In her emotive and rousing piece of Chris Hani – the late ANC (African National Congress) struggle stalwart – the academic and activist Nomboniso Gasa writes so beautifully and movingly of the welcoming party this national hero received upon arriving in his home village of Sabalele, Cofimvaba in the province of Eastern Cape. Thembisile Martin ‘Chris’ Hani was born in this village on 28 June 1942. Over two decades later he was forced to leave his country to fight for the freedom of the land and the people he loved dearly. Here he was in the early 1990s, finally home.
Nomboniso Gasa, a talented writer, one blessed with not only the gift on an essayist but a novelist – the latter being the most difficult of literary disciplines to undertake – offers us a rare glimpse into the atmosphere that reigned when Hani returned to his birthplace, and perhaps in extension, giving us a picture of the sort of mood that was commonplace during that period when political parties were unbanned, exiles coming back home after spending years in places unimaginable to their loved ones and political prisoners being released. It must have been truly an emotional experience tempered with jubilation.
In a passage of the article Gasa describes vividly how Hani responded to his aunt who had ventured to ask of her nephew what he had been doing all these years. The poor lady could not have expected what was to come, and the reader is also caught off guard, forced to ponder what might have visited Hani to perform this stunt. ‘He beckoned one of the soldiers to give him his assault rifle’, she writes. ‘Almost playfully, he stood behind his aunt, gave her the AK-47 and balanced it in her hands. He supported her with his own weight. He put her finger on the trigger and pointed the rifle towards the sky.’ Gasa informs us that at the time Chris Hani’s aunt had lost her vision and therefore relied on her hearing to register her nephew’s presence. ‘This and many other things is what I learnt when I was away, dadobawo’, he apparently said to his blind and unwary dadobawo (aunt) before firing a single shot into the air. ‘She jumped, shocked and amazed. He gave back the AK-47 to his comrade. They said nothing as people ululated. She touched his face and led him and his family to his mother who waited in the house.’
Perhaps the most touching of Gasa’s story is when the mother of this hero of the people entered her home – herself a brave hero in her own right, for she ‘endured torture and threats’ at the hands of apartheid South Africa for being a parent of Chris Hani. Her sin was that she had given birth and nurtured this revolutionary, this warrior of the poor and downtrodden, a man who had become a thorn on their side, and therefore she, like many other parents around the country, deserved to be punished. When Hani entered she ‘tried to stand up as a sign of respect’ as ‘he was no longer the son she had sent to fetch water and wash dishes.’ In the eyes of Nomayise Hani, the mother of the commander of Umkhonto we Sizwe, ‘He was a hero now, a leader.’ He belonged no longer to her but to the nation, to South Africa, to the rest of the continent and just about anyone who aligned themselves with the ideas and principles that Chris Hani espoused; and thus he deserved her respect.
To defer to his mother and show her that nothing had changed, that he still was her son and she was still his mother, he ‘quickly knelt down and held her. “Mama!” That was all he said as he folded her in his arms. They had come to this place, where words were inadequate.’
‘Thembisile Martin “Chris” Hani was home’, asserts the writer. Of the lessons we could learn from this gallant leader of the people, Nomboniso Gasa counsels thus: ‘Chris Hani had many features, and in remembering him we need to try to recapture not only the heroic soldier that he was but also the complex human who cared about a range of people not only for political reasons but from a deep emotional connection.’
In this enlightening but short piece the writer has reminded us of the innate qualities of mankind: selflessness, care, love, respect and humility. These are qualities that constituted the person that was Chris Hani. It is a pity that Nomboniso Gasa could not offer us this magnanimous cadre of the once reputable ‘broad church’ in a lengthy piece of writing: a detailed book that would serve as a window that allows us to peek into the life of Thembisile Martin “Chris” Hani.
In April 10, 1993 Chris Hani would unfortunately succumb to a brutal death at his home in Boksburg, Johannesburg. His shooting resulting in his sad departure has since been a weapon for politicians who are competing for positions. They would do well to heed his words when he said: ‘The perks of 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 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.’
This year Chris Hani would have been celebrating his 75th birthday anniversary. Regrettably he was stolen from us 24 years ago. While that may sadly be the case, may his soul rest in eternal peace and glory, and may his fire continue to burn bright, guiding us in our journey towards building the nation and society he envisioned. Kgotsong!