South Africa a Failing Democracy Focus on Joe Modise and the Assassination of Chris Hani


The assassination of Chris Hani had a significant influence on the failing of democracy for South Africa. Joe Modise a guerrilla fighter and campaigner against the apartheid period will always be linked to the controversial arms deal.

Early negotiations

During the past 1980’s and the early 1990’s various high keyed negotiations took place between the South African Government and the African National Congress (ANC), the party who wanted change.

South Africa uprising
South Africa uprising

Nelson Mandela was the elected president of the ANC during that time, and considered to be the most suitable one to pilot his party to victory. Yet behind the scenes there was another top political and favorite person who could have taken the spotlight off Mandela and perhaps made democracy work in South Africa. The ANC had their fair share of political jealousy, and there were the contenders within the group who wanted the high seat of power. Support from the powerful people within the national executive committee could account for or against a contender.

Joe Modise

Joe Modise
Joe Modise

Johannes ‘Joe’ Modise, born in May 1929 and as a teenager had a keen interest in the struggle against apartheid. He joined the ANC. He was a co-founder of the ANC’s armed group, Umkhonto we Sizwe.

He was arrested alongside Nelson Mandela in the 1960’s and charged with treason.

He is remembered for his choice of non violent means against apartheid. He soon realised the South African government used force against the activists and became a guerrilla fighter, organising opposition groups and trained others to become fierce fighters of apartheid.

During 1969 Chris Hani documented the ‘Hani Memorandum’ which was strongly critical of Modise’s control of the ANC military rule in exile. Modise was promoted to Chief of the ANC military wing, and in later years Chris Hani deputized him as Chief of Staff.

In 1990 Modise and other representatives of the ANC met with the white government for negotiations of a peaceful transition. Joe Modise was nominated as Defense Minister during the Mandela reign. During this time he was charged with the integrating the guerrilla fighters into the new South Africa Defence Force, (SANDF).

As Minister of Defense Joe Modise, it was alleged that he was involved in awarding arms deals to European companies, including Britain. A conflict of interest remained a persistent issue during his term as Minister of Defense. The arms deal still remains an open case, and is a complex web of corruption with investigations continuing to cumulate evidence of one of the biggest fraud cases in the history of the first 20 years of democracy. A few of the beneficiaries who benefited from the lucrative deals were Jacob Zuma, Thabo Mbeki, and Fana Hlongwani among others.

Modise died at the age of 72 from cancer. 

Chris Hani
Chris Hani

Chris Hani and his assassination

Chris Hani was born in a small rural village in Transkei, South Africa in June 1942. At the age of 15, he joined the ANC youth league and became a member of the ANC armed wing, Umkhonto we Sizwe. Until his death, he remained a staunch opponent of the apartheid government. During 1963, he went into exile in Lesotho and then received military training in the Soviet Union. Chris Hani was a supporter of the Rhodesian (Zimbabwe) Bush War. He was regarded as a brave soldier and fiercely loyal, and considered as the one who would be able to take down the apartheid government.

Chris Hani with Nelson Mandela
Chris Hani with Nelson Mandela

The memorandum he produced while in exile was forcefully critical of the control of Joe Modise. Allegations of Modise being a spy for the South Africans were raised.

He remained a popular leader and was often the target of assassinations attempts. He left South Africa and returned after the unbanning of the ANC and became the leader of the South African Communist Party during 1991. He is respected and remembered as a supporter of the suspension of the ANC’s armed struggle in favor of negotiations.

Hani remained a charismatic leader with exceptional support and was the most popular ANC leader after Nelson Mandela. He was perceived as a rival to the party leadership. Rumours were rife that this man would have become the first black democratic president of South Africa. His popularity among black people remained remarkably high, and this caused friction within the ANC leadership.

He was killed in cold blood on April 10 1993, outside of his home in Dawn Park, a suburb of Boksburg.

Chris Hani stepped out of his motor vehicle and was shot in the head by Janusz Walus a Polish far-right immigrant.

Clive Derby Lewis
Clive Derby Lewis

During investigations, it was alleged that Clive Derby Lewis a well known activist and leader of the Conservative party, (the biggest opposition to the ruling National Party) who did not want reform was responsible for handing the murder weapon to Janusz Walus to carry out the assassination.

They were arrested, and today Clive Derby Lewis remains in jail, an ailing and frail man who has been denied parole.

The death of Chris Hani was a turning point in the history of South Africa. People were restless and fears that violence could erupt because of his popularity were real. Riots did break out but were controllable. Nelson Mandela, although not the leader of the country at that time, addressed the nation and called for calm. The death of Chris Hani stimulated the negotiations for a peaceful resolve and a year later the first democratic election took place.

Rumors and conspiracy theories are crazy as to the real reason behind this murder. One of  these theories is the conflict within the leadership of the ANC, and the power wielded by Thabo Mbeki who knew it would happen and could have prevented this but let it play out and thereby getting rid of two massive problems at once. The assassination prevented Chris Hani from leading the country into democracy, and prevented Clive Derby Lewis from organizing a civil war.

In Closing

As the spotlight falls on the prominent members of society and within the ANC, there appears to be so little democracy. It’s a battle of power and of control, and can result in the killing of innocent people. The bribery and corruption turned its ugly head, right from the start of the Mandela reign. From 1994, the failing democracy could not fail anymore because there was never a plan for democracy.

By Laura Oneale

SA History
SACP (South African Communist Party)

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