/ 23 March 2018

Hani: Holes in the evidence

Chris Hani's legacy could help expand the possibilities for reconciliation in South Africa.
Chris Hani's legacy could help expand the possibilities for reconciliation in South Africa.

Boksburg, September 2000

Dudu Kraai, a friendly, round nurse and single mother of three, has more or less recovered from the car accident, three weeks ago, in which she broke a few ribs and a hipbone. With some effort she manages to move around in her small house not far from Noxolo Grootboom’s in Dawn Park; making coffee and trying to get her three well-behaved and well-scrubbed children to eat some healthy food. “It wasn’t that I was scared of talking at first,” she says in between bowls of oats for them and coffee for me. “I actually wanted to testify. I phoned the police a few times. I told them that I had seen two cars. They then called me once to identify the red car. I asked if there was no white car to identify, but they said there wasn’t. When they held an identity parade of suspects I offered to help identify the driver of the red car, but they didn’t want me to. They said I could give a statement. I did.”

A few days later, there had been a knock on the door. “At 4 am! They knocked so hard, and shouted, waking up the kids. They said they had come to interview me, but it was more like they were scaring me. They asked me who I thought I was, why I wanted to be involved in this case, if I was a relative of Chris Hani.

The baby woke up and started crying. After a while, they left. From then on I was indeed a bit scared.”

Dudu Kraai had watched the news reports about the trial and the conviction of Waluś and Derby-Lewis on TV. She read glowing reports of how neighbour Mrs Harmse had been the hero; the neighbour who had seen it all, who had been brave enough to stop her car long enough to witness, to get the red Ford Laser’s registration number; who had phoned the police and got Waluś arrested. “And all this time I was thinking that it hadn’t been that man who was driving the red car. But the police never wanted to hear that.”

Dudu Kraai had gone to central Boksburg on that morning, seven years ago, together with her nephew, Sandile. They had arrived back in Dawn Park, alighting from the taxi at the corner of Hakea Crescent, when they saw Chris Hani coming home in his car. “He came driving in my direction, since his house is just around the corner from there. Two cars were driving behind him,”she says. “A red car and then a white car.” Thinking back to what Joe Kgomotho said, I calculate that this must have been immediately after the blue Mazda had turned a right corner. Then the white car — witness Mrs Harmse? — had entered the street, taking the blue Mazda’s place behind Chris.

“As I was looking at Chris coming up, and greeted him, the white car sped up and overtook him. It turned into Hakea Crescent before him. Then Chris turned, then the red car.” The Hanis’ house was the second house from the corner, not far from the spot where Dudu had alighted from the taxi. “It was maybe twenty metres. Since it was a corner I did not see what happened after the three cars turned. I was walking home now. But I heard the shots immediately after. It wasn’t even a minute.” Like Joe Kgomotho, Dudu Kraai never saw a blue car turning into Hakea Crescent at that time. Only Janusz Waluś’s red car, Chris Hani’s car, and a white car.

She continues, saying that both the red and the white car — first red, then white — had been driving closely behind Hani at first, before the white car overtook both. Both cars had been driven by men, she says. Yes, also the white one. It had been a man, not a woman. She is sure of that. “I thought they were his body guards, because they drove so closely behind him. The white car was driven by a blond man, who kept his eyes on Chris and on the road. But the man in the red car looked straight at me for a moment, and in a very angry way, too. He gave me shivers. He was so big and heavy. I thought if he was Chris’s body guard, he didn’t look like a nice one.” Kraai describes the man as dark. Dark like black? “No,” she says. “Dark like a dark white man. Like Italian or Portuguese or Greek, with black hair and black eyes. And so … so … not fat, but …” she gestures to indicate bigness, bulk on the bones. “Beefy?” I suggest. “Yes,” comes the answer, with a fervent nod. “Beefy. That’s the word.” Whoever Dudu Kraai is describing, it cannot possible be the state’s star witness Mrs Harmse. A newspaper photograph I have seen shows the neighbour who witnessed the assassination and called the police as a blonde, middle-aged woman of average build. If Mrs Harmse had not been in either of the two cars, then where had she been?

But something else also doesn’t make sense. Surely Janusz Waluś, the blond blue-eyed man, had been driving the red car, which means that the other — beefy, dark — man would have been in the white one. Janusz Waluś, blond and slender with blue eyes, had been driving the red car, not so? He had been arrested in that red car on the main road out of Boksburg a mere twelve minutes after the murder. But Dudu Kraai won’t budge: she had seen the angry, broad, dark-white man in the red car, barely a minute before she and her nephew had heard the shots. The blond man had driven the other, white one.

I show her a set of pictures, carefully chosen to depict various white male types: young, old, dark-haired, blond-haired, bald, fat, thin, average. Janusz Waluś’s picture is among them; the rest are just random people, but I don’t tell Dudu that. I tell her that all these men are possibly connected to the cars she has seen. Immediately, she picks Waluś as the driver of the white car, but I am not yet convinced: she may have recognised the convicted murderer’s picture because it has been in the newspapers a lot. “But I do remember him,” Kraai says. “He had wide ears and was wearing a blue shirt.” It’s true: Waluś had been wearing a blue shirt that day.

The white car with, if Dudu Kraai is right, Waluś in it, had overtaken both Hani’s and the “angry man’s” car and moved ahead, allowing for Hani to turn into his driveway. Joe Kgomotho had then seen the white car stationary a little further down the street, with Hani stopping in his driveway and the red car behind him. The news reports had detailed the direction from where the bullets came, the impact on the body, the ricocheting, all that. All the findings are consistent with an assassin alighting from a red car behind Hani. Janusz Waluś had been convicted as the man who shot Hani from that direction. But if Dudu Kraai is right, Waluś hadn’t been that man.

Nevertheless, it had been Janusz Waluś who had, a little later, been arrested in the red car, which had also been remarkably full of evidence: a smoking gun, false number plates, gloves with gunshot residue, the lot. The police who arrested him could not believe their luck, some newspapers had said. Had Waluś and the real assassin somehow swopped cars? “Yep, I saw that big man with black hair too,” says Sandile Xulu, Kraai’s nephew, over the phone when I check with him. “He was driving the red Ford Laser.”

If there had been a car swap, the beefy dark-white man had arrived at the Hanis’ yard in the red car, and driven away in the white one. But the police had said that the white car that Joe Kgomotho had seen leaving the scene — speeding, he had said — belonged to witness Mrs Harmse, the neighbour who had seen the shooting and who had hurried home to phone the police. “Wasn’t that Mrs Harmse?” says Joe Kgomotho, shaking his head, when I tell him he saw a white car speed away but according to his neighbour and her nephew, Mrs Harmse had not been in it.

Kgomotho says he always believed that that had been her.

It is difficult, so long after events, to trust eye witness memories, no matter how honest the witnesses are. But the witnesses of Hakea Crescent all concur that there had been a red and a white car at the murder scene. There is no mention of another colour, except for the blue Mazda 323 that Joe Kgomotho saw following Chris Hani minutes before the murder; the blue Mazda 323 that he had seen turn away into another street; that he had later, after the murder, seen again at the corner, with two white men standing next to it. He had thought that “these men could have had something to do with it”.

But it had not been seen anywhere near the actual murder scene. Only a red car and white car had. With, according to Dudu Kraai and her nephew, male drivers: a blond one and a dark one.

When I later peruse the police files on the Hani murder I come across many interesting things. Among the most interesting will be a small statement, drafted by Mrs Harmse, in which she explains “for clarity” that her car is a blue Mazda 323.