer': Street scuffles and racial insults as trial starts of three charged with murder of ANC leader

AMID scuffles, insults and street protests the trial began yesterday of three right-wingers, two of them foreign-born, charged with the murder of Chris Hani, Communist Party general secretary, African National Congress leader and idol of South Africa's township youth.

Janusz Jacub Walus, Clive John Derby-Lewis and his wife, Gabrielle Mavourna Derby-Lewis, pleaded not guilty in the Supreme Court, Johannesburg, to three charges: murder, conspiracy to murder and illegal possession of arms and ammunition.

Before the trial started hundreds of ANC supporters demonstrated on the street outside the court, chanting 'We want Walus]' and 'Hang them]'. All day they kept up a largely cheerful display of revolutionary aerobics.

Inside the courtroom the drama was more intense. A black man who swore at Mrs Derby-Lewis, an Australian-born former nun, provoked her husband into responding, 'Watch your language, you animal]' A white woman who complained because a black man had sat down next to her prompted a white policeman to bark: 'Racism will not be tolerated in this courtroom]'

By contrast Mr Walus, a 38-year- old Polish immigrant, betrayed not a hint of emotion. Tall, blond, gaunt, with ice-blue eyes, he stared impassively as the first two - out of a projected total of 50 - state witnesses all but wrapped up the case against him.

Margarita Harmse was the Afrikaner housewife whose call to the police secured Mr Walus's arrest within 10 minutes of the crime. As an ANC leader said afterwards, had she not performed her civic duty so diligently, had the identity of the alleged killer remained a mystery, the nationwide protests which followed the Hani assassination might well have degenerated into anarchy and racial war.

Mrs Harmse told the court she was driving past Hani's home in the suburb of Dawn Park, east of Johannesburg, at about 10am on 10 April when she heard two shots. She slowed down, saw a man crouching with a gun in his hand and then heard two more shots. She read the number-plates on the gunman's red hatchback car, repeated the numbers out aloud to herself, and then called the police.

Under vigorous cross-questioning from Mr Walus's lawyer, Mrs Harmse responded indignantly, in a shrill, child-like voice, to suggestions that she was lying: 'I saw it. I saw what I saw. That's all there is to say.'

The next witness was Michael Buchanan, a former policeman in his late thirties who lives diagonally opposite the Hani home, in whose driveway the killing occurred. With professional rigour, Mr Buchanan said he had identified the car in a police pound and Mr Walus at an identification parade. 'He stood out like a sore thumb.'

Lawyers observing the case said the state's challenge was to prove the guilt of Mr and Mrs Derby- Lewis: first that they were involved in the murder; second that they bore any responsibility for the gun used; and third that they were engaged in a conspiracy to murder eight other people - Nelson Mandela included - whose names were found in an alleged hit-list at Mr Walus's home.

The connections identified by the state are the following: in January this year Mrs Derby-Lewis, notorious in South Africa for the manner in which she flaunts her racist sentiments, asked a journalist friend to obtain the personal details and addresses of the people found on Mr Walus's list - which contained Hani's address and a photograph of Mr Mandela's home; in February, Mr Derby-Lewis, a former MP and prominent member of the far-right Conservative Party, obtained the gun used in the murder and went to Cape Town to fit a silencer to it; on the morning of the murder, and shortly after, Mr Derby-Lewis phoned Mr Walus at home and left a message for him to call back upon arrival.

Mr Derby-Lewis, a once dapper individual with a trademark RAF officer's moustache, looked haggard yesterday after five months in prison. His hands trembled throughout the day's proceedings. Mrs Derby-Lewis, who is out on bail, looked radiant. Asked by a reporter how she felt, she replied, 'I'm on top of the world.'