Book review – The man who killed Hani

2013-07-14 10:00

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Michal Zichlarz left Poland to visit SA in 2010 to write a book about Janusz Walus, the Polish immigrant who’d taken it on himself to kill Chris Hani 20 years ago. That book, Killing Hani, has now been published in his home nation

The first thing that struck me while going through the Janusz Walus case was how different he was in South Africa from the man he had been in Poland.

Walus was born in Zakopane, in the Polish mountains, in 1953. He later moved with his family to Radom in central Poland.

Although his city was actively involved in the political struggle against the communist regime, he didn’t play any part in it.

In June 1976, when the youth riots started in Soweto, Radom had its own revolt. About 20?000 people demonstrated on the streets against increases in consumer prices.

The mob burnt down the communist party’s headquarters. In the fight with the communist police forces, the Zomo, a few people were killed and hundreds more injured. As a consequence, the first independent movement for the protection of workers’ rights was created in Poland.

Walus witnessed the process.

“You should understand life in the system,” he told me during an interview in June 2010 in Pretoria Central Prison.

“My father ran a glass factory. Back then, the private sector was suppressed by government. We couldn’t get involved in any struggle, although we sympathised with the opposition.”

He emigrated to South Africa before martial law was declared in Poland in December 1981. He met Johan Fourie, a national intelligence agent, and befriended politicians Clive Derby-Lewis and Eugène Terre’Blanche.

And yet, Walus could have gone to another nation. From the Polish Institute of National Remembrance, I received his files, collected by the Polish secret service in the early 1980s.

In it, there is the mention of Tunisia. Witold Walus, Janusz’s older brother and a successful businessman in South Africa, confirmed that Tunisia was a nation his brother could have easily chosen. But when he wanted to emigrate to north Africa, the local authorities refused him a passport.

After almost a year, he was granted one and decided on South Africa.

Walus told me: “When I came to South Africa, I didn’t know much about the country. I knew a little from the letters of my brother, who had already been there. Even the trip was a great adventure to me as Poland back then was in a deep crisis.

“And South Africa back then? It’s a pity you couldn’t see it. Apartheid? Racism? Just propaganda that was even stronger in western Europe than in the communist countries, which had their own apartheid.”

Walus denies his killing of Hani was a product of racism: “I believe racism is a kind of paranoia and a political tool.

“The Oxford dictionary had a different definition for racism in the 1980s than it did in the 1990s. This term has changed its meaning. If you want to talk about it, you should first give me a definition of racism. But we can’t talk about it, can we? We live in the world of political correctness.”

In the 1980s, Walus was visited twice by his wife and his daughter, Ewa (35). She told me: “My mum couldn’t consider staying in South Africa for good. She only liked Cape Town.

“The second time I went there, in 1987 or 1988, I had a lot of questions. For example, why were the shops separated? Some shelves were for white people and some for black people. My mum explained this was the way the country was organised. Dad said that if it would be different, the country would fall down politically and economically.”

Walus was in Poland for the last time in September 1992.

“I was begging him to stay in Radom for my birthday, but my mum had already given up,” said Ewa. “He said he had no time and had to go back to South Africa as soon as possible. I was so disappointed.”

On April 10 1993, she was at home watching TV. “I was a bit tired and was watching a movie. My mum came to watch the news. The first thing on the news was that a Polish immigrant in South Africa had assassinated a well-known politician.

“They didn’t say the name. I remember my mum said: ‘I’ll see if it’s your dad.’ The next day we knew for sure.”

Ewa said: “I just cannot understand my father’s decision.”

Walus stressed that he worked alone in killing Hani. “I had instructions from Clive and that was it. Imagine that?.?.?.?20 years passed, Scotland Yard and the German police worked on the case and nothing was revealed.

“There was nobody else and there is no secret story behind it. I am fed up with the insinuations that some secret forces were involved.”

As for Eugene Riley, the Civil Cooperation Bureau agent who was killed in suspicious circumstances in 1994 after probing the Hani assassination, Walus maintained: “I don’t know Riley. It was a time of complete chaos in the secret service.” Riley had reportedly discovered that Hani’s assassination was part of a bigger plot.

As for Poland, Walus is today a hero for some fringe far-right political groups. They have a “Send an Easter postcard to Walus” campaign every year.

Most don’t know all the details of his case. To them, he is associated with the fight against communism and Hani is seen as someone trained by people from the KGB (security agency for the former Soviet Union) and the Stasi (security agency for the former East Germany).

One artist, Olaf Jasinski, even recorded a song for Walus, with the title: Hold On Brother.

On April 10 this year, in some Polish cities – Poznan, Gdansk, Lodz and Stalowa Wola – they waved banners saying: “Freedom for Janusz Walus”, “Janusz Walus, political prisoner”. This was barely noticed by the mainstream media, as April 10 is also the day, three years ago, when the plane carrying president Lech Kaczynski and more than 90 others crashed in Russia.

When I sent Walus one of the first copies of my book, he hated the cover. “It’s such a shame my face had to be shown in such colours. I don’t want to be connected to the ANC.”

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