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Being Chris Hani’s Daughter: After the visit

2017-04-02 07:49

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Being Chris Hani’s Daughter by Lindiwe Hani and Melinda Ferguson

MFBooks Joburg

253 pages


The day after meeting with Clive and Gaye Derby-Lewis, Janusz Walus – the man who pulled the trigger of the gun that killed my father – is granted parole. It’s March 10 2016, the anniversary of my sister Khwezi’s death. Exactly a month to the day of the 23rd anniversary of the day my father was murdered. I hear the news on Radio 702 as I’m driving back from dropping Khaya at school – in 15 days, it appears, my father’s killer will be released from prison. I am still sleep hazed and exhausted by the previous day’s momentous events when my mother’s voice on the radio jerks me alert.

She is furious at Judge Nicolene Janse van Nieuwenhuizen, who has ruled on granting Walus parole.

She is nothing but a racist. To her, black lives don’t matter. She hardly made mention of my husband’s murder in her judgment.

Listening to my mom voice her anger, I am shocked and saddened that she hasn’t called or mentioned this breaking news to me before speaking to the media.

This is typical of my mother. Sometimes it feels like her identity as Chris Hani’s widow precedes the needs of her children. For as long as I can remember, it feels as though her life’s purpose has been to preserve my father’s legacy. For 23 years, I’ve been watching her live in the shroud of her loss; Limpho, the grieving wife of Chris Hani, has been her world, her mission, her identity.

I remember as a child, in the years that followed my father’s death, wanting to scream: “Hey you, look at me! It’s not only you who’s hurting, it’s not only your loss – we have also lost our beloved father.” Growing up, my mother’s stance gave us no space to stand up, to be seen and counted.

That’s how it was until I got clean. These days, I’ve been understanding more and more how hard it must have been for her to keep our broken family together. I have been accepting that she is but human and, despite her sometimes abrupt manner, she has always had her children’s best interests at heart.

In the backed-up traffic, my mother’s anger continues to staccato through the radio static.

Janusz murdered my husband in cold blood … All I want is for Janusz and whoever is supporting him to tell me what happened and tell me the truth.

It’s there and then that I make the decision to find a way to set up a meeting with the man who pulled the trigger. Before he is released from prison. Whether my mother likes it or not.

Mistress of my own destiny

The following day, I decide to make the call. It’s Friday. Ever since I made the first call to Derby-Lewis’ lawyer a few weeks ago, I’ve been experiencing the fruits of taking action. This time, Mel is not with me to support or egg me on. Today, I am the mistress of my own destiny. I have the courage of a lion.

I punch in the number of Advocate Roelof du Plessis, who helped me connect with the Derby-Lewises. He tells me to jot down a number and advises me to speak to Walus’ lawyer, Julian Knight. Without hesitating, I make the next call.

Julian Knight answers almost immediately; he doesn’t think there’ll be any problem with Walus agreeing to meet with me. He thinks, however, that the prison will require a social worker present. I immediately go on the defence. “I’m 35 years old, a grown-up; I don’t need anyone monitoring or babysitting me. I need to do this alone. I don’t want any third party facilitating this.”

Knight sounds doubtful that the authorities will agree; they are strict and the procedures will in all likelihood need to be followed if I’m to be granted access.

He promises to get back to me.

As the call ends, another comes through. My mother. My personal bloodhound. I feel the panic rising. I scratch the crease of my inner arm where my eczema resides.

Oh my fuck, what does she want? Does she know about my meeting with Derby-Lewis? Has she sensed by some weird telepathy that I am up to something? She’s always had this uncanny sixth sense when I’m doing something she disapproves of. It’s been like this for years.

The phone rings mercilessly. Accusingly. If I don’t answer now, she’ll keep on calling. Heart pounding, I pick up.

Almost immediately, like a confessor in Guantanamo, I blurt it out as soon as she greets me.

“Mama, I’ve decided I need to speak to Walus. I’ve already spoken to his lawyer. He is busy helping me to set up the meeting.”

There. It’s out. I wait for the bomb to explode.

First there is silence, that long icy silence that Mama is so good at, then all hell breaks loose. Her words are her weapons. They once had the power to machine gun me down. Not so much any more.

The tirade ends with her slamming the phone down on me.

I am breathless. Shaking. Scratch, scratch, scratch. My arm bursts into a frenzy of itches.

The SMS alert clangs in. I can barely force myself to look at my phone’s inbox full of my mother’s vitriol and self-pity.

I feel small. Afraid. I am that numb child again.

“Put those bloody boundaries up,” I hiss to myself. I try to call Mel. Her phone goes to voicemail. It’s only the Serenity Prayer that’s going to get me through this.


I wake up on Saturday morning feeling like I have a hangover. I have the dull thud of a headache, a scratch at the back of my throat. I’m too exhausted to do Bootcamp.

For a moment, there’s a flash of perspective. Despite feeling like crap, I realise how grateful I am for being clean and sober through all this. Imagine how unmanageable it would be if I was boozing or using. But, I soberly remind myself, all of this wouldn’t actually be happening if I were still in active addiction. These are the fruits of my recovery: action and purpose. I reach out to Mel when her phone’s back on. She suggests I take the day off, re-energise, take time out to recover from the past few days of madness.

By the afternoon, I’m feeling a whole lot better – until a call from an unknown number catches me off-guard. It’s a journo from South Africa’s biggest Sunday newspaper, the Sunday Times. It’s clear the story of me wanting to meet with Walus has been leaked. The journalist informs me that an “impeccable source” has alerted the newspaper that I have contacted Knight to set up a meeting with my father’s killer.

I dissolve into a ball of familiar terror; my mother’s threats and manipulations pound back at me – oh my God, what have I done? All I manage to say is “no comment” as I drop the call.

I call Mel. I can hear she’s trying to stay calm, but is as thrown as I am. We’re confounded as to who has alerted the media: the lawyer? The prison officials? Someone on our side? It’s weird how this whole thing has suddenly taken on a sinister feeling of “sides”.

Mel reassures me that I have done nothing wrong; that it’s my right to seek answers, to find the truth, to get some closure. I try to take her words to heart, but the terror has gripped me. I am 35 years old, a grown woman. I have a right to make my own choices, but, once again, I feel like I’m drowning in my mother’s fury. All I want to do is sleep. My escape tactic. Oh God, I feel so tired.

Read more on:    chris hani  |  book review


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