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By Brendan Seery

Deputy Editor

Chris Hani was a man of compassion and commitment to his country

I had come to know Chris and Tokyo well, after journalist Sefako Nyaka introduced me to them not long after they had returned from exile in the early 1990s.

Easter Saturday, 10 April 1994, was warmer than it has been this week, but there was a chill air about Dawn Park in Boksburg that day.

On the driveway outside a modest suburban house was something covered in a silver “space blanket”. It sat atop a pool of blood, congealing in the morning sunshine. Next to it stood a distraught figure in a gaudy tracksuit. I could see the tears in his eyes as I walked over. I’ve never been very good around bodies and death, so I just offered him a quick hug.

Tokyo Sexwale would shake his head every now and then, unable to comprehend that it was his comrade and close friend, Chris Hani, covered up.

I found it difficult, too.

I had come to know Chris and Tokyo well, after journalist Sefako Nyaka introduced me to them not long after they had returned from exile in the early 1990s.

The ANC PWV (Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging) office was on the first floor of a dingy building in downtown Joburg, near the Rissik Street Post Office. Chris laughed as he showed me around the sparsely-furnished space.

Picking up the only telephone, he said: “It doesn’t work. My comrades are not good at paying bills!”

It was a similar story with the coffee Tokyo offered to pour for us: No sugar, no milk. No problem, I said, I used to drink my coffee this way when I worked at the bureau in Namibia… the company was too stingy to buy a fridge and the always threatening plagues of ants meant neither sugar or milk could be kept there.

I told them I was quite happy with “detention coffee” (which is what by then colleague Jon Qwelane called it after his time behind bars). Chris and Tokyo laughed uproariously.

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Those were times when you could laugh, almost casually, at the brutalities of apartheid – because it was clearly on its way out. People like Chris and Tokyo seemed, to me anyway, to be wanting to build their brave new world society from the ashes of that oppression.

In all our discussions, it was Chris, particularly, who was the intellectual with the common touch. I never felt, in his presence, any sort of hatred because I was white. When we talked about his vision for the future, he would always look me straight in the eyes and repeatedly use the term “we”, emphasising that the new society would be non-racial.

His warmth and humour were a direct contrast to the demeanor of Nelson Mandela, whom I met and interviewed on a few occasions and who I found cold, calculating and acting out a part while concealing his true intentions. That may not go down well with the fans in the Saint Nelson Club, but that is how I experienced it . . . and because his life was ended so early, few got to spend as much time around Chris as they did around Madiba.

One can never be sure how someone would have turned out. Tokyo is a good example of that. He took the money (lots of it) from Big Business and ran… away from politics. With him and Chris out of the picture, was the way open for others to rise to the top of the ANC?

I don’t know. I also don’t know whether Chris would have stuck to his socialist egalitarian principles or whether he would have remained uncorrupted. I like to think, though, that he would have.

Would South Africa have been a better place had Chris Hani eventually risen to high office – even that of president? I believe so. He was a man of compassion, of integrity and commitment to the country he loved.

In the end, maybe, that was why someone had to get rid of him.

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