Hani not yet laid to rest

A new book by political commentator RW Johnson is likely to rekindle the long-simmering controversy about the assassination of Chris Hani—and the alleged role of Thabo Mbeki protegé and former defence minister Joe Modise.

At the SACP’s 2007 congress newly elected chairperson Gwede Mantashe joined in the song “Thabo Mbeki, Tell us Who Killed Chris Hani”. The Young Communist League has repeatedly called for the investigation into Hani’s death to be reopened.

In South Africa’s Brave New World: The Beloved Country since the End of Apartheid, released this week, Johnson says that Modise, head of Umkhonto weSizwe in exile, had most to gain from Hani’s elimination and was most likely to have had the means to support silently the right-wing plot against Hani by Janusz Walus and Clive Derby-Lewis in 1993.

Johnson says that Mbeki may not have known about the Modise plot but that he protected Modise—especially in relation to the arms deal that vastly enriched the latter. Modise is shown as an Mbeki ally in his rise to the top of the ANC and in his rivalry with Hani.

Johnson writes that in the 1950s Modise was a “township thug”, a leader of the feared Spoilers gang in Alexandra township. He later became Nelson Mandela’s bodyguard and a founder member of MK.

Former MK operative Sibusiso Madlala told Johnson that both Hani and Joe Slovo distrusted Modise and thought he was an apartheid agent. “Whoever got in Bra Joe’s way tended to get caught by the Boers’ security police on their next mission — Everyone in the ANC was frightened of him. They knew he had killed people himself, that he was completely ruthless and that he had presided over mass torture and executions in the MK punishment camps like Quatro.”

In 1968 Hani wrote a famous letter to the ANC leadership complaining that, while MK soldiers suffered in the camps, leaders such as Modise, whom he mentioned by name, lived the high life.

Modise was known for his extravagant lifestyle in Zambia, partly financed by a racket in stolen cars, which he ran with ANC treasurer Tom Nkobi, Johnson writes.

Modise’s response to the Hani letter was to demand the execution of Hani and his co-signatories. They were saved only by Oliver Tambo’s intervention.

Hani later became MK second-in-command and Modise’s rival for the top job, as well as being vastly popular in MK and in South Africa. He was viewed as Mbeki’s most plausible rival to succeed Tambo.

Johnson considers the evidence that Modise was a double agent “overwhelming”, citing former apartheid security policemen he interviewed.

Modise returned to South Africa in 1990 “determined to become the first ANC defence minister” and “began to meet with foreign arms dealers now swarming the country in search of the inevitable post-sanctions arms deal”.

Johnson writes that in 1993 Hani confronted Modise with the know­ledge that he (Modise) had sold off an ANC arms cache for R2.5-million and pocketed the money. “Two weeks later Hani was shot dead.”

Johnson argues that the intelligence services of the ANC and the white Nationalist government, which were already cooperating, got wind of the assassination plot by Walus and Derby-Lewis—and one or both rendered invisible assistance.

They then made sure the assassins were caught. Walus “carried out the hit in full sight of a white woman, who was able to give a description of him, his — car and its registration—and yet [Walus] himself had not seen her.”

The witness vanished and Walus was arrested 10 minutes after driving away from the scene.

The M&G reported in 1997 that a double agent called Ramon Laher told his National Intelligence Service handler, Eugene Riley, of a plot to kill Hani days before it took place. Laher later told the M&G that “operatives on both sides of the spectrum”, ANC leaders and ANC intelligence were involved.

Laher “went to ground” after the Truth Commission sought to interview him. He gave Riley documents supporting his view, but Riley was mysteriously murdered eight months after Hani’s death.

Mathews Phosa, who conducted the ANC’s internal investigation into the assassination, told the M&G there was a “wider conspiracy”, writes Johnson. Further, he says KwaZulu-Natal leader Sifiso Nkabinde said a policeman, Leonard Radu, who investigated Hani’s death, was murdered. Nkabinde was assassinated soon afterwards.

According to Johnson journalists attempting to follow up the story about Hani’s death have been threatened.

Shaun de Waal

Shaun de Waal

Shaun de Waal has worked at the Mail & Guardian since 1989. He was literary editor from 1991 to 2006 and chief film critic for 15 years. He is now editor-at-large. Recent publications include Exposure: Queer Fiction, 25 Years of the Mail & Guardian and Not the Movie of the Week. Read more from Shaun de Waal

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