Assassination tours

2012-05-23 10:51
The recent defacing of a Brett Murray painting, entitled ‘Spear of the Nation’ could be akin to an assassination, figuratively speaking of course.  It’s not far-fetched to say that thanks to our historical background, South Africans have a morbid fascination with race and politics.

We thought we’d sober things up a bit with a look at assassinations of our past which includes a member of the original spear of the nation - and a few of the more notable ones across the globe. Pay these sites a visit if and when you get a chance for some macabre reflection...

Bayete Inkosi

The 1800s were a dark place the world over, especially when it came to assassinations. But way before Abrahams Lincoln’s untimely demise in 1865, there was a certain Zulu King ruling a kingdom on the Mother Continent much to the envy of his brothers Dingane and Umthlangana. In 1828 King Shaka Zulu was killed in coup near his hometown of KwaDukuza. The town was burnt to the ground during the royal take over but in 1873, European settlers built on the site and named it Stanger after William Stanger, the Surveyor-General of Natal. Today the town is once again known as KwaDukuza and it is home to a small museum adjoining the site of King Shaka's grave. The mahogany tree where King Shaka held meetings still stands in front of the municipal offices. The Shaka Day festival is celebrated annually on 24 September in KwaDukuza, involving more than 10 000 Zulus and the event is attended by high-level dignitaries to mark the significance of the Zulu nation.

Politics is more than black and white

Known as the Architect of Apartheid Hendrik Verwoerd, Prime Minister of South Africa from 1958 until 1966, survived an initial gunshot assassination attempt in 1960 before being fatally stabbed in parliament in Cape Town by Dimitri Tsafendas. He was declared dead upon arrival at Groote Schuur Hospital. If you’d like to get a closer look at the internal workings of government, arrange a tour by emailing tours@parliament.gov.za or check out the Apartheid Museum to trace the rise and fall of apartheid.

Original Spear of the Nation

Chris Hani was a former leader of the South African Communist Party and chief of staff of Umkhonto we Sizwe (Spear of the Nation), the armed wing of the African National Congress. His fierce opposition of the Apartheid government led to him being assassinated outside his home in Dawn Park in Boksburg, Gauteng. Hani was shot in the head by a Polish far-right immigrant named Janusz Walus. He was arrested soon afterwards after Hani's death thanks to a neighbour, a white woman, who had called the police. The assassination was seen as a turning point in the fight against apartheid and the negotiations that were taking place to end white supremacy. Nelson Mandela appealed for calm in a speech described as ‘presidential’ even though he wasn’t yet president. Here is a Wikipedia excerpt of the speech…

“Tonight I am reaching out to every single South African, black and white, from the very depths of my being. A white man, full of prejudice and hate, came to our country and committed a deed so foul that our whole nation now teeters on the brink of disaster. A white woman, of Afrikaner origin, risked her life so that we may know, and bring to justice, this assassin. The cold-blooded murder of Chris Hani has sent shock waves throughout the country and the world. ... Now is the time for all South Africans to stand together against those who, from any quarter, wish to destroy what Chris Hani gave his life for – the freedom of all of us.


Visit the Benoni Museum in Ekurhuleni during April for their annual Chris Hani Exhibition celebrating the struggle icon’s life.

Beware the Ides of March

Other assassinations of note include Julius Caesar, the Roman political and military figure of the 1st century BC succumbed to a plot by senators who were unhappy with his instigation of Roman Republic civil war. He was him stabbed a total 23 times if historical reports are to be believed. His death marked the end of the Roman Republic, and the subsequent emergence of the Roman Empire.  

A comedy of errors


Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, was killed due to his support for the freedom of African Americans. He was shot in the head on April 14th 1865 at hands of a Confederate spy known as John Wilkes Booth while attending a comedy production at the Ford’s Theatre

Passive resistance

Probably the world’s most recognized peace martyr, Gandhi was shot and killed on January 30, 1948, while having his nightly public walk on the grounds of the Birla Bhavan (Birla House) in New Delhi .The assassin, Nathuram Godse, was a Hindu radical with links to the extremist Hindu Mahasabha. Locals can visit The Gandhi Memorial, also known as Burning Truth, in the Johannesburg suburb of Fordsburg or even explore Ghandi's home in Durban where he lived for almost 20 years.

I have a dream

Dr Martin Luther King was behind the American Civil Rights Movement aimed at ending the racial discrimination of African Americans. King was fatally shot outside his motel on April 4th 1968, inciting riots in over 60 cities across the USA.  The perpetrator James Earl Ray was later captured in London, extradited to Tennessee and convicted for King’s murder. Ray was a white man who was opposed the African-American Civil Rights Movement.

X marks the spot


Malcolm X is seen as man behind the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 1970s which urged African Americans to radicalize in a similar vein along Steve Biko’s Black Consciousness movement. Previously a member of the Nation of Islam, Malcolm X left the organization to form his own Muslim Mosque, Inc. According to reports the Nation of Islam then gave orders for his assassination. Malcolm X was shot a total of 16 times by three members of the group.

Ask what you can do for your country

John Fitzgerald Kennedy was the 35th President of the United States from 1961 until 1963 in what has been described as one of the most event-filled presidencies of the 20th century. Despite there being hundreds of witnesses to his assassination there is a lot of confusion surrounding Kennedy’s death. Many suspected a conspiracy, with investigations still not entirely conclusive. Lee Harvey Oswald was eventually charged with his murder.

Imagine all the people, living life in peace


John Lennon is best known as one of the founding members of The Beatles. He later went on to become a peace activist with his beloved Yoko Ono.  Lennon was shot four times outside his hotel in New York City on December 8th 1980.The assassin Mark David Chapman dropped his weapon and sat on the street, waiting to be arrested. He was charged with murder and remains in prison to this day. His motivation for the murder remains unclear.

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