Raymond Suttner: Chris Hani and the leadership we have lost

Chris Hani and the leadership we have lost

In the 1991 SACP Congress when Chris Hani was elected General Secretary he took a decision that was meant to indicate that his future lay with building the Communist Party

and that he would not go into government. That was not to mean that no one else should go into government, but it tells one a lot about the type of person that Chris was. He had no doubt about what he needed to do and was prepared to do so and had no desire for luxury or wealth, which again is not to say that he begrudged any one the comforts of life nor did he spend his time carping at anyone who did aspire to wealth. He nevertheless knew poverty and felt strongly about the need to better the lives of the poor.

Some things remain in my memory of this Congress. When Chris Hani chaired he seemed to know everyone’s name and that is often remarked on by people, how he remembered them from who knows where and sometimes decades earlier.

There was something else. The interim leadership proposed adoption of the notion of ‘democratic socialism’. This was defeated by the delegates who saw this as a departure from basic or orthodox marxist principles. I remember Tim du Plessis, later editor of Beeld and Rapport asking me why the leaders were laughing after they had been roundly defeated. That was in character, that he and Joe Slovo felt no bitterness, even though they felt the delegates were wrong in their decision and they did not feel their authority was threatened or their standing diminished. They acknowledged the democratic right of the delegates to throw their proposals out and that was the price to be paid for building an organisation where the membership were empowered

The profundity of Chris Hani

What some people do not appreciate is the profundity of Chris Hani, that he could take the most complex ideas and put them across to rural people without watering down the implications. For people like myself I would learn from him exactly what all the implications were for peoples lives in not having water or money to buy soap etc etc. He would break down the meaning of poverty into all its components, some of which many of us had not experienced even if we had been in prison. He came from the poorest of the poor and he devoted and gave up his life for them

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