The assassination by Janusz Waluś of beloved SACP leader Chris Hani in 1993 catapulted Nelson Mandela and the ANC to the forefront of settlement negotiations. It was a political murder that changed the trajectory of South African history.
Twenty-five years ago, on 24 November 1997, Janusz Waluś appeared at a Truth and Reconciliation Commission amnesty hearing in Pretoria. He was seeking a reprieve for the brazen murder of Chris Hani in the driveway of his home in Dawn Park, Boksburg, on 10 April 1993.
Hani’s regular bodyguards had been off duty that weekend and as Waluś drove past 2 Hakea Street at about 10am he noticed this.
Waluś was 40 when he committed the crime that shook South Africa. This week the Constitutional Court ruled he could be set free — to much outrage and controversy — at the age of 69.
Hani’s widow, Limpho, and their daughter Lindiwe, as well as other family members have opposed every single parole application, insisting that Waluś has not told the entire truth about the murder or any co-conspirators.
It was a Saturday on 10 April when the dual Polish-South African citizen confronted Hani, 50 at the time, who had gone out to buy the newspapers. It was Easter.
Waluś pumped one bullet into Hani’s chest and three more into his head. He died on the spot, a pool of blood slowly coagulating around his lifeless body.
Waluś was arrested 10 minutes later passing the Boksburg City Hall.
This came after a neighbour had noted the registration number of the red Ford Laser he had used to travel from his flat in Pretoria to Hani’s house about 50 minutes away.
Mandela to the rescue
This was also the day that Nelson Mandela, aged 75 and a free man for only three years, assumed the mantle of unofficial leader of South Africa when he addressed citizens in a live nationwide TV broadcast aimed at calming the rage that exploded across the tinderbox country.
Mandela reminded the audience that night that a “white Afrikaner woman” had helped to identify Hani’s killer and that the intention of the assassination had been to trigger a race war.
There had already been an attempt on Hani’s life in 1992, on Marshall Street, Joburg. The SACP offices were around the corner and Hani had been followed by a man who had allegedly stepped into a hair salon and who began fiddling with “an object” concealed under his windbreaker.
An hour after the event the SACP held a press conference urging the then South African Police (the SAPS was formed in 1994) to investigate, which it refused to do since “no charge had been lodged”.
In 1993, the year of the murder, Waluś and the man he claimed had planned the assassination, Conservative Party politician Clive Derby-Lewis, were sentenced to death for the crime. At TRC they claimed it was politically motivated and this was why Waluś had sought amnesty, which was refused.
Both men escaped the noose thanks to democracy when South Africa’s Constitutional Court ruled in 1995 that the death penalty was “unconstitutional”.
It was Derby-Lewis, who lived in Krugersdorp, who had supplied the gun that Waluś had used to shoot Hani. The weapon had been stolen from the SA Air Force Pretoria in April 1990 during a raid by right-winger Piet “Skiet” Rudolph. Ballistic tests proved this was the murder weapon used.
Rudolph was a member of the Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB) and the secret Orde Boerevolk which had declared war on FW de Klerk’s government in 1990.
After his release in 2015, Derby-Lewis, who claimed to be a committed Christian, said he had regarded Hani as “the antiChrist”. He pooh-poohed the conspiracy that grew in the aftermath of Hani’s murder that Thabo Mbeki had somehow been implicated in the plot or that Winnie Mandela had planned with Hani to leave the ANC.
In the madness, chaos and murder of those terrible times, theories about the “real” motive for Hani’s death have never evaporated.
Derby-Lewis was proud to claim responsibility for Hani’s murder and believed until his death in 2016 of lung cancer at the age of 80, and after serving 22 years, that communism was a global and godless threat to the world and Hani a mortal threat to South Africa.
Waluś in custody
Immediately after his arrest, Waluś was taken to the Murder and Robbery Squad offices in Boksburg, where he was initially interrogated by Sergeant Holmes.
It was “late and dark” by the time he was returned to his cell, he recalled.
“I was locked up in the cell, I tried to rest, however, from the neighbouring cells it was quite a big noise and I tried but I could fall asleep, but I was woken up a couple of hours later and taken out from the cell.”
Six days later — after numerous interrogations in which Waluś refused to say much without his lawyer present — at about 4pm, he was booked out for further questioning.
It was during this round that the son of an immigrant, bankrupt glass factory owner, and later a truck driver deeply involved in far-right politics of the country, gave up Derby-Lewis as the mastermind.
The 16 April interrogation lasted 14 hours.
“During those interrogations particularly with Captain [Nick] Deetliefs and Sergeant Beetge, interrogations, if I can describe it in that way, were always in the very friendly atmosphere,” Waluś recalled.
They had talked “about everything and nothing” and he had been “manoeuvring not to discuss the matter of the murder of Mr Hani”.
Outside the interrogation room tension was mounting. Hani’s murder was viewed as a betrayal and a severe provocation.
Deetliefs had “confided” that he was in fact with the Security Police and that this was “a department of the police which combated terrorism and that he was always fighting with the ANC and he was interrogating all the ANC was doing, and several times he underlined to me how good it was that Mr Hani was murdered”, Waluś told the amnesty hearing.
Lulled by a sense of self-righteousness, racial and political solidarity as well as Deetliefs’s repeated assurances that “he is on my side”, Waluś spilt the beans.
“I can say now only that I am ashamed that I was so naive and stupid,” lamented the killer.
Deetliefs, added Waluś, had also convinced him that he was one of “General Groenewald’s men” and that Beetge too was in the same group.
Waluś was later told by the two interrogators that they had actually infiltrated the Security Police “but before he convinced me completely, I was drinking with him and with Sergeant Beetge alcohol”.
Waluś was hoping the cops would conspire to warn this suspect of his imminent arrest — “he underlined to me that it is not very convenient that somebody must be arrested now from the right wing because not everything is fixed to the last point where the armed struggle with the ANC and government is concerned”.
A combination of a week of hardcore interrogation, a lack of sleep, alcohol “and quite possibly drugs” had led Waluś to believe “all the stories that Deetliefs told me”.
“And because of that, I told him the name of Mr Clive Derby-Lewis and also told him that in the murder of Mr Hani, it was engaged on myself and they mustn’t be afraid of anything.”
A hit list including Nelson Mandela and Joe Slovo had been compiled by Waluś under the guidance of Derby-Lewis. Derby-Lewis was later found. Waluś said Derby-Lewis had wanted him to wear a purple wig when he shot Hani “so that people would look at the wig and not see my face”.
During cross-examination by the inimitable George Bizos, representing the Hani family, Waluś admitted to responding to an advert published in The Citizen seeking someone to complete a “dangerous assignment”.
In January 1989 an ad was placed in the classified section which read “required for dangerous assignment, approximately six months’ duration, salary $5 000-00 per month, send resume to the Commodore, PO Box 207, Bergvlei, 2012”.
Those were the times.
Bizos asked whether he had “applied to the South African organisation, calling itself the South African Institute of Maritime Research, do you recall that?”
And while Waluś said that he could not recall whether he had applied to be admitted to the institute, he had indeed responded to the advertisement.
“And your name appears on a printout that you and a couple of hundred others like you, applied for this $5 000-00-a-month job. What sort of job was it going to be, Mr Waluś?” asked Bizos.
Waluś maintained he had no idea what the job had entailed and had never received a response, but was up for it anyway.
What his application for the job does reveal, apart from the lawlessness of the time, is Waluś’s eagerness to enter illegal and “dangerous” terrain to undertake dirty work.
The ease with which Waluś sought to involve himself in violence suggests a psychopathy which found expression in right-wing politics. He denied consistently that he had received any military training, instead professing to have been a “professional diver”.
“I never attained the certificate of the professional diver, but I knew that I can become a professional diver any moment, because I had a second degree of the sport diver,” Waluś replied.
Let it burn
Bizos interrogated Waluś as to what type of discussions he might have had with the Derby-Lewises and what it was they had hoped to gain by murdering Hani.
MR WALUS: Yes, Mr Chairman. We discussed that subject.
ADV BIZOS: If you very briefly could tell us, what was the objective that you would have achieved in accordance with your discussions if you killed Mr Hani?
MR WALUS: Mr Chairman, the main object was to cause the chaos in the country, and because of this chaos the right-wing could unite and prevented to take the power by ANC.
ADV BIZOS: You say that you wanted to create chaos. What did you understand when you and Mr Derby-Lewis decided that the purpose of this murder was to create chaos? What did you expect to happen?
Waluś replied that he had expected a “revolt” but that the real “revolution” had started earlier “but in silence”.
ADV BIZOS: When one section of the population is expected to act against another section or sections of the population, we usually call it a civil war.
MR WALUS: Mr Chairman, the country was in a state of the war from the middle of the 80s, but it wasn’t publicly declared. We call that as a martial law or there was some negotiations concerning that, but it was avoided to name it.
Waluś revealed that he and Derby-Lewis had indeed thought about the fallout and the death of thousands of South Africans in the ensuing violence.
They had discussed it “superficially” and that as far as he was concerned “I know from the history, against what the propaganda tried to imply, South African police and the South African army was suppressing any active violence in such a way that there should be as little victims as possible.”
Judge Bernard Ngoepe asked Waluś whether he expected many people to die.
“Yes, I expected that such a possibility existed.”
Whether Derby-Lewis and Waluś acted alone or as part of a greater conspiracy involving right-wing elements as well as Hani’s enemies inside the ANC, has never been probed further.
The death of Hani will always be remembered as a turning point, for South Africa and for the ANC. The ghosts still live among us.
Waluś’s South African citizenship was revoked in 2017 and as he is no longer one of us, and can be deported once he takes his first steps to freedom. DM