/ 14 April 2023

Lindiwe Hani: ‘Realising dreams is a gift to my father’

Lindiwe Hani
Healing: Chris Hani’s daughter Lindiwe Hani at the wreath-laying ceremony on 10 April 2018 in Boksburg. This year she delivered the Hugh Lewin Memorial lecture at St John’s College, 30 years after her father was assassinated. Photo: Frennie Shivambu/Gallo Images

I am the youngest (and, like to believe, favourite) daughter of the late Chris Hani, the prominent leader of the ANC and the South African Communist Party (SACP). His main objective was the liberation of black people in South Africa and equality across all races. 

By the time I was born, during the height of apartheid in the early 1980s, our family was already living separately. My mother and sisters and I were living in Lesotho, and my father was based all over the world. 

We would get to visit him once a year, typically in Zambia, and that was the only time in my childhood that we could be together as a family. 

To say that I treasured those three months a year would be an understatement. I completely adored my father. I think that due to the separation, he became more than my father and played the role of superhero. 

I was told that the reason we were not together as a family was that my father was making the world a better place. The same way that my father was a leader, the same way he led soldiers, was the way he was a parent. 

He was always available, kind and practical — whether you were his annoying daughter complaining about her mother or a head of state, his attention on you was on par. I am yet to meet anyone who knew my father and didn’t feel that from him. 

My childhood was pretty idyllic, considering we lived under constant threat from the apartheid regime. 

We would often have to leave our home and rely on the kindness of the community or family to house us. We would have to watch my mother every morning look under the hood of the car to check for bombs. In between what I have come to recognise was not a normal upbringing, we were surrounded by love. 

The choice my parents made to raise us in Lesotho, as opposed to following my father around the world, gave us some form of stability and security. 

When the political parties were unbanned in 1990, it was an incredibly joyous time for our family. It meant we lived as a family for the first time, at least in my lifetime. 

We had about a year and a half of our family being whole and then the unimaginable happened.

Daddy was assassinated in our driveway on 10 April 1993. From the moment that Janusz Walus pulled that trigger and gunned my father down like an animal, that one bullet became the catalyst for the destruction of my family — and almost my own destruction. 

I may or may not have made the decision to become immersed in a world of addiction due to my father’s death — all I know is that I did not have the tools to deal with this overwhelming loss. 

Not only did I have to deal with the loss of my father privately, but I had to mourn publicly, and I was also instructed to demonstrate strength to the South African people. Not the best advice for a 12-year-old. 

I became addicted to drugs at the age of 17 until I made the decision to get help and go into rehab in 2014. 

My instinct is to explain and justify what kind of an addict I was as if that will somehow make a difference. The only explanation is that I was in such utter pain and despair, escapism felt like my only solution. 

Becoming a parent and believing there has to be more to life than trauma and devastation is what led me to walk into the rehab centre. 

I needed to make sure my daughter had a fighting chance besides inherited trauma. The only option I had was death or healing. I chose the latter and have been better off since. 

When I was asked to speak publicly about the legacy of anti-apartheid activist Hugh Lewin and my father, Chris Hani, I felt apprehension and fear. These were men who put every-thing, including their own lives, on hold. They disregarded their own safety and needs, and that of their families, to fight for the injustices they experienced in our country. 

Who am I? I am the recipient of their sacrifice. We all are. 

Being part of this legacy brings its own pressure and even feelings of inadequacy. 

Part of my personal struggle was fighting against the legacy of being Chris Hani’s daughter, the fear I will never be good enough to fill his shoes. As a result, I believed that not trying was better than failing. I still battle with the question of what I, as a recovering addict, can impart. 

My father lived in a time when there was a collective sense of wrong and right; a time when the basis of humanity was front and centre. 

We live in a time that is different. Yes, we see injustices every day. We experience deficiencies in our government and, as a result, our greater society. However, what has changed is the collective sense of good. 

We live in a world where we see our leaders personally benefiting richly off the backs of the poor. We are now part of a world where being self-serving — and narcissistic — is celebrated. We are in a world which has lost the most basic quality of humanity — kindness. 

I have ambivalence about a day such as Human Rights Day. It is seen as a public holiday where we can all take time off. When I reflect on the day, it brings immense feelings of pain. It is, to be very clear, Sharpeville Day, when a multitude of people were murdered for standing up for their rights — of moving freely without having to prove they belong in their own country. 

I am not a politician, and I am not here to give a clear directive of what must be done. Even at my age, I am still exploring how I can make a difference and perhaps leave an indelible mark on our world. The fight the youth of today have ahead of them is not the same fight faced by Hugh Lewin or Chris Hani, but there is definitely a fight ahead. 

These are the lessons I have learned. I am Chris Hani’s daughter. It has taken me more than eight years to also acknowledge that I am Lindiwe. In as much as there was difficulty and trauma in my life, having my surname means I am part of a world of privilege. 

For those of us in a position of privilege, we have a responsibility to fight the stereotype of how the world may see us and fight for the world to see us as we are. Not as the progeny of your individual lineage, but as the hope of what you will offer the world. 

My trauma has been a passenger on my journey, mostly a very unwelcome guest. I used it to fuel my destruction, and when I decided I needed help, it was difficult to let go of my trauma — mainly because I didn’t have an excuse for not being able to deal with life on life’s terms.

I had to face the fact that I had become a horrible human being under the influence and that I had alienated my friends and my family. 

I believe that as much as we may not all look to substances to soothe pain/anxiety/fear, holding these emotions in and not speaking out is how we struggle. Please hear me when I say — one doesn’t have to be on this journey alone. 

A large part of the rights my father died for, was the right for the youth to make healthier decisions. In our lifetime, we must endeavour for progress and not perfection. We can only begin to improve society and contribute towards our world by beginning with self. Self-healing is not self-serving or narcissism — it is the antidote. We cannot be effective humans while we are struggling and holding on to all kinds of pain and difficulty. 

We can reflect on the lives of those who came before us, and look at their lives from the perspective of inspiration and not sorrow — that is not how they would want to be remembered. 

As much as my father’s life was as impactful as his death, I had to learn that his death must not bury me. His life is where I must draw strength. When we make strides towards living a robust and full life that boosts those around us, they are smiling. 

The scariest and most daunting fight is to be who you are, to fight for at least the discovery of who you are. You will uncover the men and women, leaders, friends and someday parents you are meant to be. 

As a nation, we have lost a lot, but we have also gained so much. We have gained the legacies of Hugh Lewin, Chris Hani, Steve Biko, Solomon Mahlangu, Oliver Tambo, Joe Slovo and countless others. We stand on the shoulders of these giants so that we realise not only their dreams but also our own. 

This is an edited extract of Lindiwe Hani’s address to St John’s College at the 25th annual Hugh Lewin Memorial Human Rights Day Lecture. Together with Melinda Ferguson, Hani wrote Being Chris Hani’s Daughter (MF Books Joburg).

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Mail & Guardian.