COSATU's tribute to Chris Hani

Federation says late SACP leader never disowned his revoluationary communist principles

Tribute to Chris Hani

It is now 20 years since the brutal murder of our beloved comrade, friend and revolutionary leader, Chris Hani, on 10th April 1993, when his life was cruelly taken from us by the bullets of Janusz Walus and Clive Derby-Lewis.

He was robbed of the chance to celebrate the democratic breakthrough of 27 April 1994, towards which he contributed so much, and we were all robbed of the massive contribution he would have made to building the new, democratic South Africa.

Two decades later, he still inspires us to continue with the struggle to which he devoted, and ultimately sacrificed, his life, and has lessons to teach us which are still relevant today.

He will always be remembered by both his former comrades and a new generation of South Africans, as a unique example of a bold revolutionary leader, who embodied the great traditions of our liberation and socialist movement - selflessness, dedication, discipline, hard work, loyalty to the cause and commitment to the service of the people.

From his childhood days in the poverty-stricken Eastern Cape, he learned all about the hardship and injustice which his nation and his class suffered during the grim days of apartheid.  At a very early age he analysed the economic, class basis of apartheid and capitalism and dedicated his life to the national democratic revolution, in both words and deeds.

In his years in exile he would never expect anyone to do things he was not prepared to do himself, for example when he led the joint MK/ZIPRA forces in the 1967 Wankie campaign in what was then Northern Rhodesia. He was the first member of the ANC NEC to enter South Africa from exile to get involved in the military resistance. Inevitably he became a key target of the apartheid state and survived several assassination attempts.

But while Chris Hani was the most loyal and active cadre in the liberation struggle, he was always an independent thinker, who analysed and debated problems and never shied away from controversy.

The most celebrated example is the "Hani memorandum" which he wrote on behalf of comrades in exile who were frustrated by the ANC leaders' lack of urgency to step up the military offensive. He denounced the then leadership's lack of accountability, draconian discipline, nepotism, corruption and favouritism, which he believed could have destroyed the movement.

He castigated more senior cadres who either ignored problems, or were themselves implicated. For this he was even imprisoned for a time by his own leaders. Much of that statement is still highly relevant today.

While he was mainly involved in the military arena, he also used the legal knowledge he acquired as a law student to speak on behalf of those who were in the trenches with him, and his political knowledge to help formulate strategy and tactics.

For Chris Hani "For the workers and the poor" was not just a slogan, but a guiding principle throughout his life.

On his return to South Africa he inspired millions to join the liberation movement through his dazzling oratory at countless rallies. He had the ability to sum up exactly what his working-class and poor audiences were thinking and draw them into the struggle

But perhaps the aspect of Chris Hani's life which is most relevant today is that, unlike some other leaders, he was never prepared to disown his revolutionary communist principles. He always remained firm that the liberation struggle was inseparable from the class struggle to overthrow the capitalist system.

That was why, on his return to South Africa, he refused to get sucked into a search for material rewards. At a time when many leaders were seeking jobs as government ministers or officials - with fat salaries - Chris Hani took on the lowly paid, but politically crucial, position of General Secretary of the SACP.

We can only speculate what Chris would think of South Africa today. Some of the battles he fought haves been largely won. We have consigned apartheid to the history books and museums. We have a constitutional democracy, in which all South Africans are guaranteed basic human rights - to vote, to strike, to demonstrate, to be treated equally under the law, and to join unions and political parties of their choice.

We have made tremendous strides in building a better life for all South Africans. Basic services have been rolled out to millions of the poorest South Africans. The ANC government has invested millions of rands to improve the quality of health care, access to running water, sanitation, electricity, roads, housing and other necessities so that our children, especially the black majority, can have a better future than their parents and grandparents.

More than eight million children at primary and secondary schools benefit from school-feeding schemes, and nine million do not pay school fees. We can justly celebrate the progressive introduction of National Health Insurance, and the roll-out of antiretroviral treatment to over a million people living with HIV and Aids.

15 million more South Africans have a roof above their heads, and over 15 million receive support in the form of grants, without which many would die of starvation.

On the other hand we have failed to make anything like the same kind of changes in the economy we inherited from the days of apartheid, which remains largely as it was. Inequality is even worse than then, in what is now the most unequal society in the world!

The apartheid wage structure has not fundamentally changed. And the racial differences have remained too. Most black workers, particularly in the private sector, continue to live in poverty, not only in the most vulnerable sectors, but also among most blue-collar workers.

An analysis by the South African Institute of Race Relations Institute in 2011, quoting Statistics South Africa figures, show that the median salary for Africans was R2 380, for Coloureds R3 030 and Indians R6 800 whilst whites earned R10 000.

A Global Wage Report by the ILO, analysing wage inequality from 30 countries in 2009/10, revealed that 33% of SA workers are in "low wage employment" - earning less than two-thirds of the median wage (R1 867) or in the case of the EU definition 75% of the average wage. But 75% of the average wage is almost equal to the average minimum wage, which was R3 336 in 2010. This measure means that more than 55% of South African workers are in low-wage employment.

At the opposite end of the economy, top executives' annual salaries for 2010/11 were:

  • Stephen Koseff, chief executive of the Investec Group - R30 736 385 (R2 561 365 a month).
  • Whitey Basson, chief executive of Shoprite Holdings - R17 811 837 (R 1 484 320 a month)

The PriceWaterhouseCoopers Report (2010) on Executive Pay over-estimated the wages paid in the South African economy when it said: "The lowest paid workers have monthly salaries of around R3 500". Yet, despite this overestimate, the report found the pay of executives to be 250-300 times that of the lowest paid worker.  If we correct the wage of the lowest paid worker, the median executive pay gap ranges between 1 535 and 1 842 times the wage earned by the lowest paid worker!   

Inequality in incomes is matched in inequality of service delivery. Despite the commendable increases in service delivery referred to above, the quality of service continues to reflect the two-tier model we inherited from apartheid. In housing, education, healthcare and transport, there is a world-class private service for the still largely white, wealthy minority, but a wretched, third-world service for the poor, overwhelmingly black, majority.

Aggravating the crisis of poverty and inequality is the catastrophic levels of unemployment. The more realistic expanded definition of unemployment, including people who have stopped looking for work, was at 35.9% in the fourth quarter of 2012. Among Africans it is now above 40%, up from 38% in 1995. There is a particularly severe crisis among the youth, who constitute 63% of the working population, yet make 72% of the unemployed.

All these problems are made even worse by our failure to implement the fundamental transformation of the economy we inherited from the colonial and apartheid past, based on the export of raw materials rather than the development of manufacturing industry.

Government, the ANC and COSATU have all agreed that what the ANC Conference in Mangaung called "the Second Phase of the Transition", to reverse the apartheid-era economic fault lines and create a modern industrial economy with low unemployment, decent wages and good public services for all

We have excellent plans on paper, like the Industrial policy Action Plan, and at least part of the New Growth Path, which clearly show the need for a strong developmental, interventionists state to kick start our economic restructuring.

But we are constantly held back those, to be found in the Treasury, the National Planning Commission and the boardrooms of big business, who still believe in a radically different solution - a return to the neoliberal, free-market economy which has proved such a disaster around the world, and in South Africa, when it was launched as the Gear strategy in the late 1990s.

Chris Hani would surely be angry that we have moved so slowly to eradicate our racially skewed levels of inequality, and would sympathise with the increasingly angry protests in our workplaces and poor communities.

COSATU's Collective Bargaining, Organisation and Campaigns Conference in March 2013 was a bold initiative to mobilise the workers and the broader community in a war against low pay, unemployment and inequality. 

We have been inspired by developments in Brazil under former President Lula da Silva, who faced very similar problems of unemployment, poverty and inequality, but was able to achieve real improvements on all these fronts, with the priority always to raise the living standards of the poor.

Minimum wages and social grants were increased and affordable loans made available for emerging small businesses. These not only made a Brazil a more equal society but led to faster economic growth, more sustainable new jobs and lower inflation

We can also be in absolutely no doubt that Chris Hani would have been at the vanguard of the campaign against corruption, based on his emphatic views on this. We must never forget his response to some who expressed shock at his decision to accept the position of SACP General Secretary, instead of angling to be a Minister:

"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 be-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."

He would surely be appalled by the scale of greed and crass materialism of the new clique of tenderpreneurs, and all those who see access to political office as a ladder to personal wealth. He would never have tolerated the levels of corruption, fraud and squandering of public resources and been absolutely devastated at the assassination of political rivals over the spoils of office, and the factional battles and disunity that this has unleashed.

Again let us quote his own words to civil society organisations on the central importance of unity, during the CODESA negotiations: "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."

Let us honour the memory of one of our greatest revolutionaries by recommitting ourselves to the values and ideals for which Chris Hani lived and died - unselfish dedication to the struggle for the emancipation of the world from poverty, hunger and want.

Issued by COSATU, April 9 2013

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