Why the 30-year-old murder of South African leader Chris Hani is reopening Apartheid-era wounds and challenging the nation’s rule of law

Ben Ebuka January 10, 2023
Chris Hani (L) and Janusz Walus (R)

The political atmosphere in South Africa remains tense following the ruling of the Constitutional Court – the country’s highest court, to release on parole, Janusz Walus, the far-right Polish-born assailant convicted for the murder of Chris Hani.

The murder, which escalated racial confrontations and violent riots in different parts of the country 30 years ago, still evokes political tensions and deep emotions in the country up to this day.

Thirty years ago (1993), Chris Hani, the Communist leader and senior member of the Liberation Party, also regarded as the country’s second most popular politician after Nelson Mandela, died of a close gunshot in the driveway of his garage in Boksburg on April 10, 1993.

Janusz Walus, a Polish immigrant linked to the white Afrikaner far-right, was convicted and sentenced to death on October 1993 for the murder of Chris Hani. However, the death penalty was commuted to life in prison after the abolition of the death penalty in 1994.

It was alleged that Walus had intended to derail a transition from White minority rule to majority rule in South Africa.

The murder occurred during the period of political instability leading up to the country’s transition from an apartheid regime to democracy, which almost led the country into a racial war.

However, new legislation came into effect in 2012, allowing a prisoner committed to a life sentence before 2004 to apply for parole after serving at least 13 years and four months of jail term. Based on this new legislation, Walus, convicted many years before the new legislation, became eligible for parole, having served a jail term of up to 19 years at the time of the 2012 legislation (1993 – 2012).

Unfortunately, his earlier applications were rejected. In 2020 Justice Minister Ronald Lamola denied his parole application. Walus challenged Lamola’s decision at the Pretoria High Court and the Supreme Court of Appeal but was unsuccessful.

The 69-year-old convict moved up to the Constitutional Court, which ruled in his favor on Monday, November 21, 2022.

The unanimous judgment of the justices led by Chief Justice Raymond agreed that the action of the Justice Minister was irrational and ordered the minister to release Walus on parole within ten days.

Death Threat

In another twist, Walus was stabbed inside the prison by another inmate on Tuesday, November 29, 2022, two days before the deadline (December 1, 2022) for his release on parole.

The Department of Correctional Services (DCS) confirmed the attack, adding that Walus is in stable condition and receiving treatment at an undisclosed location.

As more reactions trail the controversial court ruling, Chris Hani’s grave in the municipality of Ekurhuleni, east of Johannesburg, was vandalized days after the court ruling. In a joint statement, ANC, SACP, and COSATU said that the vandalization is a continuance of Chris Hani’s assassination in the grave.

A tripartite alliance formed by the African National Congress (ANC), South Africa Communist Party (SACP), and the Congress of South African Trade Union (COSATU), faulted the decision of the apex court. The alliance has lined up programs of action, including mass protests and legal proceedings to challenge the court judgment.

Limpho Hani, the widow of Chris Hani, has also faulted the ruling as an injustice and truly diabolical.

In compliance with the court ruling, the Ministry of Justice and Correctional Services said that Walus has been released on parole and would remain in South Africa instead of his country, Poland. His parole conditions were communicated to him, which will return him to prison if any of them is violated. However, due to security reasons and in line with the practice of the Correctional Service, his parole conditions remain a secret.

On Friday, SACP and Limpho Hani approached the Constitutional Court to reconsider its earlier decisions, stating that the court failed to analyze the applicant’s submission. However, the apex court dismissed the application on the grounds that the SACP and Hani could not raise a case for the court to reverse its earlier decision.

Not fully satisfied, the SACP and Limpho Hani have taken the case to the African Commission on Human Rights, stating their displeasure with the apex court ruling. The Communist Party is demanding detailed information on what led to the death of Chris Hani and other events before then. They are also moving forward with the 135-day program of mass mobilization planned with the tripartite alliance partners (ANC and COSATU) that will lead to the 30th anniversary of Chris Hani’s death coming up on April 10, 2023.

In another development, observers still wonder how the parole law enacted by the ANC-led government a few years ago, is now challenged by the same ANC –led government. During the period of the amendment of the Criminal Law Act, ANC held the majority seat in the two houses of the parliament – the National Assembly and the National Council of Provinces. Therefore, it is believed that ANC played a role in the amendment that granted parole release to Walus.

The ANC-led government is expected to allow the rule of law to thrive. ANC should not seem to favor or demand another law for Walus because of who he killed. The law should be fair to all and seen to have done so. The true spirit of democracy and the Rule of Law makes everyone equal under the law.

Last Edited by:Sandra Appiah Updated: January 9, 2023


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