JOHANNESBURG (AFP) – South Africans on Wednesday paid moving tributes to slain anti-apartheid activist Chris Hani, whose death at the hands of a right-wing gunman 20 years ago today plunged the country into crisis.
Hani, former leader of the South African Communist Party, was assassinated by Polish immigrant Janusz Walus outside his house in Boksburg on the outskirts of Johannesburg on April 10, 1993.
His death prompted riots and was a formative experience for the nation, which was fast approaching democracy but still feared the end of apartheid would prompt civil war.
A fierce opponent of the apartheid government, Hani’s death prompted Nelson Mandela, although not yet president, to appeal for calm.
“Tonight I am reaching out to every single South African, black and white, from the very depths of my being,” he said appearing in a televised address.
“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.”
Twenty years on, with South Africa free but still riven with deep inequalities and inter-race tensions, political leaders and Hani’s friends and family called for the realisation of his dream.
“We take this moment of remembrance as a moment to rededicate ourselves… complete the task of realising the fullness of our liberation,” ANC spokesman Keith Khoza said in a statement.
Zwelinzima Vavi, head of the main trade union Cosatu, described Hani “as a unique example of a bold revolutionary leader, who embodied the great traditions of our liberation.”
“Hani would surely be angry that we have moved so slowly to eradicate our racially skewed levels of inequality.”
Vavi said had Hani still been alive, he would be “appalled by the scale of greed and crass materialism” of a new clique of ruling party politicians “who see access to political office as a ladder to personal wealth.”
Hani was also chief of staff of the ANC’s armed wing Umkhonto we Sizwe, founded by Mandela.
The largest opposition party, the Democratic Alliance said added its voice to the chorus of tributes.
Hani’s death “marked a particularly turbulent moment in our history – a moment where South Africans had to decide between reconciliation and confrontation,” the DA said in a statement.
The country’s military veterans said “the pain and damage to the nation caused by his brutal assassination 20 years ago is being felt to this day.”