South Africa: What would Chris Hani say today?

Chris Hani.

"Being a staunch believer in the dictum that the masses are the makers of history, Chris Hani would urge all of us to push the workers' wagon forward. He would warn that without mass power, we must all forget about liberating ourselves from the shackles of capitalism and apartheid. I want to be like Chris Hani! Let all of us be inspired by his examples and deeds that need to be emulated."

Chris Hani Memorial Lecture by Zwelinzima Vavi, Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) general secretary, delivered in Queenstown, October 23, 2010

I am extremely honoured by your invitation to deliver the Chris Hani memorial lecture here in Queenstown today. It was over fifteen years ago, on April 10, 1993, when "Chris" Martin Thembisile Hani was cruelly taken from us by an assassin's bullet. We remember too all the other heroes and heroines of our liberation struggle whom we lost in the month of April, including Solomon Mahlangu and Oliver Tambo.

Chris Hani's story and my own interaction with him after his return from exile have inspired me and millions of others. He remains a shining example of what we mean when we talk about an authentic, genuine, true revolutionary leader. He is the best embodiment of the finest traditions and principles of our liberation movement.

He practised selflessness until he was cruelly assassinated by the forces of reaction. To those who planned and executed this cruel did, that literally killed our future, we can only say to you -- we won't allow Chris Hani to die. We all aspire to be like him -- we will follow his teachings! He lives on within each one of us!

It is also befitting for me that I return to my home, where it all started, to speak about what I consider to be the true legacy of Chris Hani.

There are indeed many ways to remember and honour comrade Chris Hani. We could simply recount the exemplary character that he was, and urge all of us to live by his teachings, as well as his courage. We could also simply quote Chris Hani and some of the powerful words he uttered, only to forget the message contained therein the minute we walk out of this hall.

"Chris" Thembisile Martin Hani's whole history symbolises the trials and tribulations of the black majority and the working class. He was born into grinding poverty in Sabalele village in the Cofimvaba district, by a migrant labourer Gilbert and his mother Mary. His life from the beginning was to be a reminder of the battles that lay ahead. The first three children of his parents did not survive high infant mortality. He was among the last three that just survived.

Chris Hani was a natural genius! He matriculated at 16 and graduated in law from Fort Hare University at only 19. He then moved to work as an articled clerk in Cape Town. Soon, he joined umKhonto weSizwe [the military wing formed by the liberation movement] and went into exile to pursue the revolutionary program of the African National Congress (ANC).

In exile he got frustrated by a movement that was not active in the military front. He wrote, together with a group of comrades, the popular "Hani memorandum", decrying the lack of accountability of the leadership, draconian discipline, nepotism, corruption, favouritism, etc. For this he was detained by his own movement. Many older and physically stronger comrades had chosen to shrug their shoulders or worse simply joined in the activities, which, if they had been allowed to fester, would have destroyed the movement from within. Not Tshonyane!

He was the voice of ordinary people

He used his advantage of being a law graduate to represent those who shared the trenches with him -- the workers and the poor. For him, the popular saying of the South African Communist Party (SACP), "For the workers and the poor", was not just a slogan.  He was not one who was excited by, to quote Amilcar Cabral, shouting hurrahs and proclaiming solidarity with the working class and the poor. Instead, Chris Hani demonstrated, through his practical action, his class position. 

We speak here not of a troublemaker but of a brave and courageous commissar who led the joint MK-Zimbabwe People's Revolutionary Army group in the 1967 Wankie campaign, an incursion into northern Zimbabwe (then Rhodesia). After nearly two months of skirmishes, Hani successfully led the survivors of his group into Botswana. In the 1970s and 1980s, Hani infiltrated South Africa many times. He became the first member of the ANC national executive committee to cross a border into South Africa from exile in the course of struggle. He became a key target of the apartheid security forces and survived several assassination attempts.

When he returned into South Africa following the unbanning of the ANC, the SACP and others in 1990, he literally criss-crossed the country addressing multitudes of rallies that inspired millions to continue with the finest traditions of our struggle. He was a natural orator and one of the best articulators of the aspirations of the working class. He was loved and admired by all freedom-loving South Africans, in particular the working class. He was second only to Nelson Mandela in popularity.

Proud to be a communist

At the time when the Soviet Union collapsed and the Berlin Wall was destroyed, many with whom he served in the central committee andp olitburo of the SACP argued that their names must not be mentioned in public that they were communists. He disagreed. His hatred of the exploitation of the majority by a small but powerful class of property owners was genuine and not a tactical matter to gain influence at the time when only the Soviet Union was prepared to help our people gain their freedom. He was proud to be known as a communist! He wanted the whole world to know this.

At the time when many were buying suits anticipating to be appointed as future government ministers, Chris Hani agreed to be elected general secretary of the SACP, a position that ruled him out of a cushy job. This is what we must celebrate today -- a leader who, gun in hand commanded revolutionary forces in the battlefield. Whilst others were theorising he infiltrated South Africa and led from the front, exposing himself to danger.  When he faced the prospect of luxury, which others think they are entitled to as a reward of their personal suffering, he chose to build the party. All this demonstrates the long-held political practice and principle of the ANC: selflessness. I-ANC iyasetyenzelwa akungenwa ngetender!  

For Chris Hani it was never about himself -- he was not self-centred, big headed and elitist. He was not preoccupied with material things.

Reacting to the dismay expressed by others who were shocked at his decision to accept the position of general secretary of the SACP instead of angling to be a minister, he had this to say:

The perks of a new government are not really appealing to me. Everybody would like to have a good job, a good salary... but for me that is not the all of struggle. What is important is the continuation of the struggle... the real problems of the country are not whether one is in cabinet ... but what we do for social upliftment of the working masses of our country.

How I wish that those who carry knives and guns to fight for leadership positions in all our organisations could have learnt something from Chris Hani's exemplary modesty, honesty and integrity. After reading his letter to the leadership I really wonder how he would react to the ANC infighting in Mpumalanga and elsewhere, which killed at least 10 comrades in the past two years. He would not be shocked though; this is after all what he fought against all his life in the movement. We know of some cases of disappearances where the prime suspects are not the regime but others we continue to call comrades today. 

But he will be concerned at the scale of careerism. During his lifetime he did not have to witness, as we do every day, the reality that some regard access to political office as a means to be super-rich, without making any effort to be an entrepreneur.

I suspect that Chris Hani would been worried that the party leaders have left SACP offices to be MPs, provincal MPLs and ministers. He would mobilise workers to provide resources that will ensure that the SACP has a capacity to play its vanguard role.

I doubt very much, if he were around, we would have experienced the full-scale crises we witnessed in the run up of the ANC 52th National Congress [in Polokwane, which removed President Thabo Mbeki and set in train the coming to power of current president Jacob Zuma]. I honestly believe that he would have managed to pull the plug on the "1996 class project" [as the neoliberal, pro-capitalist policies of the previous ANC government led by Thabo Mbeki has come to be known in the SACP].

The 1996 class project continues to seek to impose the Washington consensus on the democratic movement. The strategy of the counter-revolution is now to create multiple centres from which anti-working class policy positions emerge. The working class, so to speak, has to quickly awaken to the fact that it may be politically out-manoeuvred, surrounded by enemy forces and being vulnerable, to quote Mao Zedong, to the strategy of "encirclement and suppression". As we speak, no qualitative shift in policy has taken place, particularly economic policy. 

As the [ANC-SACP-COSATU] Alliance battles a state of paralysis and attempts to marginalise others from policy discourse even after Polokwane, reactionary pre-Polokwane policies continue being imposed, simply because some people occupy positions of power to do so. Even when ANC branches articulate clearly and succinctly the direction that must be taken on key policy questions, underhand sophistry takes root and resolutions are crafted in ways that make a mockery of branch interventions.

`All power to the people!'

What would Chris Hani have done in this situation?  His response would be our profound slogan: "All power to the people!" He would castigate the practice that places all power with the government bureaucrats! After saying this, Chris Hani would have criss-crossed the country, mobilising branches of the ANC, SACP and COSATU locals, alerting them to the looming strategy of "encirclement and suppression", and the cultural transformation that has solidified -- of neglect of ANC resolutions and patent resistance to account to the Alliance.

He would have resisted with all his might attempts to use the state apparatus to advance factional interests in the movement. He would have been at the forefront of the battles against those using the media to assassinate the character of other comrades. He would have not allowed corruption to run so deep that today it threatens to be the primary means of capital accumulation, threatening the very fabric of our national democratic revolution.

He would have told those running around demanding to be elected at the next congress because they are young, that Walter Sisulu became the youngest ever secretary general not because he was young but because he was the finest leader of our movement.

He would be impressed that we have a constitution that guarantees to all the right to food, water, electricity, shelter, education and health.

Being a person who was never shy to give credit where it is due, Hani would be proud of the achievements made by the state in building 1600 clinics and refurbishing 400 public hospitals. He would be humbled by the changed attitude of our government regarding the provision of HIV/AIDS treatment to the infected. As a true believer that the masses are their own liberators, Hani would attribute the government's move from denialism to pragmatism regarding HIV/AIDS to the relentless struggles conducted by those who are infected and affected by the virus.

Having grown up in the harsh conditions of Cofimvaba in the Eastern Cape, Hani would however be unimpressed by the state of education in this province and nationally. He would perhaps wonder if the matric pass rate in this province and many others would improve this year. Almost astonishingly, Hani would ask: Why is it that black children are still the victims of dysfunctional, unsafe and under-resourced schools? It would never be acceptable to Hani that 42% of our schools depend on boreholes, rainwater or have no access to water on or near site, 88% of schools have no laboratories, 21% of schools have no toilets on site, and 62% of schools have a learner/educator ratio that exceeds 30.

He would be thrilled to know that we have not wasted time in ensuring that we embark in campaigns to liberate South Africans from want and hunger. He would be happy that 74% of South African households live in brick structures, flats and townhouses. But he would be marching in the streets, as he used to do, decrying that 1.875 million households still live in shacks. He would be angry at the quality of houses we have built. He would be angry that we have entrenched the apartheid spatial development planning and that houses built are far away from places of work.

Chris Hani would celebrate with us that in such a short period of time we have improved access to water from just 66% in 1994 to 96% in 2009. He would be happy to be told that access to sanitation also improved from 50% to 77% and today 73% of our people have electricity, up from 51% in 1994. 

He would feel vindicated from his ideological standpoint to know that there is overwhelming evidence on the need to build an active developmental state that intervenes in the economy. He would be amazed at the level of intransigence of bureaucrats and their political principals, who refuse to build state capacity, and continue to make the state an issuer of tenders and an administrator of regulations -- leaving the actual delivery of basic needs to market forces, which are dominated by monopolies.

There is truth in what Karl Marx said in a letter to his father that...

At such moments of transition we feel compelled to view the past and the present with the eagle eye of thought in order to become conscious of our real position. Indeed, world history itself likes to look back in this way and take stock, which often gives it the appearance of retrogression or stagnation, whereas it is merely, as it were, sitting back in an armchair in order to understand itself and mentally grasp its own activity, that of the mind.

Chris Hani would have been in the front row of protests against the commodification of basic services. He would argue that we are allowing the markets to snatch victories from the jaws of defeat. We deliver on one hand, only to allow market rules such as cost recovery to steal these victories. In South Africa 1.3 million households, which account for almost 5 million people, are experiencing water cut-offs due to non-payment. The democratic government gives on the one hand, capital takes on the other.

Chris Hani would have been very disappointed to note that many have forgotten about the ANC 1969 Morogoro conference warnings today. We recall that, through the "Hani memorandum", he ensured that the ANC holds that conference. The Morogoro Conference said the following ever-lasting words that we must repeat over and over again.

Our nationalism must not be confused with chauvinism or narrow nationalism of a previous epoch.  It must not be confused with the classical drive by an elitist group among the oppressed people to gain ascendancy so that they can replace the oppressor in the exploitation of the mass... In our country -- more than in any other part of the oppressed world -- it is inconceivable for liberation to have meaning without a return of the wealth of the land to the people as a whole.  It is therefore a fundamental feature of our strategy that victory must embrace more than formal political democracy. To allow the existing economic forces to retain their interests intact is to feed the root of racial supremacy and does not represent even the shadow of liberation...

[Our struggle] is also happening in a new kind of South Africa; a South Africa in which there is a large and well-developed working class...and in which the independent expressions of the working people -- their political organs and trade unions - are very much part of the liberation front. -- ANC Strategy and Tactics document, 1969

Tshonyane would be scathing in his criticism of us -- that we, the new rulers of South Africa, have been joining the masses in complaining "we have political freedom but must still gain our economic liberation". He would agree with what COSATU has said that we have political medals without economic jewellery. He would ask a question why when we had so many possibilities to change this situation around we join the masses who are crying out for leadership that would inspire them to liberate themselves from bondage. Chris Hani would recognise that some of the failures to deal with the legacy of colonial capitalism are as a result of our own making.

In particular he would have been very angry that instead of us uncompromisingly taking forward all the 10 demands of the Freedom Charter, we chose in the face of global pressure, to beat ourselves before the bully arrived. We simply capitulated and uncritically embraced neoliberalism through the adoption of the dictates of the Washington consensus in 1996.

We simply changed the white driver with a black driver but the train did not change the direction that was predetermined by the white driver. This route we are still travelling is going towards more inequalities, structural unemployment and poverty and is politically unsustainable.

Indeed today, after just a short period of 16 years of our political freedom, we have become number one country in the world with deepest levels of inequalities. In 1995, the Gini coefficient stood at 0.64 but it increased to 0.68 in 2008. Income inequalities in particular are much more pronounced signified by the fact that 20 top-paid directors in Johannesburg Stock Exchange-listed companies earned 1728 times the average income of a South African worker in 2008, while state-owned enterprises paid 194 times average workers' income.

Economic apartheid

One of the reasons why he did not proceed to be a lawyer was his hatred of apartheid in the workplace. Regrettably this workplace and economic apartheid is worsening. Between 1963 and 1964, the manufacturing sector paid whites five times more than Africans, whites earned an average of R2169, while Africans earned R414. However, by 2007, whites were earning eight times more than Africans. These inequalities also find expression in access to quality health care, housing and education facilities. 

These patterns of income distribution determine the future evolution of chances of having better life.

He would be shocked to know that unemployment among Africans, which was estimated to be 38% in 1995, increased to 45% in 2005, and that a staggering 48% of South Africans live below R322 a month, with 25% of the population depending on state grants to survive.

He would ask us: What was the point of passing the Employment Equity Act if we cannot use it to enforce the transformation of the workplace? He would be surprised to learn that the top managers continue to be predominantly drawn from the white population and that 62% of all promotions and recruitments were drawn from 12% of the South African population. Almost all the top 20 paid directors in JSE-listed companies remain white males.

He would ask why after 16 years the country has no overarching comprehensive development strategy which is underpinned by an industrial policy that will transform our economy while meeting the basic needs of our people. Chris Hani would have found it scandalous that our country has no growth path 16 years after democracy and that it only recently produced an industrial policy.

He would have been angry that our government leaders, right from the beginning, signed our right to develop away by agreeing to reduce the tariffs, which haemorrhaged our industries, to the amusement of even the multinational corporations, who demand free movement of their goods and money. 

Today crucial sectors in the economy continue to be dominated by a few large conglomerates. Past policies have failed to break the dominance of the core minerals/energy complex sectors, and imports continue to be made up of sophisticated manufactured items such as machinery and equipment, watches, clocks and even door handles!

Chicken and pig

Faced by this unfolding disaster, our leaders are increasingly making calls on the working class to sign a social accord and enter into "a chicken and a pig partnership". In this infamous partnership the chicken and the pig agree to equally contribute so that they have a breakfast. But the chicken quickly volunteers to contribute eggs produced after some pleasurable activity, while asking the pig to donate with bacon, which can only happen after the pig has been slaughtered.

Socialism is not about big concepts and heavy theory. Socialism is about decent shelter for those who are homeless. It is about water for those who have no safe drinking water. It is about health care, it is about a life of dignity for the old. It is about overcoming the huge divide between urban and rural areas. It is about a decent education for all our people. Socialism is about rolling back the tyranny of the market. As long as the economy is dominated by an unelected, privileged few, the case for socialism will exist.

Chris Hani was a simple person, yet a sophisticated organic intellectual who could cut through the jargon and put himself in the place where ordinary people would understand Marxist/Leninist literature.

Comrades and friends, we have no doubt that Chris Hani would have been at the forefront of the campaign against corruption. He would challenge vociferously those who have grown accustomed to the notion that holding public office is about getting the "perks", driving expensive cars and stealing public resources. He would concur with COSATU that relegating the arms deal investigation to the dustbin of history is an aberration to what we stand for as a movement. Hani would share our astonishment at the fact that billions were wasted in procuring arms instead of investing in more quality houses, education and clinics for the poor, increasing the percentage of people who can access clean water as well as electricity.

COSATU knows that it would have the full support of comrades such as Chris Hani in arguing that no more should the working class give blank cheques to those in power, that no more will the poor be used as voting cattle. No more will the working class be emotionally and ideologically blackmailed into becoming voting cattle and lapdogs, while no economic benefit accrues to it. He would agree with us that we need to ensure that the most committed, honest and hard-working servants of the people are elected as ANC public representatives in the upcoming local government elections.

We are certain that Chris Hani would share our interpretation of the recent ANC NGC as a success. He would be jubilant that this gathering defended the Polokwane resolutions with vigour and made serious inroads into reversing the tendencies that he referred to in the 1969 memorandum. He would also be very happy that the ANC branches in no uncertain terms warned that ill discipline should no longer be tolerated. But this should not be interpreted to mean that the ANC has a right to discipline leaders of other organisations when they speak on mandated policy directives of the organisations they lead.

As we celebrate the 25th anniversary of COSATU this December, we need to ask what Hani would think of the workers' movement today.

We can all learn from Hani's passion to ensure the maximum unity of the progressive forces. This is the thinking that lies behind the upcoming Civil Society Conference on 27-28 October. This conference is inspired by Hani's words to civil society organisations during the CODESA negotiations, that

This is not the time to emphasise our differences. It is our job to build on the highest level of unity we can develop to take ourselves forward, not to narrow sectarian goals but the broad democratic system that is in all of our interests.[1]

The struggle against social injustice, poverty and deprivation can only be won through a united front, dedicated to putting an end to the capitalist honeymoon that we have been experiencing since 1994. 

Being a staunch believer in the dictum that the masses are the makers of history, Chris Hani would urge all of us to push the workers' wagon forward. He would warn that without mass power, we must all forget about liberating ourselves from the shackles of capitalism and apartheid.

I want to be like Chris Hani! Let all of us be inspired by his examples and deeds that need to be emulated.

Thank you!

[Issued by COSATU, October 23, 2010.]

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