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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Mandela - 'Nothing will stop us!'

By Norm Dixon

"When we, as one people, act together decisively, with discipline and determination, nothing can stop us ... Let us rededicate ourselves to bringing about the democracy he fought for all his life: democracy that will bring real, tangible changes in the lives of the working people, the poor, the jobless, the landless." This was African National Congress president Nelson Mandela's angry and defiant response to the assassination of Chris Hani, general secretary of South Africa's 50,000-member Communist Party and a top ANC leader.

Suspicions are running high that the brutal murder was not the work of a lone anticommunist fanatic but a "hit" organised by forces within the white establishment and their security forces -- the so-called "third force" -- intent on sabotaging progress towards majority rule.

The killing came soon after multiparty talks had resumed on April 1 to hammer out details for non-racial constituent assembly election due late this year or early next. Optimism was running high that majority rule was on the horizon. The assassination threw this progress into immediate doubt.

Chris Hani was the most senior black leader to be assassinated since Steve Biko died in police custody in 1977. He was shot dead on April 10 by a Polish emigre, Janusz Walus. Walus, a member of the fascist Afrikaner Resistance Movement (AWB), was arrested 30 minutes after the shooting.

The Radio France Internationale correspondent in Johannesburg reported Hani was shot four times. In contrast to other media accounts of the shooting, which repeated police claims that the killer acted alone, the RFI reporter said a second car was used in the assassination as a decoy and that the "assassin is believed to be a professional hit man".

Walus' use of a silencer and eyewitness accounts of execution-style murder add weight to this. The killer, after felling Hani with two shots, walked over and fired two more shots into his head at point-blank range. After the killing, Walus casually walked back to his car and drove off.

It has also emerged that Walus had police licences to carry four guns -- three conventional hand guns and a 9 mm machine pistol rarely licensed for private use.

The murder weapon was an unlicensed military issue gun, part of an arms cache stolen from the South African Air Force headquarters in 1990 by the AWB. The robbery is widely acknowledged to have been staged with security force collusion. At the time, Hani accused the security forces of shifting the weapons for use in future covert operations.

The ANC and SACP criticised police statements that Walus acted alone as premature. Joe Slovo, SACP chairperson, told a news conference on April 10 that "the loss of Chris Hani ... comes at a time when there is a prospect of some kind of major breakthrough in the negotiating process and this is clearly designed to spike the whole process".

The ANC also criticised the de Klerk government for refusing to provide security for Chris Hani and other senior ANC and Communist Party leaders.

The murder coincides with an upsurge in attacks on white civilians -- blamed on the Pan Africanist Congress' armed wing but suspected by many to be the work of elements of the security forces -- calculated to provoke racial clashes. It also came as series of documents surfaced which implicated several senior serving military and government officials in murder plots and covert dirty tricks campaigns against the liberation movement.

An obvious motive for Hani's murder was to drive a wedge between the radical "young lions" in the townships and the ANC by depriving it of the leader they respect and identify with most. The plotters may have hoped that the ANC would lose control of its young supporters blinded by rage caused by the killing.

This was the immediate theme of comments by government ministers and the South African press, becoming almost the sole focus of the world's media coverage of the crime. Little was said of de Klerk's glaring inability, or unwillingness, to control and discipline forces within his own army, police and intelligence services seeking to foment bloodshed, chaos and anarchy to derail progress towards democracy.

The ANC leadership moved quickly to direct the anger and frustration of South Africans to constructive ends. Nelson Mandela in an April 10 television address described the murder as a crime against all the people of South Africa: "A man of passion, of unsurpassed courage has been cut down in the prime of his life. Chris Hani is known to all of us, loved by millions, hated only by those who fear the truth ...

"Chris Hani knew from personal experience the pain of deprivation and social inequality. An erudite scholar who could have chosen a less arduous path, he nonetheless selflessly chose the often thankless task of being a freedom fighter. He shared the trials and tribulations of three decades of exile. During that time he served the cause of the liberation movement with distinction, earning the respect and love of millions in our country. His death demands that we pursue that cause with even greater determination."

Mandela said South Africa was a nation "deeply wounded by callous, uncaring men who plot such heinous crimes with impunity ... Chris Hani championed the cause of peace, trudging to every corner of South Africa calling for a spirit of tolerance among all our people. We are a nation in mourning. Our pain and anger is real. Yet we must not permit ourselves to be provoked by those who seek to deny us the very freedom Chris Hani gave his life for."

A meeting of the tripartite alliance -- the ANC, SACP and Congress of South African Trade Unions -- rejected any suggestion that the negotiations process be called off as playing into the hands of those who killed Hani. Nelson Mandela and Joe Slovo demanded that the government set the date for the election of the constituent assembly.

In a statement issued on April 12, the alliance reminded the people that Chris Hani "fought all his life for the liberation of our people and in the end he died in the struggle for peace. A peace that does not compromise the liberation of our people but a peace that is firmly founded on a non-racial democracy, and economic and social justice."

The alliance warned that any "further delay of the elections for a democratic non-racial South Africa and the implementation of the Transitional Executive Council [the all-party interim government to administer the country prior to constituent assembly elections] will unleash an unprecedented wave of anger from our people."

Announcing the date of Hani's funeral, Nelson Mandela on April 13 told millions of television viewers: "Our shared grief and legitimate anger will find expression in nationwide commemorations that coincide with the funeral service ...

"Now is the time for all South Africans to stand together against those who wish to destroy what Chris Hani gave his life for: the freedom of all of us. Now is the time for our white compatriots, from whom messages of condolence continue to pour in, to reach out with an understanding of the grievous loss to our nation, to join in the memorial services and the funeral commemorations ...

"Our decisions and actions will determine whether we use our pain, our grief and our outrage to move forward to what is the only lasting solution for our country -- an elected government of the people, by the people and for the people. We must not let the men who worship war, and who lust after blood, precipitate actions that will plunge our country into another Angola."

Mandela concluded with a special message to South Africa's young lions: "You have lost a great hero. You have repeatedly shown that your love of freedom is greater than that most precious gift, life itself. But you are the leaders of tomorrow. Your country, your people, your organisation need you to act with wisdom. A particular responsibility rests on your shoulders. We pay tribute to all our people for the courage and restraint they have shown in the face of such extreme provocation. We are sure this same indomitable spirit will carry us through the difficult days ahead. Chris Hani has made the supreme sacrifice. The greatest tribute we can pay to his life's work is to ensure we win that freedom for all our people."

The ANC announced on April 16 a rolling campaign of mass action, beginning the day after Hani's funeral, aimed at forcing the government to name an election date and install the Transitional Executive Council by June 1.

Chris Hani's body will lie in state in a stadium in Soweto on April 18 ege moves 47 kilometres across Johannesburg to Boksburg, the formerly all-white suburb near where he lived and died, to be laid to rest on April 19 in the biggest funeral South Africa has ever seen.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.