Hani's ideals would've made him an ideal leader

Chris Hani would have been upset at how legitimate demands and political slogans are being used to promote the interests of a faction in the ANC.

Chris Hani would have turned 75 this week. It is an event that passed without any fanfare but it would have been an appropriate opportunity for our political leaders to reflect on Hani’s values and his commitment to the struggle for the liberation of all South Africans. We should not only commemorate death but also celebrate life.

Two of Hani’s contemporaries in the Struggle, became presidents of South Africa. Thabo Mbeki, who turned 75 on June 18, was president from June 14, 1999 until September 2008, while Jacob Zuma, who turned 75 on April 12, was president since 2009, having been re-elected for a second term in 2014. 

There are many who believe the SA Communist Party leader would probably also have become president of the ANC and the country if his life was not cut short by a right-wing assassin on April 10, 1993, just over a year before South Africans voted in our first democratic elections. 

Other contemporaries who are roughly the same age include Pallo Jordan, who turned 75 on May 22, and Mavuso Msimang, who will turn 76 on October 19. 

It is interesting to look at this group to see how things turned out differently for men who were the best of comrades during their years in the Struggle. 

Hani was deprived of an opportunity to accomplish greatness in South Africa, Mbeki went on to tarnish his good name as president, due to some bad decisions and misguided loyalties, but this was nothing compared to what Zuma has “achieved” as president. Some of his critics blame Zuma for the demise of the ANC and warn that the party may lose the 2019 elections if there is a perception Zuma is still in control, even if not as president of the ANC. There are even people who want Mbeki to make a comeback. They have obviously forgotten the criticism they bestowed on him when he was Number 1.

Jordan went into hiding after his lack of a doctorate was exposed, while Msimang surfaced as one of Zuma’s most vocal critics, part of the group of ANC stalwarts, demanding leadership change in the organisation. 

Leadership will be top of mind for everyone at the ANC’s policy conference this weekend, although, officially, ANC members are not meant to discuss this publicly. 

It is difficult to speculate what Hani would have said about the current state of national politics but, I suspect, his views would probably have been closer to Msimang’s. Hani was committed to the ANC, led by Oliver Tambo, who would have turned 100 in October this year, and would have been upset at how legitimate demands and political slogans were debased as they are now used to promote the interests of a faction in the ANC.

Whether this faction is truly committed to tackling white monopoly capital and radically transform the economy, is debatable. 

Because this faction appears to have taken ownership of these terms, others are not engaging with them meaningfully, leading to a situation where nobody is taking the transformation of our economy, and our society, seriously. 

Talk of transformation, so far, has only been hot air. If we had proper transformation in our society, and particularly our economy, we would not see headlines about the huge gap between the earnings of South African chief executives compared to what they pay workers. According to a report this week, some chief executives earn up to 500 times more than the lowest paid workers in their companies.

I have no problem with chief executives earning huge salaries, but it must be reward for good work and they must lead in a way which empowers their staff. The best leaders are not those who try to accrue capital and benefits only for themselves, but those who believe that sharing in a more equitable manner with their workers will lead to a situation where everyone will earn more. There are some people in South Africa who still have misguided notions of the communism espoused by people like Hani. They focus unnecessarily on the notion of communists being non-believers.

I would like to think that someone like Hani believed in humanity, equality and justice, and that is good enough for me. I will gladly take a pro-poor non-believer over an oppressive believer any day. There are some good non-believers in the same way as there are bad believers (just think about apartheid). Ultimately, we should judge people on their actions as opposed to their words.

Let’s celebrate Hani’s life but let us also commit ourselves to creating a society where everyone will be treated as roughly equal. I don’t think that is communism. It is just doing what is right.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday 1 July 2017)