There are two leaders of the ANC whose popularity, in their time, remains unrivalled and their militancy unquestionable – Nelson Mandela and Chris Hani. And they were humble about it.
It was only Madiba who could halt an imminent bloodbath when he called for peace after the assassination of Hani.
Thus, last month, when I heard that Hani made headline news again, when his tombstone was vandalised, I felt shivers in my spine. I was angry and shouted: The bastards should be hanged.
But yet I laughed at the irony that, even in his grave, he still makes proponents of white-minority rule shiver in their boots as they seek reassurance that the bloody communist is indeed dead.
For many, he represented the end of apartheid and, literally, the beginning of democracy as only through his death was the election date set.
Just as Mandela will remain the symbol of reconciliation and nation-building, Hani will forever remain in the minds and hearts of the working class and the poor as the communist and soldier who dedicated his life to the struggle for socialism.
We do not know what could have been of Hani had Janusz Walus and Clive Derby-Lewis not robbed us of this giant soul, soldier and socialist.
But I undoubtedly believe that Hani would have been the next president of the country after Mandela.
The best way to remember Hani is to reflect on the ideals that he represented and continue with the struggle for socialism.
Hani was no superman with mythological power. He was no political celebrity. He was a simple soldier and communist who believed that the liberation of our people can only come into fruition if the people themselves take part in that struggle. Thus, he led an SACP through campaigns and action, and after his killing, the SACP has significantly grown in stature, presence and membership (and now stands at more than 150 000).
Hani believed in – and was a man of – the organisation. Despite the popularity he enjoyed, he succumbed to the wisdom and discipline of the collective. He did not in any way cultivate the personality cult witnessed in today’s body politic.
In remembering Hani, it is our responsibility to deal with the comic-book-hero-cult type of politics, and mobilise our people to be their own liberators. In doing so, we will resist from factional assessment of leadership and blind loyalty when we put people in office.
Central to Hani – as a soldier and leader of the SACP – was the unity of the party and the discipline of its members.
There were temptations for Hani to defy and outshine the leadership of the ANC-led alliance and take advantage of his popularity among young people and Umkhonto weSizwe soldiers. For instance, when the decision to suspend the armed struggle was taken, Hani was reportedly not in the meeting.
He was fuming and wanted answers. But so were the youth and Umkhonto weSizwe soldiers who believed that he should lead them to Pretoria – guns blazing.
Instead, he gave in to organisational discipline and democracy, and persuaded everyone to accept the decision by the leadership and to give peace and the negotiations a chance.
When he was 27, Hani and seven other cadres were suspended from the ANC in the late 1960s due to their criticism of the leadership. In reaction, they did not venture into a destructive, rude and nude disrespect of the movement in order to prove their innocence and the validity of their criticism.
They did not call for a change in leadership or sought to popularise their demand through the media and give the enemy ammunition to marvel at a disintegrating liberation movement.
Instead of issuing ultimatums to the ANC they, however, subjected themselves to the discipline of the organisation as they understood that they were individuals in the orbit of struggle.
Their suspension was ultimately rescinded, and the historic and popular Morogoro Consultative Conference was convened to deal with the issues they raised and other challenges facing the movement. Even after that, Hani claimed no easy victory, but credited the leadership for their boldness and consultative manner.
What we see today of individuals who see themselves as supermen of the struggle for the total emancipation of our people, should be boldly challenged and reversed in memory of Hani.
The most critical of Hani’s virtues was love for the people. It is this virtue that guided all other virtues that he possessed. He understood that, in order to serve the people, love for the people is paramount.
Many of the problems of leadership and crises within the movement and society arise because the drive for office and positions is not derived from serving the people, but from leaders who seek personal gratification and popularity.
If the collective leadership we elect or appoint, in government, in the judiciary, in political formations, in the church, in youth formations, in the trade-union movement; and in every inch and acre where there is a need to serve, are driven by the love of our people, the revolution would not be misdirected.
Equally, if the whole country is mobilised to achieve universal education, health care, housing, economic freedom (socialism) and prosperity, and basic services; there would be no supermen.
We are headed to Richards Bay in July and Mangaung in December for the SACP and ANC conferences, respectively. There are those who have set the agenda for these conferences to be merely about leadership. With all the challenges facing our people, we would have failed if these conferences turn into another Polokwane.
Let the conferences be about simple things. And to quote Hani, the conferences should be “about decent shelter for those who are homeless; water for those who have no safe drinking water; health care; a life of dignity for the old; overcoming the huge divide between urban and rural areas and a decent education for all our people”. They should never be about the highest bidder or the deepest pocket, or about who shouts the loudest, but about the people and their issues. That’s the bottom line.
n Buti Manamela is national secretary of the Young Communist League and ANC MP.