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A Cruel Attempt to Kill Progress : Chris Hani assassination must not be allowed to derail S. Africa talks

Violence begets violence. Black South Africans are justifiably enraged by the assassination of Chris Hani, an African National Congress and Communist Party leader who was particularly admired by young people impatient for change. His murder rekindles unrest, but it should not be used to derail the slow but increasingly steady progress toward a new South Africa.

Soon after Hani’s April 10 death, the South African government, always suspect in such political crimes because of its racist and violent past, moved quickly, arresting a Polish emigre allegedly linked to radical white, right-wing opponents of the transition to majority rule. On Saturday a pro-apartheid activist was taken into custody. The government’s fast action signals a commitment to keeping the fragile talks going.

As millions of blacks mourned Hani, ANC President Nelson Mandela called for “the calm and dignity” expected of a “government in waiting.” He also promised not to break off the talks.

Now the ANC has announced a campaign of civil disobedience and cites Hani’s death in calling on the government to speed the process of change. In response, South African President Frederik W. de Klerk has warned that the white minority government will not be “blackmailed” and will maintain order.

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Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the internationally known South African black leader, declared, “The greatest monument to Chris Hani is surely to show a like commitment to peace, to reconciliation and to the process of negotiating a settlement so that South Africa becomes the kind of country that all of us long for so desperately.”

The calm has been shattered, however, by strikes, spontaneous protests, rallies and marches marred by rioting and looting--and the killing of protesters by police and civilian gunmen. Police are obligated to keep order, but without using deadly force or provoking yet another round of violence. The ANC too must stanch violence by keeping its more radical young supporters from rioting and looting at the protest marches.

Young militant ANC followers idolized Hani. He had credibility because he had headed the military wing of the congress before the South African government legitimized the political organization. Although many youths distrusted the ANC talks with the minority government, they supported Hani, who was a key negotiator.

Hani is expected to be buried today. His funeral is to be broadcast on South African television, an uncommon tribute for a black man. A more lasting tribute to Hani’s work, however, should be the continuation of the constitutional negotiations in which he was scheduled to participate. That is the best route to reduce the violence and increase democracy in South Africa.

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