Chris Hani, the leader of the South African Communist Party was assassinated for his unwavering commitment to the total liberation of workers from the chains of capitalist exploitation on 10 April 1993. Hani who was also the chief of staff of uMkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC), was shot dead by the Polish far-right anti-communist immigrant named Janusz Waluś.
“Nithi sixole kanjani amabhunu abulale uChris Hani?
Ayangcangazela amabhunu abulale uChris Hani”
[How do you expect us to be at peace when the Boers have killed Chris Hani?
The Boers who killed Chris Hani are trembling.]
The revolutionary cry in this popular struggle song is as clear now, as it was then: The white supremacist capitalist system cannot expect the historically oppressed workers and poor to be at peace when they continue assaulting the revolutionary Socialist project, and eliminating those principled leaders who guide that struggle. Comrade Hani was brutally murdered because he advocated for this freedom through a revolutionary construction of a worker-led Socialist society.
Hani’s assassination was an outright brutal attack on the working class formations, that challenged the maintenance of a capitalist system, during the negotiated settlement of the early 1990s in South Africa. Hani gave generations of working class fighters the inspiration and fortitude to create revolutionary practices and formations that would make the ruling oppressors tremble.
Born in rural Cofimbva in the former Transkei, Hani, who was born Martin Thembisile, grew up in the similar oppressive and impoverished conditions as most working class African people across the colonised continent. The capitalist system forced his father, Gilbert, to leave the impoverished family home and join the reserves of black migrant workers who had to sell their labour cheaply in the urban centers. His mother Mary, like most African mothers then and now, had to hold the home together by supplementing the household income through small subsistence farming.
During his high school years in his mid-teens, the Apartheid regime introduced Bantu Education. It was at this point that Hani began to develop his political consciousness of the white supremacist and capitalist Apartheid system. Understanding that Bantu Education was designed to indoctrinate black students to accept white supremacy and black exploitation, this set in motion his lifelong involvement in revolutionary struggle.
At the University of Fort Hare, Hani’s commitment to revolutionary thought was radically deepened by his exposure to the work of German revolutionary Karl Marx:
“I got exposed to Marxist ideas and the scope and nature of the racist capitalist system. My conversion to Marxism deepened my non-racial perspective.” (Biographical note SACP 1991Hani, February 1991)
Using the Marxist method of historical materialist inquiry enabled him to unveil the correlation of forces that revealed the racist and class-based oppression and exploitation of the capitalist system as the fundamental antagonisms of our time. Hani worked tirelessly to reveal the unequal, exploitative economic conditions that gave way to the ruthless and oppressive political powers in order to fundamentally change the way society was.
Whilst Hani had been a member of the African National Congress Youth League form 1957, his Marxist training enabled him to reconsider the limits of a nationalist liberation project:
“In 1961, I joined the underground South African Communist Party as I realised that national liberation, though essential, would not bring about total economic liberation. My decision to join the Party was influenced by such greats of our struggle like Govan Mbeki, Braam Fischer, JB Marks, Moses Kotane, Ray Simons, etc”. (Hani, February 1991)
Inspired by theses communist leaders, Hani became a card-carrying communist and began struggling for a classless society free from exploitation and all forms of oppression. Whilst he could have found opportunities to study abroad at the end of his university studies, by 1962, Hani felt it his duty to join the revolutionary armed struggles as a key leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK). Hani realised that there was a real necessity to take up arms in order to challenge the Apartheid state’s supremacy that was maintained by its monopoly on armed force.
As an internationalist who understood that the global nature of capitalism necessarily binds us in solidarity and struggle with all oppressed nations, Hani joined multiple military training and operations including in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, and briefly in South Africa and Lesotho.
Despite understanding the fundamentals of armed revolutionary struggle and leading it, he never undermined the multiple spheres in which struggle must be waged:
The armed struggle, which we never regarded as exclusive, as we combined it with other forms of struggle, has brought about the present crisis of apartheid. (Hani, February 1991)
Hani was a beacon of hope for oppressed peoples, not only in South Africa but the African continent, and indeed the whole world. He stood out as a true revolutionary of the working class and the poor at a time when the leadership in the mass democratic movement had abandoned the vision for a just, classless, socialist society. It was this belief which forced him, at the risk of attracting the ultimate punishment for “treason”, to pen, with others, the most open criticism of the ANC in exile.
It is an open secret that Hani did not support the sellout negotiated settlement. He was ready to fight it out to the bitter end, in order to win genuine freedom. It was, in fact, this conviction, which made his revolutionary association with Comrade Winnie Madikizela-Mandela such a fearful and lethal combination for the Apartheid regime, and all those right-wingers in the ANC who were leading the negotiations. Comrade Winnie like Hani, wanted a fight to the finish. His murder was tantamount to the assassination of Socialist values and principles and a just and revolutionary Socialist transition from the Apartheid system in South Africa.
The work of Chris Hani and the message of the struggle song we sing in his remembrance calls into being the cry of our revolutionary ancestors, Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels when they said:
“The Communists disdain to conceal their views and aims. They openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions. Let the ruling classes tremble at a Communist Revolution. The proletarians have nothing to lose but their chains. They have a world to win. Working Men of All Countries, Unite!” (Marx & Engels, 1848)
To honour the legacy of our comrade Chris Hani, our songs must manifest in strike action, energizing our protestations in the thick of struggle amongst a united working class movement. For it is only in united revolutionary action that cuts at the heart of capitalist production, that the ruling classes will tremble, as we create the Socialist Society that comrade Hani died for.
(Irvin Jim is the General Secretary National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa)
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