In the name of Hani

While the main ANC election poster carries a smiling Thabo Mbeki, the South African Communist Party’s main poster features Chris Hani with the slogan “Remember Chris Hani — Vote ANC”.

Ceremonies this year to mark the sixth anniversary of Hani’s death were far more elaborate than in previous years, even though six is not an especially significant number. The ANC decided to make the tributes to Hani part of its election campaign this year. Indeed, in the Eastern Cape it marked the campaign’s official launch, with Mbeki himself addressing a commemorative rally at Cofimvaba, near Hani’s birthplace of Lower Sabalele. Mbeki made a pilgrimage there after the rally to meet Hani’s aged mother and his two brothers. In his speech in praise of Hani, Mbeki said, “he never fought for high office but only to liberate his people”, though it is universally assumed that Hani, long Mbeki’s rival for the ANC leadership, would indeed have fought for high office had he lived and might well have beaten Mbeki in the presidential stakes.

In one sense the choice of the Hani theme was obvious for the ANC which is hardly keen to dwell on its poor delivery record and would prefer to keep things at a lofty, symbolic level. But while Hani’s name is still good currency with most ANC activists, brandishing posters of a dead Communist Party leader is certainly not an obvious way of attracting floating voters. So why do it?

One theory is that Hani’s image is particularly attractive to the ANC’s radical critics on the left, disappointed by the failures of delivery and now tempted towards the UDM. Hani was, after all, popular in exactly the same Transkei milieux where Bantu Holomisa has his largest following. Another theory is that this is an SACP ploy to build up the heroic and martyred figure of Hani so that at every stage Mbeki will be measured against “what Chris would have done if he were president”.

This interpretation is strengthened by the SACP’s call for the re-opening of the inquiry into “the broader conspiracy” behind Hani’s murder, a call which inevitably engenders the usual rumour-mongering about the involvement of “highly placed ANC moderates” in the assassination. It is possible that such elements were involved. It always seemed unlikely that the far right on its own would have had the intelligence necessary to track Hani down at home at the one moment when his bodyguard was off-duty, but proof has been singularly lacking. With the Communist Party far from sure that the fragile truce it has reached with Mbeki for the duration of the campaign will last much beyond June 2, it may well wish to keep the prospect of a witchhunt among ANC moderates poised as a threat. Mbeki will doubtless be aware that the Hani campaign is two-edged and could be used against him. If so, experience suggests that he will not be slow to think up imaginative ways of ensuring that Messrs Cronin, Nzimande and company vanish through a metaphorical trap door.