A revolutionay who was against war

A revolutionary, charismatic leader who was popular without being populist.

A revolutionary, charismatic leader who was popular without being populist.

This is how many who knew the late Chris Thembisile Hani have described him.

On April 10 1993, as he returned home to the suburb of Dawn Park, in Boksburg on the East Rand, Hani was assassinated by Januzs Walus, a Polish refugee who had close links with the ultra-rightwing Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB).

Also implicated in the assassination was Conservative Party MP Clive Derby-Lewis.

Hani's death came at a critical time for South Africa.

His assassination helped persuade the bickering negotiators of the Multi-Party Negotiating Forum to finally set a date for South Africa's first democratic election.

Walus and Derby-Lewis were both sentenced to death. However, their sentences were commuted to life imprisonment after the new democratic government to which they were opposed had abolished the death penalty.

In their obituary for Hani, his two relatives, Nthoana and Mbulelo Mzamane, described him as "neither a hawk nor a dove, but a person who dealt with difficult tensions in a creative way".

They also described Hani as "remarkably bright and brave; relentless in his fight for justice; unsparing in his criticism of those, even within his own party, who had become a threat to peace".

The two authors went on to describe how three weeks before his death, on his last trip through the rugged Transkei countryside where he grew up, Hani had restated his commitment to delivering his people from apartheid colonialism.

Hani was quoted as having said: "I've never wanted to spare myself for this struggle. What right do I have to hold back, to rest, to preserve my health, to have time with my family, when there are other people who are no longer alive - when they have sacrificed what is precious, namely life itself?"

If anything, that is the pinnacle of selflessness.

Upon his return to South Africa after spending many years in exile, Hani went on a campaign of rebuilding the South African Communist Party.

He campaigned for the SACP in townships and rural areas seeking to redefine its place as a national political party.

The party was soon doing well, in fact even better than the ANC, which was led by moderateslike former president Nelson Mandela.

Through his popularity, Hani was the only political leader who seemed to have influence over the radical township self-defence units that were opposed to a negotiated settlement.

A week before his assassination he had been promoting the creation of a "peace corps" among youth, to curb internecine warfare in the country.

He died only four days after his dramatic appeal for peace.

"I don't accept people calling for war," he told thousands of ANC supporters in the East Rand, "because I feel we have achieved something in this country, where those who oppressed us in the past are actually talking to us and showing readiness to negotiate for democratic elections".

Yesterday, the SACP commemorated the 15th anniversary of Hani's death. As part of this commemoration the ANC and the SACP held a wreath-laying ceremony at South Park Cemetery in Boksburg, where Hani was buried.

Of importance is that yesterday's event came at a time when two major political forces in South Africa are experiencing a change of leadership.

Both the ANC and ANC Youth League are under new leadership. Like any other, the change has brought with it massive challenges for the two organisations.

Already there are ructions around the kind of leadership that has now taken the reins.

What the new leadership of both parties could learn from Hani is the leadership qualities he had.

They can learn from him the humility and selflessness he possessed as a leader in the liberation movement.

For Hani, the position of leadership was a platform to articulate the dreams and hopes of his people - who for centuries had suffered under the yoke of apartheid colonialism.

Like Hani, the new leaders must not become careerists and powermongers who do not brook criticism. They must understand that their election into their new positions is not a licence to self-enrichment and demolition of their political opponents.

This is the challenge the commemoration of Hani has put to them. The question is whether they will rise to the occasion.