Chris Hani’s assassination had wider context and consequences

Jeremy Cronin says that Janusz Walus was undoubtedly a small player in a bigger story

Chris Hani’s assassination had wider context and consequences

14 April 2019

No parole for unrepentant murderer, together with Clive Derby-Lewis, Walus failed to provide believable explanations for any of the associations in their network.

Cde Jeremy Cronin

Twenty-six years ago, on the morning of 10 April 1993, Chris Hani was gunned down in the drive-way of his Dawn Park home by Janusz Walus. The assassin was caught shortly afterwards thanks to an alert white neighbour, Retha Harmse. Walus was sentenced to death later in 1993 along with Clive Derby-Lewis. Fortunately for them, with the advent of democracy, for which Hani and many others had given their lives, the death penalties were commuted to life sentences.

In the past few years, public discussion in the media has tended to focus, not on the wider context and consequences of the assassination – but whether those sentenced for this crime should be released on parole. Derby-Lewis was paroled in 2015 with a terminal illness. But there are many important reasons why Walus should not receive parole.

At their Truth and Reconciliation Commission amnesty hearings, Walus and Derby-Lewis casually conceded the killing of Hani was designed to provoke a racial civil war scuppering the negotiations. This might seem fanciful now, but in 1993 racial animosity was so stark that Retha Harmse and her family had to permanently leave the white conservative-dominated Dawn Park to an address unknown.

A racial civil war was averted, thanks in large measure to the mature collective leadership of the ANC-alliance under Mandela, and the peace message Hani had been spreading in his last years. No wonder any thought of parole for Walus evokes deep passions among millions of South Africans for whom Hani was (and still is) a hero.

Then there’s the question of non-disclosure. There is a mass of circumstantial evidence pointing to a wider local conspiracy. Gaye Derby-Lewis, who was too easily acquitted at the trial in 1993, supplied the hit-list to Walus, with detailed addresses of targets that included Mandela and Joe Slovo. There is the 9mm gun that killed Hani. It was part of a well-organised “heist” from a South African Air Force armoury in 1991 by the right-wing Orde Boerevolk. Then there was Arthur Kemp who was almost certainly an apartheid security branch operative.

Working as a journalist on The Citizen, it was he who provided the hit-list with addresses to Gaye Derby-Lewis. How was Kemp able to secure detailed descriptions of the security features around the homes of ANC and SACP leaders without the active assistance of an effective intelligence capacity? Kemp was arrested soon after the assassination, but then inexplicably released and he disappeared out of the country. He later resurfaced in the UK as a key ideologue in the neo-fascist National Front but was suspected there of working for British intelligence. 

Walus and Clive Derby-Lewis failed to provide believable explanations for any of these associations. The TRC accordingly outright refused amnesty.

In recent years more troubling hints of a wider net with international links way beyond Walus and the Derby-Lewis’s pay-grade have emerged. The UN is currently investigating the 1961 plane crash in which its secretary-general Dag Hammarskjold was killed. Documents recovered in South Africa, but since missing, implicate the UK and US intelligence networks, a Katanga-based Anglo American mining house that supplied explosives, and a shadowy outfit, the South African Institute of Maritime Research (SAIMR), in Hammarskjold’s murder. The same batch of documents also indicated Walus’s late 1980s connections to SAIMR.

Hani’s murder needs to be understood in a much wider context. Consider 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, reputedly by an ex-British SAS 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.

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. Would South Africa be wrestling with the current levels of endemic, state-capture corruption if Hani had survived? I believe not.

You can choose to believe Hani’s murder was just the work of a lone Polish immigrant and a bumbling, dad’s army Derby-Lewis. But you don’t have to be a conspiracy enthusiast to think otherwise.

Walus was undoubtedly a small player in a bigger story. But he is one of the few willing participants in this pattern of high-profile killings ever to be actually captured and sentenced in a court of law. We, the survivors, owe it to millions across our continent to remember all of this when debating parole for Walus.

Jeremy Cronin is a long standing member of the SACP Central Committee and its Political Bureau.

This bulletin was first carried by the Sunday Independent, 14 April 2019, and then reissued by the SACP in its journal Umsebenzi Online.