South Africa: How Mandela's intervention helped steer South Africa away from a race war (By Craig Urquhart, PANA Correspondent)

Cape Town, South Africa (PANA) – Few issues have divided post-Apartheid South Africa more than the fate of two men who almost sparked a full-blown race war with the murder of Chris Hani. The former general secretary of the South African Communist Party was gunned down in the driveway of his Boksburg home outside Johannesburg 23 years ago and the incident came dangerously close to derailing the country’s first all-race elections in 1994.

For more than two decades, convicted killer Janus Walus and Clive Derby-Lewis – the man who supplied him with the murder weapon – languished in a high-security Pretoria jail while South Africa re-entered the global arena following decades of isolation.

While negotiations to end apartheid were delicately balanced, Walus who had immigrated to South Africa from Poland, drove to Hani's house and shot the liberation hero four times. Hani died at the scene. After his arrest, police found a hit-list with Nelson Mandela’s name on it.

Ironically, within hours the incident effectively saw President F.W. De Klerk hand the political baton to the prisoner-turned-world statesman. On the night of the murder, De Klerk gave Mandela the national broadcaster as a platform to appeal for calm.  

With the nation on edge, Mandela chose his words carefully. "Tonight, I am reaching out to every single South African, black and white, from the very depths of my being. A white man, full of prejudice and hate, came to our country and committed a deed so foul that our whole nation now teeters on the brink of disaster. A white woman, of Afrikaner origin, risked her life so that we may know, and bring to justice, this assassin," he said in reference to a witness who saw Walus commit the murder and report it o the police.

In his autobiography, "Long Walk to Freedom", Mandela said there were concerns that Hani's death might trigger a race war, “with the youth deciding that their hero should become a martyr for whom they would lay down their own lives".

Despite Mandela’s pleas, thousands of protesters marched through cities and in townships around the country with more than 70 fatalities recorded. But the reality is that the situation could have been far worse and, the following year, Mandela was swept into power on a ticket of reconciliation.

With the introduction of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after the first all-race elections in 1994, Walus applied for amnesty. After extensive investigations, the commission found that Walus and Derby-Lewis were not acting on higher orders and rejected their amnesty applications. Both men were sentenced to death‚ but their sentences were later commuted to life imprisonment after the death penalty was abolished.

Derby-Lewis was released last year after being diagnosed with inoperable cancer. And this week, Gauteng High Court Judge Nicoline Janse van Nieuwenhuizen ordered the Department of Correctional Services to release Walus within 14 days.

In a 17-page ruling, she said Walus had met the conditions for parole and she cited a 2014 letter he had written to Hani’s family saying “the only thing that I can do is say I am very sorry for what I have subjected you to through all those years. If forgiveness is impossible, I will fully understand and respect your decision”.

She noted that parole is “still a form of punishment” and that strict conditions are imposed on people who are granted parole, adding that “Walus will serve his sentence until death”.

However, the judge has come under fire with the SA Communist Party vowing to appeal the ruling.

In a radio interview, Hani’s widow Limpho Hani accused the judge of being a racist who was playing God. The ruling African National Congress also condemned the judgment, demanding that Walus be deported to Poland on his release, “never to return to South Africa”.

If Walus is released later this month, he will experience a nation that lurched away from a full-blown race war – despite his moment of madness – and became a moral beacon for the rest of the world.
-0- PANA CU/MA 11March2016

11 march 2016 11:35:08

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