Annually April in the City of Ekurhuleni marks a period in which the life and legacy of one of the greatest leaders, freedom fighters and political activist of his time, Martin Thembisile ‘Chris’ Hani, is commemorated with the hope of inspiring the current generation to aspire to the values for which he stood and fought for. The highlight of the activities is always on April 10 the day in which Hani was assassinated.
For me the 10th of April will always mark a turning point in my own orientation about the reality from which South Africa was emerging and the resolve of those upon whose shoulders the burden to build a better society lay.
The memory of the fateful day in 1993 remains etched in my mind. The mood that hovered over my village back in Hammanskraal, North of Pretoria is as vivid as you reading this column now.
There was wailing across the dusty streets of Lephengville. Some community members, young and old, wondered about aimlessly. Some elderly women who appeared to have stopped whatever they were busy with to be in the moment looked lost with hands hung on their heads. I knew whatever had happened involved a prominent figure. For, while at the village it is standard practice to communally mourn the passing on of another, seldom do we burst with the kind of lament that characterized April 10, 1993.
There was a sense of betrayal in the air. An assassin’s (Polish far-right immigrant named Janusz Walus) bullet had robbed a country on the brink of a democratic breakthrough of one of the celebrated sons of the soil whose star was destined to shine even brighter given the dawn of a new dispensation.
At 11 years I was too young to comprehend the point made by famous English poet, satirist lawyer and priest John Donne in one of his famous poems ‘ No man is an Ireland,’ when he asserts that ‘any man’s death diminishes me’ (especially if that man is someone like Chris Hani).
Over the years, more so at this time of the year listening to people that were privileged enough to have interacted with Chris Hani in various capacities I have come to appreciate the depth of Donne’s words.
Hani is always remembered among others for his determination to fight for the plight of the poor, homeless and vulnerable South Africans through his ‘Triple H’ campaign which was focusing on the eradication of Hunger, promoting good Health and access to Housing for all.
Dr Pallo Jordan former minister of arts and culture at the inaugural Chris Hani lecture in 2003 described the struggle icon as someone who was “irreproachable”. Buti Manamela the national secretary of the Young Communist League and recently called him a “giant soul” whom he believes would have been the next president after Mandela. Cosatu secretary general Zwelinzima Vavi at a memorial lecture he delivered in Queenstown in 2010 paid tribute to Hani as a selfless leader who did not find “the perks of a new government” appealing, instead reasoning that “… the real problems of the country are not whether one is in cabinet,” but rather what we do to ensure that South Africa is indeed a prosperous place to live in for all its citizens.
The more I reflect on Donne’s words the more I am, however, persuaded that it is rather the things that we do in the memory of the departed that determines whether their passing on diminishes or enriches us.
Perhaps as we commemorate the life and times of those that have touched our lives in one way or another we need to take stock of how we embody in a practical sense the values for which they lived.