The American political scientist Adolph Reed Jnr. once said of Malcolm X: “… He was just like the rest of us—a regular person saddled with imperfect knowledge, human frailties, and conflicting imperatives, but nonetheless trying to make sense of his very specific history, trying unsuccessfully to transcend it, and struggling to push it in a humane direction.” Because in the political present, most of Chris Hani’s comrades in the ruling ANC, the Communist Party and the main trade federation, COSATU, are such disappointments, the tendency is to set him up as some kind of ideal type (even opposition parties, who had time for Hani’s ideas and struggle while he was alive, are doing so opportunistically). At the same time, Hani represented the energies that people inside and outside South Africa invested in the struggle for a more just, humane society. So, yes, his legacy is a neglected one.
On the day he died, i was in our flat on grafton and minors in yeoville. my dad called. i turned on the TV to hear the worst news. i remember being quite hysterical, laughing, not because i thought it was funny. somehow, tears seemed too little and my emotions were confused. i hear that an aunt of mine laughs when she is sad. i had only had occassion to meet him once. we were visiting MK cadres on hunger strike in hospital – Neo, Ting Ting, Jabu. i had a crush on Ting. we were sitting on the floor in the corridor of the hospital one fine day, an ordinary day, waiting for the doctors to tend to our comrades. then, the light became brighter, the world slowed down, and walking down the corridor in a haze of nostalgia was our hero, Chris Hani. he shook our hands. and we were forever touched.
Struggles over memory are commonplace in contemporary South Africa. The 1980s are an especially contested. That decade witnessed a mass resurgence of popular struggles that picked up a thread of civil opposition going back to the 1976 Soweto uprising. From outside South Africa, the African National Congress (ANC) stepped up its armed struggle and sanctions campaigns; inside the country the United Democratic Front (UDF)—a loose federation of women’s, youth, and civic organizations founded in 1983 in Cape Town as a response to tepid government reforms—coordinated rent, service and consumer boycotts; and a new national trade union federation privileged political struggle. The state responded with more “reforms,” states of emergency, proxy wars, assassinations, and mass detentions. Today legal apartheid is a distant memory for most South Africans.