Rekindling the pain

Published : Sep 06, 1997 00:00 IST

The people of South Africa await the verdict of the Amnesty Committee of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission on the amnesty petition of the self-confessed killers of Chris Hani.

THE City Hall in Pretoria is an imposing structure, one that occupies a whole block. It symbolises, like so many other similarly massive buildings in the city, the triumphalism of Afrikaner dominance, which, it was once presumed, would last for ever. A place that routinely served as the venue for rallies organised by the National Party and groups to its right, the City Hall witnessed a rather different kind of gathering from August 11 to 21 - the hearings by the Amnesty Committee of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) of the amnesty applications of Clive Derby-Lewis and Janusz Walus. These men are the convicted killers of Chris Hani, general secretary of the South African Communist Party (SACP).

Chris Hani was only 51 years old at the time of his assassination on April 10, 1993 (he was born on June 28, 1942). He had an immense contribution to make to the democratic transition then on its way, and to the new democratic South Africa that was struggling to be born. He had been elected general secretary of the SACP at its Eighth Congress in Soweto, Johannesburg, in December 1991, its first within the country since the unbanning of the party. Six months earlier, at the National Conference of the African National Congress in Durban, he had been elected a member of the ANC's National Executive Committee. Following his election as SACP general secretary, he resigned as chief of staff of Umkhonto weSizwe (MK), the ANC's armed wing. The armed struggle itself had been suspended in August 1990 with the signing of the Pretoria Minute. Despite the National Party Government's many prevarications, the process of negotiations to effect the transition to democracy was still on course, though constantly threatened with derailment.

The murder of Chris Hani did threaten to derail the negotiation process. It was the statesmanship of Nelson Mandela, who went on national television and called upon the black majority to react with restraint and dignity to the outrage that prevented the country from being engulfed in civil war.

Janusz Walus, the Polish immigrant and supporter of the neo-Nazi Afrikaner Weerstandsbeweging (AWB), who shot Hani as he got out of his car in the driveway of his house in Boxburg, near Johannesburg, was arrested soon thereafter; a neighbour who saw the killer driving away noted down the car registration number and telephoned the police. One week later, Clive Derby-Lewis, a former Conservative Party (C.P.) member of Parliament and at the time of his arrest a member of the President's Council, a 60-member body with a mainly advisory function that existed between 1980 and 1993, was arrested; four days later his wife Gaye Derby-Lewis was also arrested.

THE trial was swift. Just six months after the murder, Janusz Walus and Clive Derby-Lewis were convicted on charges of murder and conspiracy and sentenced to death while Gaye Derby-Lewis was acquitted. The sentences were confirmed by the Appeals Court in Bloemfontein. By then, of course, the transition that the assassins had wanted to prevent had taken place. The sentences were not executed because by then all executions had been suspended pending a ruling by the Constitutional Court on the constitutionality of the death penalty. The court having ruled that the death penalty is unconstitutional, the killers will anyway not hang.

But they want to go free. Again, just as the democratic dispensation that they strove so hard to prevent coming into being enabled them to escape the hangman, the same dispensation has provided them a means to get away with murder through the instrumentality of the amnesty provision of the TRC. Among the first to apply for amnesty (the application was made on April 24, 1996, when the TRC had just held its first hearings into human rights violations), the killers of Hani claim that their killing was a political act; that they have made a "full disclosure" of all facts relevant to their 'act'; and that they fulfil all other requirements to qualify for amnesty.

Do they? This the Amnesty Committee has to decide. According to the legislation that created the TRC (the Promotion of National Unity and Reconciliation Act), an applicant has to fulfil three requirements in order to qualify for amnesty. These are: 1. The act for which amnesty is sought has to have a political objective and, specifically, has to be at the behest of or in support of a known political organisation. 2. The applicant must make a 'full disclosure of all relevant facts' relating to the act. 3. There has to be a 'proportionality' between the claimed political objective and the act for which amnesty is being sought. There is no need for remorse or repentance or apology.

All applicants for amnesty have to be heard by the TRC's Amnesty Committee. The hearings may be in public or behind closed doors. Although the committee has taken decisions on some applications behind closed doors, there is no question of their being heard away from public scrutiny.

The whole country wants to know the truth about the Hani killing. So the two killers have had to come before a large and admittedly hostile public, and convince the committee members that they are telling the truth and have fulfilled the other requirements to qualify for amnesty.

THERE is no mistaking the menace that the two killers represent even now. They carry their four years in prison well. Clive Derby-Lewis, despite his very British appearance and even more British sounding surname, insists that he is an Afrikaner (of German and Scots ancestry) and claims that his action was in defence of "my people, threatened with a 'Communist take-over'."

Walus, much younger (he is 44 and Derby-Lewis is 61), his cold blue eyes fixed into vacant space, is an even more chilling figure. When his turn came to speak briefly on the afternoon of August 20 and at greater length the next day, he spoke in Polish, his voice steady, his memories of that morning still fresh, almost as if he was exultantly re-living those moments. He has reconnoitred the surroundings of the Hani home several times and is again on the prowl, soon after buying subsonic ammunition for the pistol that Clive Derby-Lewis had given him. He sees Hani, without any bodyguards, drive to a shopping centre and buy the morning papers. He follows him, decides that this is a good chance to kill.

The translator's words rekindle the pain for the majority of the audience. "As Mr. Hani got out of his car, I tucked my Z-88 pistol into the back of my trouser belt and got out of my car. I saw Hani move away from the car. I did not want to shoot him in the back. I called, 'Mr Hani'. When he turned, I drew my pistol from the belt and shot him in the stomach. As he fell I shot a second bullet into his head. When he fell on the ground, I shot him again twice, behind the ear..." Janusz Walus is full of voice and words, unlike at Benoni on June 23 when he had only said: "I agree with Clive." Clive Derby-Lewis, in turn, had said, in response to questions from the media after the Amnesty Committee adjourned after only one session, that he had come to the committee to tell the truth.

The hearings at Benoni were adjourned at the request of George Bizos, advocate for the SACP, the ANC and the Hani family. They are opposing the application, and wanted time to study the 'voluminous documentation' from the applicants that he had recently received. However, in Pretoria, it was the lawyers for applicants who repeatedly called for adjournments; there were procedural wrangles almost every day. Clive Derby-Lewis began his testimony only on the afternoon of the second day, and that too at the directive of the Chairman of the Committee to the advocates for the applicant to get on with the task of leading the evidence. This, for the most part, comprised a seemingly never-ending account of his political evolution into a staunch right-winger, claiming with total self-assurance that he did not support apartheid (which after all literally means apart-hood, or separateness) but only 'separate development'. Again, he had to be nudged to get to the issue at hand - the Hani killing.

Since the broad facts and circumstances of the killing are known and indeed have been judicially established, Clive Derby-Lewis provided the rationale for the killing. The National Party Government, he said, had decided to hand over power to the ANC and the SACP. His duty as a patriot and Christian was to prevent this at all costs. He decided to kill Chris Hani, who, as an SACP leader, was both the 'antichrist' and a 'priority political target'. Walus was the instrument but he took equal responsibility. The killing, they expected, would "plunge the country into a situation of chaos" and facilitate a right-wing take-over. In killing Chris Hani, he was acting "in support of and on behalf" of the C.P. This was the political objective. The killing was 'proportional' to this objective, for only thus could he ensure the chaos he wanted to create - and the eventual take-over by the right wing. As for full disclosure, he had nothing to gain by not telling the truth, though he conceded that he had consistently lied during his trial in respect of certain matters, even to his advocate.

The cross-examination by George Bizos tore into this testimony. Using statements made by Clive Derby-Lewis himself during his interrogation (which his lawyers had tried their best to be declared inadmissible), Bizos argued that far from being politically motivated, the assassination only reflected the racial hatred that the killer had towards blacks, and his "sense of self-importance". The killing did not have any political sanction; and the C.P. 'in support of and on behalf of ' which Derby-Lewis claimed he acted had disassociated itself with the killing. A video recording of an interview with Ferdi Hartzenberg, at the time of the killing the deputy leader of the C.P. and now its leader, disassociating the C.P. from the killing was shown. (Hartzenberg, who along with other C.P. leaders has been attending the hearing every day, has till now not spoken about his party's stand; he will testify when he is, as expected, subpoenaed.)

At the time of his death Chris Hani had resigned from his military position and was in no sense a 'military target'. The act, therefore, lacked 'proportionality'. Finally, in continuing to conceal facts about the involvement of his wife Gaye Derby-Lewis in the conspiracy, the applicant had also not made 'full disclosure'. The hearings are to resume on November 24.

WILL the killers get amnesty? Other killers with political motives that were far less clear have been amnestied. One thinks of policeman Brian Mitchell, who led the attack on Trust Feed settlement in which 11 persons were killed. He was given 11 death sentences, but received amnesty last year. In his case, there is no mistaking the broad 'political motivation', though the claim that the killers were acting on behalf of and in support of a recognised political party - the C.P. - is yet to be established. Further, obnoxious and offensive as it is, there is a logic to the claim that Hani's choice as a target only underlined the victim's political status; if the objective (of creating political chaos) is granted, the choice makes perfect sense.

However, the applications, in particular that of Clive Derby-Lewis, seems flawed in respect of the third crucial requirement, 'full disclosure'. The cross examination by George Bizos has already highlighted several of these, indicating that there was a broader conspiracy involving not merely Gaye Derby-Lewis, but others. The forthcoming sessions are likely to reveal even larger hopes in this part of the testimony.

There are also political and moral dimensions to the Hani murder which the Amnesty Committee cannot simply ignore, though something of a fetish has been made about the neutrality of the Amnesty process vis-a-vis these broader issues.

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