My communist dad

2013-04-07 10:00

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On the 20th anniversary of the charismatic and visionary leader Chris Hani’s death, Vanessa Hani talks of the brave soldier and down-to-earth father she knew.

After 20 years, in my correspondence, I could finally say: “The late Chris Thembisile Hani.”

Dad was a people’s man.

He was down to earth.

He was a compassionate leader who was forever concerned about the welfare and wellbeing of his comrades.

One of the attributes that endeared him to hundreds of Umkhonto weSizwe (MK) cadres in the different camps in Angola and, later, in Tanzania and Uganda, was that he knew each and every one of them by name.

The same with members of exiled communities in various ANC settlements.

He had an indelible memory and could easily recall historical events that many people struggled to remember.

This made him a useful resource when it came to history.

As a communist, Chris was an internationalist.

He believed that the gains or setbacks of any revolution, anywhere in the world, could not be viewed in isolation from those of the South African revolution.

He saw the success of the world’s revolutionary movements as his direct responsibility.

As a freedom fighter, in combat dad was imbued with remarkable bravery.

He had nerves of steel and always displayed self-control as well

as sharpness and clarity of mind in times of adversity. He possessed what some described as “revolutionary stamina”.

He was the kind of soldier who never hesitated to put his own life on the line to protect the lives of his fellow fighters.

Little wonder, therefore, that some of his comrades-in-arms referred to him as “our own Matrosov” – a comparison to a Red Army member of the Soviet Union (today’s Russia), named Alexander Matrosov, who blocked an enemy (German) machine gun with his own chest to save the lives of his comrades and enable his army to storm enemy positions.

Dad’s astonishing bravery came to light at a tender age when he was exposed to a baptism of fire during the Wankie and Sipolilo military operations of 1967/68.

In these operations, the first MK detachment ever to engage in combat action, the Luthuli Detachment, of which my dad was a member, engaged the combined Rhodesian (now Zimbabwean) and apartheid security forces in fierce battles on Zimbabwean soil.

His bravery again proved indispensable when the very existence of the ANC and MK was threatened in 1983.

This was at a time when the apartheid agents, who had infiltrated MK, rose against the leadership in an attempt to reverse the gains of the revolution through a mutiny.

It was Chris who was sent to the camps in Angola to successfully suppress the mutiny, restore order and put the revolution back on course.

As the Hani family, we never had quality time with him, but, in the short moments we shared, he was a straight-to-the-point person.

My dad called a spade a spade. I remember, at the time, I wanted to work for Matla Trust in Shell House (later renamed Chief Albert Luthuli House), just after I completed my matric. He refused and said: “Go to school. Politics is a dirty game.”

When I look back now, I do understand what he meant.

As a visionary, Chris had the ability to apply revolutionary theory to predict the future course of events. After the ANC announced a unilateral cessation of hostilities during the Codesa talks, he warned that the ANC should be vigilant, as the enemy had not ceased hostilities.

Their agents were continuing to attack and kill activists even after the so-called Pretoria Minute of August 6 1990.

His fears were tragically confirmed when his life was cut short by an assassin’s bullet just more than two years after he sounded the warning.

His untimely and tragic death denied the people of South Africa the opportunity to benefit from his unique leadership qualities, which would have been invaluable in the building of a new socioeconomic and political dispensation.

This was the dad I knew.

So long, soldier.

Tshonyane, Chungwa, Dikiza, Siwa, Nkomo, Mthi umzimele, Mgagisa.

Zafa insizwa kuyosala izibongo.

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