Funeral for freedom
The response to the slaying of Chris Hani confirms that the 'peace process'
is about South Africa's new black leaders making their peace with the ruling
white elite, says Charles Longford
After black leader Chris Hani was murdered outside his Boksburg home in
April, a million blacks stayed away from work to attend rallies and protest
marches across South Africa. The government of FW De Klerk and the world's
media issued dire warnings of impending race war. Amid the mounting tension
and sporadic violence, African National Congress (ANC) president Nelson
Mandela appeared on state television again and again to appeal for calm.
Mandela has been interviewed on state television many times. But until Hani's
death, only president De Klerk had been allowed to address the country directly
on the state's religiously guarded airwaves. The fact that Mandela now appeared
on screen in presidential guise, to tell black South Africans to restrain
their anger, illustrated the extent to which the De Klerk regime has cohered
a partnership with the new black leadership - a leadership increasingly at
odds with the black masses themselves.
Who fingered Hani?
Chris Hani was a member of the ANC executive, the former head of its armed
wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe, and current chief of the South African Communist
Party. His killing illustrates what the regime's strategy of trying to moderate
the liberation movement is all about. The debate about whether there was
a conspiracy by the white right to kill Hani and other black leaders, misses
the point. A Polish emigré may have fired the gun but it was De Klerk
who fingered Hani as an extremist and who, despite the problems Hani's death
created, stands to gain the most from it.
Hani had been set up as a target by the De Klerk regime long before he was
killed. It did not matter that he was an enthusiastic advocate of the negotiations
strategy who had been in the forefront of selling it to the ANC's more sceptical
supporters. In fact, weeks before his death Hani had been on a tour of the
Border area addressing suspicious audiences about the necessity of supporting
'the mother of all mass struggles' - by voting for the ANC in the forthcoming
Despite his support for the government-sponsored 'peace process', the De
Klerk regime demonised Hani and the South African Communist Party in an
attempt to split the liberation movement and isolate its own most determined
opponents. The government continued to publicise Hani's past links with
the armed struggle and militancy, because he remained what Peter Mokaba,
leader of the ANC's youth league, called 'an umbilical cord' between the
ANC and the masses.
Hani did not oppose the ANC strategy of pursuing negotiations and power-sharing
instead of struggle. But he retained a relationship with the black masses
which made him susceptible to pressure from them for action. This relationship,
rather than any political principle, is what sets a 'radical' apart from
a 'moderate' in the ANC today. De Klerk's strategy of moderating the ANC
has really been about solidifying that distinction, by cultivating those
who are immune to mass pressure and cutting out those, like Hani, who can
still act as 'an umbilical cord'.
The aftermath of Hani's murder revealed that most of the black political
leaders in the new South Africa have long since severed whatever cords once
bound them to the masses. The relationship between the ANC and the mass
movement has undergone a fundamental transformation. Only last June, after
the massacre of black civilians in Boipatong township, the ANC felt under
enough pressure immediately to withdraw from negotiations with the government
and launch a programme of mass action. By contrast, after the killing of
Hani, the only thing the ANC did immediately was to call for more talks
with De Klerk, talks to set a date for the elections for a power-sharing
government of national unity.
The six-week programme of mass action that the ANC announced would follow
Hani's funeral was even more telling. In the past, mass action was presented
as a display of the power of the black majority. This time the ANC admitted
that its primary aim was simply to provide a safety valve which would allow
the masses to let off some steam. As Joe Slovo, former general secretary
of the Communist Party and now one of the chief ANC negotiators put it,
doing nothing would be 'the shortest route to an explosion', while organising
token action could both contain the anger and apply some pressure on the
government to speed up the confirmation of an election date.
South Africa is now entering another phase in the evolution of its new politics.
The ANC has made its peace with the white elite. It has agreed that, after
multi-racial elections to be held sometime in the next year, a national
power-sharing government will run South Africa until 1999. In effect this
concession means the continuation of white minority control, and the postponement
of black majority rule, until the end of the century and probably beyond.
Attacking their own
The ANC is no longer just the target of De Klerk's strategy, but its main
executor. ANC leaders have now joined De Klerk in criminalising militancy
and condemning those who oppose the acceptance of a power-sharing government
in place of the longstanding aspiration for black majority rule.
In the weeks before Chris Hani's death, leading members of the ANC made
forceful speeches about the ANC's role in fostering a climate of violence
in South Africa. It appeared that there had been intense internal discussion
about how far ANC members, often organised within township self-defence
units, were responsible for the recent conflict in the country. It subsequently
emerged that this 'internal' ANC issue had in fact been raised by De Klerk
during talks with Mandela! Mandela's speech at the funeral of executed guerrilla
Solomon Mahlangu showed that he had been listening carefully. Addressing
a crowd of thousands at the newly named Solomon Mahlangu Park, on the edge
of Mamelodi township, Mandela 'lumped ANC killers with all others as "animals"
and pledged to root them out of the ANC' (Weekly Mail, 8-15 April
When anger burst out after Hani's murder, the ANC proved that this was no
idle threat. As De Klerk warned that black 'anarchy' would lead to a racial
bloodbath, the ANC accepted that the challenge was to demonstrate its capacity
to control its own people. What followed illustrated the transformation
of the relationship between the ANC and its mass base of support.
When Mandela repeated his message of restraint at a mass rally in Sebokeng,
it earned him loud boos instead of the usual adulation. The obscure leader
of the Pan Africanist Congress, Clarence Makwethu, whose slogan 'One settler,
one bullet' has won some support among South Africa's township youth, received
the kind of reception which until now had been the exclusive preserve of
Mandela and Hani. Mandela's words, meanwhile, were soon followed by actions.
In Johannesburg, during one march which was allowed to proceed after agreements
between ANC leaders and the police, youths involved in some looting were
handed over to the police by ANC marshals. And in an unprecedented episode,
three suspects in the murder in Sharpeville of a black journalist, Calvin
Thusago, were handed over to the police by Sharpeville ANC and the ANC youth
league after a citizen's arrest.
The ANC collaborated with the police force of the apartheid state in controlling
many of the demonstrations that followed Hani's death. The black leadership
has clearly become more dependent for its survival upon its links with the
South African state than on its relationship with the black masses.
New ANC elite
State repression now appears to have received the stamp of approval from
erstwhile critics of apartheid. It was remarkable that the emergency measures
which De Klerk imposed after Hani's death were hardly commented upon. While
commentators noted that there were victims of police violence, nobody pointed
out that De Klerk had declared more magisterial states of emergency than
were imposed during the height of the uprisings in the 1980s.
It was not Hani's funeral, but that of Oliver Tambo, the ANC's elder statesman
and president during the years of exile and banishment, that best symbolised
how far and fast things have changed in South Africa. The ANC leaders announced
that Tambo had been 'very disturbed by the looting, vandalism and violence'
which had accompanied the Hani funeral, and warned their followers that
'criminal and hooligan elements' would not be allowed to desecrate Tambo's
burial. As it turned out the contrast between the two burials spoke volumes
about the new South Africa. Both funerals were held in Soweto's sports stadium.
But while Hani's was marked by tens of thousands of mourners who queued
for hours to get near the stadium, Tambo's was marked by their absence,
and the presence of foreign dignitaries and diplomats.
Events surrounding the Hani and Tambo funerals demonstrated the accelerating
transformation of the ANC into a new political elite, immune to mass pressure,
prepared to take its lead from De Klerk, and more at home in the television
studio than the township.
Just months after black marchers were massacred at Bisho, the ANC
is cooperating with the South African security forces
Reproduced from Living Marxism issue 56, June 1993