By: Tinyeko Captain Ndhlovu – Curator: Insignia, Memorial Plaques, Postal History DITSONG: National Museum of Military History


The name of Chris Hani (combat name) appears amongst the heroes and legends who fought against the Apartheid regime. These heroes dedicated their lives for the course of liberation and democracy of the southern African region. Chris Hani (see Fig. 1) joined the liberation armed struggle during the 1960s and received his military training in the USSR. Hani served as an anti-apartheid activist, revolutionary politician, and Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK) guerrilla between the 1960s and 1990s.


Figure 1. Former Chief Staff and Commander of (MK): Chris Martin Thembisile Hani SSA, SBS, CLS, DMG, MMS (Image Source: Wikipedia).


Early life, education, and political career

‘Chris Hani’, born Martin Thembisile Hani SSAG, SSA, SBS, CLS, DMG, MMS was the fifth of six children of Gilbert and Mary (néé Nomayise) Hani. He was born on 28 June 1942 in Cofimvaba, Eastern Cape (formerly Transkei), South Africa. Chris Hani followed in the steps of his father Gilbert who was a mine union labour and political activist, who left South Africa into exile during the 1960s and returned to the country in the 1990s. Chris Hani joined the African National Congress (ANC) Youth League at the age of 15 because of his father, Gilbert Hani’s political influence. During his school and tertiary education, Hani did not participate in any sport activities. Chris Hani once said, “I would rather combat apartheid than play sport.” In 1961, after being influenced by leaders such as Ray Simons, Govan Mbeki, and Moses Kotane, Chris Hani joined the South African Communist Party (SACP). He furthered his tertiary education in English, Latin, modern and classical literature and graduated at the University of Fort Hare (1959-1961) and Rhodes University (1962).

Post his tertiary graduation, Chris Hani secured his first job as an article clerk for Schaeffer and Schaeffer legal firm in Cape Town. In the course of time, Hani could not take it anymore, due to his frustration with the Apartheid system. He worked at the law firm from 1962-1963 but did not complete his article assignment. Chris Hani joined Umkhonto we Sizwe (MK), the military wing of the ANC in 1962. Following his detention in 1962, and under the Suppression of the Communism Act of 1950, Hani went underground in Cape Town after four months, and then moved to Johannesburg where he was advised to go abroad for military training.


Military training, and operations

In 1963, Chris Hani fled to the Soviet Union to receive military training. By 1964 about 300 MK cadres had left South Africa for military training in many newly African independent states, China, the USSR, and Czechoslovakia. By 1965 MK had enough trained cadres around the globe. Hani returned from the USSR in 1967 where he actively served in joint military operations of MK/Zimbabwe People’s Revolutionary Army (ZIPRA), such as the Wankie Campaign or Operation Nickel. During that time Chris was an Acting Political Commissar of ZIPRA. He eventually became a Political Commissar of MK in 1967.

The Wankie Campaign (also known as Operation Nickel) was a military operation launched by the Rhodesian Security Forces from 1 August – 8 September 1967 in response to the ZIPRA and MK crossing the Zambian border. Another campaign where Chris Hani participated in was the Sipolilo Campaign (1967-68) under MK/ZIPRA during the Zimbabwean War of Liberation/Rhodesian Bush War. One of the most significant experiences of the liberation struggle was contained in the Wankie/Sipolilo Campaigns (1967-1968).


Figure 2. Commander Chris Hani inspecting the MK troops at Langa Stadium, Cape Town, in 1991(Source Image: South African History Online).


“Chris Hani knew every (MK) soldier by name and by their combat. He was down to earth, and easy to talk with” (Quoted by Ronald Masinda, Chris Hani’s former bodyguard).

 Chris gained the status of an African guerrilla warrior who was able to challenge the Apartheid government and its associates. Chris Hani grew within the MK ranks and became Second in Command to Commander Joe Modise who was the supervising commander of MK. Hani spent a good deal of time as an underground organizer of the MK, conducting the guerrilla operations in South Africa and Lesotho during the mid-1970-80s. During the 1980s, Chris Hani became prominent enough to be a target of assassination attempts. He left Lesotho to the MK/ANC headquarters in Lusaka, Zambia. It was also observed that Chris promoted women’s rights, safety, and wellbeing, especially the MK female operatives at the training camps. He eventually became the Chief of Staff of MK in 1987.


Marriage and family

In 1973 Chris got married to Limpho (néé Sekamane) Hani in Lusaka and they were blessed with three daughters: Neo Hani, Nomakhwezi Hani, and Lindiwe Hani. Chris Hani’s family was obliged to live separately; his wife Limpho Hani and their daughters were living in Lesotho, while Chris was based in Lusaka, Zambia, and across the globe due to MK underground activities and the danger of his duties. However, they were able to visit Chris once a year in Zambia. Both Chris Hani and his family encountered several life-threatening moments and assassination attempts during the liberation armed struggle era.


Homecoming and Hani’s assassination in the early 1990s

The ANC and other political parties were unbanned on 2 February 1990. Chris Hani and other MK cadres permanently returned from exile to South Africa. During the SACP Conference on 8 December 1991, Hani was elected and took over from Joe Slovo as the Head/General Secretary of the SACP. Hani was also elected to be at the Top 6 of the NEC of the ANC. Chris Hani was in support of the suspension of the MK/ANC’s armed struggle in favour of the negotiations. Chris Hani was the most popular figure in the MK, SACP, and ANC after Nelson Mandela.

Unfortunately, on 10 April 1993, Chris Hani was assassinated outside his home in Dawn Park, Boksburg. Following his assassination, two culprits, namely Janusz Walus a Polish immigrant and far-right anti-communist who used the gun, given by Clive Derby-Lewis (SA Conservative Party MP), were arrested and sentenced to death. Chris Hani’s assassination stirred anxiety among South Africans at a point that it was left with great fear that the country would end up in civil war. However, Nelson Mandela intervened by addressing the nation and appealing for peace. The following year South Africa agreed to hold the first national democratic election on the 27th April1994.

Later the death penalty was abolished and replaced by life sentence due to a RSA Constitutional Court ruling of 1995. Hani’s killers appeared before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. After many attempts of seeking parole, Derby-Lewis was granted medical parole (he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer) in May 2015. He lived for a further 18 months and died on 3 November 2016. Januz Waluz was denied parole four times, before the SA Constitutional Court ordered his release on parole in November 2022. However, it should be noted that various political organizations, Chris Hani’s family and the SACP attempted with all their strength to oppose both paroles of Chris Hani’s killers.


Civilian honours and military awards

Chris Hani’s contributions in the armed liberation struggle in Southern Africa was noticed by the Republic of South Africa and the following civilian honours and Military awards were posthumously awarded to Hani (See Figs 3-10):


Figure 3. Star of South Africa (Gold) post-nominals SSA (Source Image: Wikipedia).


Figure 4. Star for Bravery (Silver) post-nominal SBS (Source Image: Wikipedia).

Figure 5. Conspicuously for Leadership Star (Silver) post-nominal CLS (Source Image: Wikipedia).

Figure 6. Decoration for Merit (Gold) post-nominal DMG (Source Image: Wikipedia).

Figure 7. Merit Medal (Silver) post-nominal MMS (Source Image: Wikipedia)

Figure 8. Service Medal (Gold) (Source Image: Wikipedia).

Figure 9. Service Medal (Silver) (Source Image: Wikipedia)

Figure 10. Service Medal (Bronze) (Source Image: Wikipedia).


Chris Hani joined the liberation armed struggle from a tender age. He rose through the MK ranks to the point that he was considered a vicious rival of the Apartheid government. The 10th of April this year will mark the 31st anniversary of the passing of the former Chief of Staff/Commander of MK and General Secretary of SACP, Chris Hani. He dedicated his entire life as an anti-apartheid activist, revolutionary politician, and military veteran. Hani managed to balance his life as a MK cadre and husband, father, and the son of the soil. His involvement in the armed liberation struggle in Southern Africa was not left unnoticed. Chris Martin Thembisile Hani, SSA, SBS, CLS, DMG, MMS was posthumously awarded with various civilian recognitions of honour and military awards. In 1993, French philosopher Jacques Derrida dedicated Spectres de Marx to Chris Hani. The Baragwanath Hospital, one of the largest hospitals in the world was renamed the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in his memory in1997. In 2010 a shopping mall was built and named after Christ Hani in Ekuruleni. Various district municipalities and streets/roads were also renamed after Chris Hani.


Works Cited

Chris Hani at Langa Stadium | South African History Online also available at:

Peris Walubengo, ‘The life and times of Chris Hani’, also Available at: https://briefly.coza/34756-the-life-times-chris-hani.html

Rendani Moses Ralinala, Jabulani Sithole, Gregory Houston & Bernard Magubane, ‘The Wankie and Sipolilo’ Campaigns, Chapter 12, 13, 14’ pp.479-540.

Wikipedia ‘Chris Hani’, also Available at:

YouTube Videos Sites Visited:

eNCA (2022 Dec 11) ‘Chris Han| Former Bodyguard Tells his Story’,

eNCA (2013 April 10) ‘Remembering Chris Hani’,

Afravision (2013 Jul 3) ‘Leaders – Chris Hani’,

SABC News (2014 April 10) ‘Life and times of Chris Hani’,





Ditsong Logo