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Thirtieth anniversary of the brutal murder of Chris Hani

This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the brutal murder of the South African Communist Party (SACP) General Secretary, Comrade Thembisile Martin “Chris” Hani.1 He was assassinated shortly after 10 am on April 10, 1993. At the time of his death, he was also the National Executive Committee Member of the African National Congress (ANC) and the former Chief of Staff of the ANC’s military wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). He had emerged as easily the second most popular politician in South Africa after Nelson Mandela.2 Comrade Chris was endowed with outstanding qualities of a revolutionary. He was a liberation fighter par excellence. He was a soldier and patriot, for whom no task was too small.3

In his early years, Hani was an embittered product of the South African revolution who had very little time to attend to himself and bent solely with his academic work and the destruction of the oppressive system in the country, yet jovial when free and never apologetic or regretful for the cause he had chosen for the rest of his life. Chris was born from a politically involved peasant-worker family in the Transkei (now Eastern Cape)4> He was recruited into the ranks of our Movement in his teens at Lovedale High School by Comrade Sipho Makana, another serious minded revolutionary and former Head Prefect of Lovedale, who later became an ANC NEC member and had himself lived that type of life unswervingly. After completing his studies at Fort Hare, Hani went to join his father in Cape Town. There, he threw his energies into the working-class struggles, got introduced to underground structures of such working-class veterans as Govan Mbeki, Ray Alexander, and Oscar Mpetha. In Lusaka he was already a resourceful member of the ANC’s Revolutionary Council structures who had excelled in the grim battles of the ANC/ZAPU Alliance units in Rhodesia’s Spollilo/Wankie operation. Impatient with exile politics, submission to problems and inactivity, he hacked his way through the odds homeward and was a leading political cadre of an MK detachment, the Luthuli detachment.5

Prospects of reaching home soon via Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) were gloomy and Hani was sent by the leadership to Lesotho to start and establish a political and diplomatic presence of the ANC there. His performance there can only be described as marvellous. The enemy felt it. Hani has earned great respect for this balance of the articulation and use of old experience and its creative application to new conditions of struggle in more active hands and limbs. Because of this ability and his daring readiness to throw off his overseeing leadership garb, physically sharing the hazards and risks of war in the same trenches with his troops, he remains essentially a man of the people’s army who was destined to play a more vital role in the tough battles ahead against the enemy. He was easily approachable by any cadre of any rank and was deeply involved in the solution of their problems.6

Paying tribute at Hani’s funeral service , the former Congress of South African Trade Union (COSATU) President John Gomomo uttered the following: “When he was elected to the mammoth task of General Secretary of the SACP, he proved himself a committed communist. Today he would be in Gugulethu calling for housing, tomorrow in the mines calling for an end to retrenchments, dismissals and for workers to be paid a living wage. As if that was not enough, two days later he would be in Venda calling for health improvement and later a march by teachers and students around educational needs.”7 Hani’s formulation of socialism is fundamental to Marx’s materialist outlook. In Frederick Engels’s homage at the grave of his lifelong friend, comrade, and collaborator, Karl Marx; Engels said, “Just as Darwin discovered the law of development or organic nature, so Marx discovered the law of development of human history: the simple fact, hitherto concealed by an overgrowth of ideology, that mankind must first of all eat, drink, have shelter and clothing, before it can pursue politic, science, art, religion, etc.” According to Hani, socialism is not about big concepts and heavy theory. Socialism is about decent shelter for those who are homeless. It is about water for those who have no safe drinking water. It is about health care, it is about a life of dignity for the old. It is about overcoming the huge divide between urban and rural areas. It is about a decent education for all our people. Socialism is about rolling back the tyranny of the market. As long as the economy is dominated by an unelected, privileged few, the case for socialism will exist.8 Blade Nzimande attributed this ability and quality to Hani’s rural roots, which he never forgot. He was a leader who listened to the homeless, the jobless, the landless, and to women no less than men. He had confidence and trust in ordinary people, and so they in turn had confidence and trust in him.9

Comrade Hani learned three critical lessons that were to define his being to the end. Firstly, he deepened his understanding of the national liberation struggle. Secondly, he was exposed to and embraced Marxism as a living, guiding theory to a better organization of human society. Thirdly, and critically, he learned the inherent importance of class struggle in a context in which many viewed apartheid and its aftermath exclusively in terms of the struggle against white supremacy, without understanding the role of racism in class domination. Combined with his earlier learning of classical literature and its many moral lessons about tyranny, despotism, and oppression, this high-level exposure to the real struggle theories would stand him in good stead throughout his political life.10

Pallo Jordan maintains that Comrade Hani never mistook revolutionary consciousness for a clever formula or a set of well-crafted slogans.11 While he was always ready to interrogate the relationship between nationalism and Marxism, he understood that both were part of an existent historical reality. A meaningful Marxist political practice required the steady mobilization of the necessary class, social, and national forces that could be yoked to build an alliance capable of striving for and achieving political transformation. Given the interface between national oppression and capitalist exploitation, an alliance between Marxism and African nationalism was essential for such a project. To Hani, Marxism was not an abstract theory. Its principles had to be applied to concrete revolutionary practice. And while these principles remained unchanged, their translation into practical programs that galvanized the working people and the oppressed is what made them meaningful. Hani launched and spearheaded the SACP’s “Triple H” (Health, Housing and Hunger) campaign in the early 1990s because of the interrelated nature of these challenges.12 Because of its relevance in our present situation, the party has now revived it and launched the “Hunger Eradication, Health, Human Settlements, and Water” (Triple H and W) campaign as part of Annual Red October Campaign, based on these critical interconnected challenges in our society. In memory of Hani, this campaign must be intensified in view of the challenges facing humanity as a result of the crisis-ridden capitalist system and to advance the socialism. Capitalist system has failed humanity and it cannot adequately respond to hunger, health, and other challenges facing the humankind. The theory of Marxist ecology underpins the connections between the National Democratic Revolution, socialism, and the Triple H and W, which are all epitomized in the life of Hani.

In his address to the combatants of MK in 1986, Hani cogently observed that “the oppressed people are ready to join us. We have won the confidence of our people. But in the process that confidence repose on our shoulders a need for a special way of conducting ourselves. We are revolutionaries and this we should never forget. Revolutionaries are special people. They are patriots and committed people. They are dedicated to a transformation of a country and the building of a new life. In order to justify this confidence our people are placing on our shoulders we have to get rid of the inherent habits we have acquired from the system of oppression.”13 In 1983, Hani argued that the careful preparation of the objective conditions in our struggle forces us to pay considerable attention to all the aspects of mass mobilization. Organization is a hard and demanding pursuit, it requires perseverance, discipline, and political maturity. It demands an understanding and thorough knowledge of all the classes and strata ranged against our enemy. Such knowledge and understanding comes out as a result of collection of data, of our own political connections and interactions with numerous patriotic organizations, and trade unions.14 Hani advised that we judge the wisdom of each act in the struggle not by reference some blind emotion or intuition, but by the scientific standard of whether such act is consistent with the ultimate objective and accords with the realities of life. Without a profound grasp of all the essentials of the scientific approach to history, the political leader will sway with the wind, lose faith in the possibility of ultimate victory, and fall prey to ideas and courses which hamper, rather than advance, the struggle.

Jeremy Cronin submits that Hani’s murder needs to be understood in a much wider context considering the following: Patrice Lumumba, assassinated in 1961 with Belgian and CIA involvement; Eduardo Mondlane assassinated in Dar-es-Salaam, 1969; Herbert Chitepo, assassinated in Lusaka in 1971, reportedly by an ex-British Special Air Service soldier, Hugh Hind; Amilcar Cabral, assassinated in Conakry, 1973; Josiah Tongorara killed in mysterious circumstances in Mozambique in 1979; Samora Machel, killed in an aeroplane crash in 1986, almost certainly the result of apartheid-era electronic interference; Thomas Sankara assassinated in 1987, probably with French assistance.15 Cronin is convinced that in common with Hani, these African liberation leaders were targeted for elimination in the years before or soon after independence in their respective countries. Like Hani, they were among the more principled leaders within their different movements. Their deaths almost certainly impacted negatively on the quality and depth of post-independence leadership. He maintains that South Africa would not be wrestling with the current levels of endemic state-capture corruption if Hani had survived.

Exemplary leadership of Hani was what Comrade Le Duan characterised when he said that leaders must show a high sense of responsibility, great determination, and a principled attitude in handling affairs.16 They must take into account and truly respect the opinion of others, and calmly listen to the suggestions of the masses, even if they do not agree with them. They must have a generous attitude toward others, and a high sense of self-criticism, must dare to admit their errors and mistakes and have the determination to correct them. These are indispensable qualities. If leaders possess these qualities, they will enjoy the necessary prestige and trust without which they cannot lead. Hani, together with W. Hempe, Z. R. Mbengwa (Jeqe), Tamana Gobozi (Mikza), Leonard Pitso, G. S. Mose (Mlenze), and Ntabenkosi Fipaza (Mbali) wrote memorandum expressing their misgivings with what was happening in the organization.17 They complained that they, as genuine revolutionaries, were moved by the frightening depths of rot in the ANC and the accompanying disintegration of MK, which manifested itself in the following way: The ANC Leadership-in-Exile has created machinery that has become an end in itself. It is completely divorced from the situation in South Africa. This leadership has raised issues pertaining to the functioning branches inside the country. Moreover, there has never been an attempt to send the leadership to the country since the Rivonia arrests. There has been an overconcentration of people in offices, which this has become a full-fledged activity in itself.

They were also disturbed by the careerism of the ANC leadership abroad who have, in every sense, become professional politicians rather than professional revolutionaries. They complained that the leadership of the ANC abroad must be committed to a resolution and programme of going home to lead the struggle there, which resolution and program must be seen to be implemented. Presently there is a vacuum, as all the leaders are either locked up in John Vorster’s prisons, or are in exile. This has deprived the South African masses of leadership, which is so vital at this crucial moment of our revolution. The memorandum also pointed that there were certain symptoms which were very disturbing and dispiriting to genuine revolutionaries. These comprise the opening of mysterious business enterprises which have never been discussed by the leadership of the organization. The development of the revolution has necessitated a renewal and rejuvenation of those who are leading it. We must guard against the fossilization of the leadership, as this is likely to hinder the progressive development of the revolution. The Hani memorandum demonstrates that he was a fearless leader who could not remain silent when the revolutionary movement was facing serious challenges. This memorandum led to the epoch-making 1969 ANC Morogoro Conference, which adopted four key pillars of the struggle: namely, mass mobilization, international solidarity, and underground and armed struggle. The conference also established the Revolutionary Council under the leadership of the then ANC President Oliver Tambo.

The leadership crisis in South Africa, the current state of alliance and the factional battles that have bedevilled the liberation movement are some of the insults to the memory of Comrade Hani.18 South Africa is facing an energy crisis and many other challenges, which the neoliberal capitalist path has dismally failed to address. He warned against foreign tendencies instigated by factionalists and other counterrevolutionaries in our movement. He would have warned that they should be judged not by what they say or by how they view themselves, but by their actions. In the same breath, their ringleaders should be judged not by the label they give themselves, but by how in practice they solve basic theoretical problems, what kind of people they collaborate with and what they have taught and are teaching their followers. More importantly, he would have challenged those who are using the movement to further their own personal interest, as well as their honesty in attempting to renew and rejuvenate the ANC and our country.

Hani would have challenged those who are in power, for failing to address the underlying factors affecting the susceptibility of the working class and poor to COVID-19 and other health hazards. This constitutes the very basis of capitalist exploitation. These problems remain unaddressed and are, in many ways, getting worse as inequality increases. Hani was a communist in its truest mould. He epitomized the highest qualities of cadreship and leadership. He was brave, diligent, and incorruptible. Hani would have condemned the failure of the wealthier capitalist countries, such as the United States, which prioritizes profits over people, constituting what is known as social murder. Equally, the lack of clean running water complicates our efforts to combat COVID-19 and many other diseases. Hani epitomized the highest qualities of revolutionary morality, and is sorely missed.


  1. “The South African Communist Party: Preparing for a New Era?,” South African Labour Bulletin 16, no. 3 (1992).
  2. According to Karl Von Holdt, the election of Hani was a major coup, and gave the party an organizational boost. A relatively young, talented leadership, with a range of mass, labor, and underground experience, was elected to the Central Committee.
  3. Editors, “Editorial notes,” African Communist 163 (2003).
  4. Nelson Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom (Back Bay Books, London, 1995).
  5. Chris Hani: A Drawing by a Close Political Activist,” Dawn, Souvenir issue (1986).
  6. “Chris Hani: A Drawing by a Close Political Activist.”
  7. “Chris Hani: A Drawing by a Close Political Activist.”
  8. Millions Mourn Death of Their Hero.”
  9. Lehlohonolo Kennedy Mahlatsi, “Centenary of the SACP,” Sunday Independent, July 27, 2021.
  10. Blade Nzimande, “Address by Blade Nzimande to Chris Hani,” speech at the Chris Hani 10th Anniversary Commemoration Rally, Umtata (Mthatha), South Africa, April 13, 2003.
  11. Kgalema Motlanthe, “Address Delivered by the Deputy President, Kgalema Motlanthe,” speech at SACP’s Chris Hani Lecture, Boksburg, Ekurhuleni, South Africa, April 10, 2010; Blade Nzimande, “Strengthening the Ideological Capacity of the Working Class: An Urgent Political Task,” Umsebenzi Online 9, no. 7 (April 2010).
  12. Pallo Jordan, “Speech by Pallo Jordan,” speech at Chris Hani Institute, Johannesburg, South Africa, April 15, 2003.
  13. Bheke Charles Stofile and Lehlohonolo Kennedy Mahlatsi, “COVID 19 and Beyond: The Left Popular Front and the Struggle Against Neo-Liberalism and Capitalism,” Umsebenzi (May 2020).
  14. Chris Hani, “The Demand of Our Time,” Dawn 10, no. 2 (April 1986): 3—6.
  15. Chris Hani, “A Variety of Methods and Tactics,” Dawn 7, no. 4 (April 1983): 3—6.
  16. Jeremy Cronin, “Chris Hani’s Assassination Had Wider Context and Consequences,” Umsebenzi Online 18, no. 5 (April 2019).
  17. Le Duan, “Some Present Tasks,” 1974, www.marxists.org/reference/archive/le-duan/works/1974/some-present-tasks/ch03.htm.
  18. According to Hugh Macmillan in “The ‘Hani Memorandum’—Introduced and Annotated,” Transformation 69, on page 112: “Although Hani and his comrades were not able to attend the Morogoro Conference, it seems that as many as half of the 70 delegates who did attend were representatives of MK. The memorandum was not specifically discussed, but their point of view was well represented, and the conference recommended a pardon for the signatories and their reinstatement.”
  19. Lehlohonolo Kennedy Mahlatsi, “Chris Would Challenge Those in Power Today,” Sunday Independent, April11, 2021.