By Janet Smith and Beauregard Tromp

During the speeches, Hani had laid out the hard truth about the violent political stasis unfolding in South Africa, despite the peace talk of the ANC. Anne Duthie realised that the way he delivered his messages could envelop a crowd, lifting them up and carrying them with him into the heart of his conviction.

At the dinner there was a mix of old and new faces to London, all drawn together by their opposition to apartheid. Hani was the centre of attention.

Earlier in the day he had been able to talk to Duthie on the phone. He had got in touch to tell her that he would be in London.

Although there had been a hiatus of a few years, it was clear he hadn't changed. The threats to his life, the draining political undercurrents within his own movement, the wave of voices clamouring for his attention, had not aged him. There was the captivating humour, the easy charm, the sharp, incisive mind. And when he spoke, the closeness he exuded only with those he knew best emerged strongly.

Hani confided in her about his life in South Africa. The unfolding political situation, with the negotiations on tenterhooks, was wearying and personally perilous to him.

This made it a struggle to be as one with his wife, Limpho, and his daughters.

Over the next few weeks he began to call Duthie more frequently. They were old friends and he needed her support and objectivity. He held nothing back.

They had met in Lusaka in the 1960s, a few weeks after she had arrived there as a teacher. For Duthie, from Pateley Bridge in North Yorkshire, the journey was a complete change. Only months before, she had become the first in her family to graduate from university.

Durham University had offered her an opportunity to dream of experiences beyond the market town where she grew up, where the highest excitement was reserved for the farmers who gathered monthly for the big livestock auctions. Beyond the classroom, she immersed herself in student politics, quickly developing an affinity with the philosophy of the British Communist Party and its espousal of worker values.

With no money to speak of in her family, and no experience, Duthie had applied for a teaching job in Zambia. The country had been independent for just over a year and lacked teachers.

By 1965, it had fewer than 100 university graduates.

After a month at sea, and a five-day journey by train from Cape Town, she arrived at her destination - one of only two secondary schools for African girls in the country. Her colleagues were diverse.

Some were from England. Others were from the American Peace Corps. Still others came from South Africa, most of them willing exiles who could no longer bear life under apartheid.

The secondary school was a microcosm of what was happening throughout the fledgling democratic Zambia. The popular Edinburgh Hotel was now open to all races, for instance, but was still almost exclusively frequented by whites.

Some of the white teachers quickly fell into step with their local compatriots. But Duthie searched for other experiences.

The first time she saw Hani was at the school where she taught. He came around, dressed in a casual shirt and jeans, with an effervescent smile and jovial gait. He was introduced to Duthie as Chris Nkosana, "another exile".

The second time he came, there was more of a connection. "He was obviously different to the Zambians," Duthie tells us.

"He was much better educated, more talkative, more self-confident. You didn't feel there were any barriers there.

"I found him fascinating. First of all for his politics. We talked about politics a lot. We were on the same wavelength and he was able to explain the situation in South Africa very convincingly. For the first time it came truly alive for me.

"I was impressed by his great compassion and the fact that he showed no racial hatred. I admired him greatly for putting his life in danger... and I could see that although he was still young he had the potential to become a leader."

Soon Hani was visiting her regularly, and spending weekends with her.

On the first date, the two walked hand-in-hand, the glares of passers-by following the couple strolling down the main road. As they approached the ticket office at the cinema, both stood still, looking about them, waiting. She looked at him. He smiled his all-embracing smile. She smiled. Finally, it made sense: he had no money.

The burgeoning relationship between Duthie and Hani faced opposition from strangers as well as so-called friends.

She had already attracted her fair share of men since arriving in Zambia and had left a boyfriend behind in England. But her friendship with Hani was gradually drifting into something else.

"It was a mixture of the exotic and the familiar," she described.

Even on her meagre teacher's salary, Duthie could buy a secondhand Morris Minor, and was soon regularly making the arduous three-hour trip out of town to see Hani.

Inevitably, her brakes would snap or some part other than the one that was fixed a week before would collapse, forcing her to hitchhike.

In the low-slung Sixties world of cosmopolitan Lusaka, race mattered somewhat less among the better-heeled, better-educated and better- travelled inhabitants, and in these circles Duthie and Hani could try to be themselves. He always sought out the South African exile families, who were inevitably ANC supporters. This was the normal life which meant so much, even if Hani had a slightly eccentric way of infiltrating their ranks...

Driving through the suburbs of Lusaka, spontaneously striking up freedom songs, Hani's arm around her shoulders, she was on a high. She was integral to the cause. She belonged and she loved him.

And then it came time to have the talk. Hani had made it clear that his loyalty was to the ANC. As a member of Umkhonto weSizwe, he was not supposed to have serious relationships, much less marriage. This did not mean he did not love her. This did not mean he did not want her, did not crave a life with her.

But both recognised he was a soldier and could be killed at any time. Neither wanted Duthie to be a widow, struggling to raise fatherless children. So they could not get married then.

It was just not to be. But was it already too late? They both knew when her time would be up. Nothing had been left unsaid. As always, time revealed that it grasped the meaning of everything.

In a year, a lifetime had passed for Duthie. On the train back to South Africa, her thoughts brushed those memories of a lover passionately relating stories of great Xhosa kings and valiant battles fought, and of how the battle had not started with apartheid but long before.

Her eyes were truly wide-open now. On the train, she saw the whites-only carriages, she watched the way white people conveyed a subtext of control.

"It was on that personal level. It was shocking," she said.

On the Union-Castle ship back to Southampton there was enough open sea and more than a flicker of belief. It was not long before the first blue airmail letter arrived from Hani. He updated her on happenings in Lusaka. Friends. Places.

For weeks, then months, the postman never arrived soon enough, bringing bills but also bursts of glorious emotion.

Then came the day when the postman delivered an innocuous looking airmail letter. Eagerly, she pulled at the edges, careful not to tear it. She tried to read slowly, but her eyes raced ahead as her mind tried to rein them in. He was going to war. She had known this day would come. He was a revolutionary. A liberation fighter. A soldier. She wrote back.

Be careful. Survive.

It was no minor affair.

  • Extracted from Hani: A Life Too Short, by Janet Smith and Beauregard Tromp. Published by Jonathan Ball, it is available at bookshops nationwide at a cost of R190.