Chris Hani Memorial Lecture delivered by President Jacob Zuma, 26 April 2013, Queenstown

Members of the Hani family,

Premier Noxolo Kiviet and members of the provincial executive,

Ministers and Deputy Ministers,

Executive Mayor of Chris Hani District Municipality,

Members of the ANC Provincial Executive Committee,

Traditional Leaders and religious leaders,

Distinguished guests,

Molweni nonke. Siyavuya ukuba nani namhlanje.

We meet here just two days after the 20th commemoration of the untimely passing of ANC President, Isithwalandwe Oliver Reginald Tambo, who passed away on the 24th of April 1993.

Exactly two weeks before President Tambo`s death, Cde Chris Hani was cowardly assassinated outside his home in Dawn Park, Boksburg.

We marked the 20th anniversary of his passing on the 10th of April this year. We also meet here just a day before the 19th anniversary of Freedom day on which we celebrate the freedom which so many of our peace loving people lived and died for. Freedom day is a day which reminds us that the freedom we enjoy today was not free and came at price.

It came as a result of a protracted selfless struggle waged by fearless fighters. It came about as a result of immense sacrifices by many of our heroes and heroines including Comrade Chris Martin Thembisile Hani, from whose life we must draw inspiration as we prepare to mark Freedom Day.

The life of Comrade Chris was a life given to the struggle for liberation not as an accident of history or coincidence but because of the material conditions of his own and his people`s existence.

He was born and bred here in Sabalele, Cofimvaba on the 28th of June 1942.

He grew up as a child under conditions of extreme poverty and underdevelopment on which the apartheid system was based. This poverty meant that his father was always away as a migrant worker first in the mines and later in the building industry in then Transvaal.

It meant that his mother had to go beyond her little means to sustain life and always improvise to make ends meet.

The uneven development under which Comrade Chris grew up implied that there was very little or no social infrastructure available for use in his immediate vicinity. It is for this reason that Comrade Chris had to walk 20 kilometres to school every school day and the same distance to church every Sunday. This bothered the young Chris a great deal as he could not understand why he had to walk while his peers were ferried to school.

It is this childhood experience combined with his great feeling of compassion which made him ferociously abhor social inequality in later years.

Despite all these difficult circumstances under which he grew up, his love for education prevailed on him and he continued going to school. It was during his school days that the apartheid regime introduced the policy of Bantu education.

This policy was aimed at giving black children the type of education which was inferior to that given to their white counterparts. The sole objective of this exercise was to foster a belief among black people that they were born to work for white people and therefore do not need to learn complex subjects such as mathematics and science.

This is the root of the many problems in our education system and the consequent shortage of skills in our economy even today.

At that time, the regime intensified its efforts to suppress the growing resistance to its inhumane policies and unjust laws and decided to ban any political activity at African schools. 

What the regime did not appreciate was the general dialectical and scientific law of movement that `the more the repression, the more the resistance and vice versa`.

It is this logic which resulted in Comrade Chris joining the struggle for freedom despite and in spite of the harsh laws prohibiting political activity.

He went on to join the ANC Youth League in 1957 when he was only fifteen years of age. To avoid arrest, he had to carry out tasks of the ANC Youth League successfully. This means he had to operate clandestinely but without compromising the mission.

It was at this time that Chris the master tactician was born.

The lessons he learned at this time were to prove invaluable in the later years of his life when he had to come in and out of the country without being noticed.

In 1959 he went to Fort Hare University to further his studies determined to become better than what the apartheid regime wanted him to be, a black man good for nothing beyond furthering the economic ends of white people.

It was at Fort Hare where he openly engaged in struggle for the first time because of the liberal nature of that university which emphasized academic freedom and institutional autonomy. It was also here that he came in contact for the first time with Marxist theory as a scientific tool to analyse the development of society and thus engage in struggle more meaningfully.

Comrade Chris learned Marxism diligently. He began to fully appreciate the extent of the brutality of racial oppression and capitalist exploitation as well as the patriarchal relations of power which make these two demons worse for black women.

He understood that in the land of their birth, the vast majority of South Africans are oppressed on the basis of their race and exploited on the basis of their class. This understanding led him to see no contradiction between the class struggle and the national struggle. He correctly understood that the working class of this country can only be truly united in a non-racial society.

He appreciated that the chief content of the National Democratic Revolution is national liberation precisely because national oppression in whatever form was the historical grievance of the vast majority of South Africans. It is against this background that Comrade Chris was ever committed to the unity of the Alliance. He saw no contradiction in the relationship between his organisation, the ANC and its partner the SACP.

It was for this reason that having been in the ANC since 1957, he joined the underground SACP in 1961 influenced and inspired by such giants of our revolution as Govan Mbeki, JB Marks, Braam Fischer, Moses Kotane, Ray Simons and others. Because he knew that freedom would not come as a gift, he joined uMkhonto we Sizwe in 1962 to fight for it.

It is important to note that MK was still in its first year when Comrade Chris joined it and therefore he can be described as one of the first MK combatants who were willing to lay down their lives in the people`s just cause for freedom, equality and justice.

He was a veteran of MK who earned his stripes in battle as part of the command structure and as a commissar in the Wankie-Spolilo campaign in Zimbabwe. Comrade Chris Hani was a fearless soldier.

Importantly, he was a revolutionary democrat and a selfless communist who was committed to the betterment of his people`s lives.

He articulated what needed to be done eloquently:

"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 healthcare, it is about life of dignity for the old.

"It is about overcoming the huge divide between the 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".

All programmes of the ANC since it came into office have been about providing exactly these important services that Comrade Chris talked about.

All our programmes from the Reconstruction and Development Programme to the National Development Plan are about undoing the legacy of centuries of colonialism and apartheid, providing decent basic services and restoring the dignity of all our people.

This is the historical mission of the movement that he led and which became his life and home.

Comrade Chris was given serious leadership responsibilities which he performed diligently. Leadership back then was a risky responsibility.

He rose to become an ANC NEC member also serving in the Politico Military Committee. He rose through MK ranks to become Chief of Staff with immense military experience having fought in the Wankie-Sipolilo campaign in Zimbabwe.

Thus he was one of the few leaders who had direct combat experience.

His commitment to the SACP saw him elected General Secretary in 1991. It is for this reason that we have said in him we saw an embodiment of the ruling party’s alliance, a committed revolutionary, a disciplined soldier and a selfless communist.

When the ANC decided to suspend the armed struggle in order to create conditions which are conducive for meaningful negotiations, Comrade Chris earned himself yet another place in history as the epitome of organisational discipline.

It is public knowledge that he was initially opposed to that decision. However, he embraced it as his own once it was taken by a properly constituted structure of his organisation.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Comrades and friends,

Today we are celebrating the life of a man who was a true soldier for peace, who sacrificed so much of his life to the struggle to bring about the freedom we are enjoying today.

He dedicated his life to fighting extreme poverty, high unemployment and inequality which are manifestations of racial oppression, class exploitation and gender discrimination.

The death of Comrade Chris was so painful that President Mandela to described it as a national tragedy.

You will recall that it was on that fateful day that President Mandela rose to effectively play the role of President of the Republic even before the historic 1994 democratic elections.

The ANC collective led by President Mandela played an important role in calling for calm and ensuring that our country does not plunge into civil war as the enemies of progress had planned.

On the same day of Comrade Hani`s death, President Mandela addressed the nation on TV as though it was his first State of the Nation Address.

Throughout his address, he was consistent in expressing our belief in peace and negotiations.

Among other things, he said:

"This is a watershed moment for all of us. Our decisions and actions will determine whether we use our pain, our grief and our outrage to move forward to what is the only lasting solution for our country - an elected government of the people, by the people and for the people.

"We must not let the men who worship war, and who lust after blood, precipitate actions that will plunge our country into another Angola".

Such is the indispensable role played by the ANC led by its President in restoring calm and ensuring national stability.

Today, on the eve of Freedom Day, we are proud to celebrate the contribution of Comrade Chris to the attainment of peace and freedom and to laying the foundation for socio-economic transformation in our country.

His opening statement to the Convention for a Democratic South Africa, CODESA, on 20 December 1991 made this position very clear.

He said;

"We need a democratically elected government in place as soon as possible, a government with a mandate to deal with the social and economic issues that are fundamental to any real transformation".

Comrade Chris was also very articulate on the position of women in society.

"We are also concerned that women be able to occupy their rightful place as equals at every level of society in any new democratic order".

He believed in full emancipation, both politically and economically.

He stated;

"We in the SACP do not hide our belief that political freedom without social reconstruction will be meaningless.

"There needs to be a new growth path which creates wealth more efficiently than the present economic policies, but also ensures that such wealth is used to better the lives not only of a few, but for all".

And Comrade Chris was committed to the unity of the South African people, regardless of political affiliation. We thus learn from him the need to put South Africa first.

He stated in the same CODESA opening statement;

"For the peace process to succeed demands from all who are committed to democracy, the greatest possible unity. I want to say to organizations which have not traditionally formed part of the ANC-SACP-COSATU alliance or even the mass democratic movement that this is not the time to emphasize 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".

This should be a key lesson we take from his life. We need to unite as the South African people and put our country first above party political interests.

Yesterday we celebrated the growth of tourism figures in our country which have gone up by 10.2%. By 2012, the figure had grown by 300 percent to 13.5 million visitors, of which 9.2 million were tourists. This is a good sign. The world loves our country. We should love it too.

When we think of the life and times of Comrade Chris or our President Oliver Tambo who almost saw the dawn of freedom, we should be inspired to be forward looking and work to build our country.

The ANC government is still as committed to peace, stability and friendship as it was 20 years ago. It has also over the years proven to be very capable of delivering on this mandate.

The ANC government has succeeded because of its history and of the foundation laid by its leaders such as Comrade Chris.

Like many leaders for whom Freedom Day has personal meaning, Comrade Chris knew what it meant to live in faraway lands with little on which to survive. He knew what it meant to engage a superior army in physical combat in unknown territory.

He knew what it meant to live the life of an outlaw in your own country.

He knew how to sit and negotiate with the enemy and focus on taking your country forward.

We can learn a lot from his legacy.

Twenty-years down the line we can boldly say that the foundation for a non-racial and non-sexist Constitution and a vibrant multi-party democracy that Comrade Chris fought for is firmly established.

We have also taken huge strides to expand access to basic services such as running water and sanitation, electricity, low cost housing, public education and health, and also implemented a comprehensive social grant system reaching over 16 million people. These are just a few of the many achievements scored.

We still face major challenges and backlogs given where we come from.

Gross inequalities and poverty persist, and the rate of unemployment remains high as we began from a low base in 1994 when we starting transforming the country to include those who had been deliberately excluded by racist regimes.

But we know where we are going in implementing the vision outlined in the Freedom charter.

We have also scored a major achievement in the country through the adoption of the National Development Plan which has been embraced by almost every sector of society.

This blueprint outlines the South Africa where all will have water, electricity, sanitation, decent shelter, transport and an economy that grows and which create jobs.

We are continuing in our drive to achieve this type of society.

As we remember Comrade Chris, we need to ensure that he lives eternally in our hearts and minds not only through our words but also our collective actions.

We must work together to deliver decent shelter, safe drinking water, healthcare, electricity, sanitation and quality education as outlined in the Freedom Charter, and fleshed out in the National Development Plan.

We know that if he was still with us, Comrade Chris would be working tirelessly to ensure a good quality of education for our children.

He would be working tirelessly with us to expand services to all our people especially the poor and marginalized. Comrade Chris would be working tirelessly to build sustainable communities where women, children and senior citizens are protected and enabled to realize their full potential.

In his memory let us therefore build a society where all our people live in dignity and where women are not battered, raped and molested.

We must build as society where we are masters of our fate and use opportunities available to build a better life for ourselves, in the spirit of vukuzenzele.

Indeed we must all start working harder than ever, as we move towards the 20th anniversary of freedom, to build a better life for ourselves.

While there is a lot that government must and can do for us, let us also identify what we as communities can do for ourselves to build a better life.I want to end by again quoting the words of former President Nelson Mandela when he bid farewell to Chris Thembisile Hani in April 1993.

He said;

Now is the time for all South Africans to stand together against those who, from any quarter, wish to destroy what Chris Hani gave his life for - the freedom of all of us."

Happy freedom day to you all tomorrow!

Long live the spirit of Comrade Chris Hani Long live!

Amandla!

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