It is 24 years since Chris Hani was murdered outside his Boksburg home. His assassination, in a country teetering at the time on the brink of civil war, threatened to tip it over the precipice into a bloodbath.
Nelson Mandela’s statesmanlike TV appearance, appealing for calm and mentioning that a white Afrikaans woman had noted the killer’s car registration, saved SA.
Clive Derby-Lewis and gunman Janusz Walus were behind bars within a week, leaving in their bloody wake a family so devastated that it has taken nearly a quarter of a century to heal and come together again.
That alone might make this book, with its evocative cover of an eight-year-old Lindiwe Hani hugging her beloved father, a must-read. Strangely, I felt almost bored by the chore of consuming yet another biography involving alcohol, cocaine and rehabilitation.
But Hani’s courageous determination to meet her father’s killers, chronicled evocatively and at times amusingly, is alluring. She also provides a fascinating peep into Chris’s warm and relaxed parenting.
Meeting the tiny, perfectly proportioned and witty personality makes it clear that the book’s comical remarks are not the result of clever wordsmithing. She and publisher-author Melinda Ferguson took turns in writing the book.
Hani, 36, describes her initial phone call to Derby-Lewis, who was released on medical parole before dying of cancer at home in 2016. “‘Take care of yourself,’ the architect of my father’s murder says before hanging up,” she writes.
When Hani arrived with Ferguson at the Derby-Lewis home in Pretoria, she was shocked by the thin, aged person who had taken the place of the “firebrand mustachioed man” who had tormented her nightmares since 1993.
He assumed that she wanted to meet him to find out who else was behind her father’s assassination. In a chapter headed Meeting Mr Mastermind, she describes how she cut him short, telling him he needed to walk her through the planning of her father’s death from conception to execution. She also wanted to know about his thinking at the time.
When she left, she felt strangely at peace because she had bravely confronted the man she saw as a monster.
Her meeting with Walus was entirely different, taking place in Pretoria’s Kgosi Mampuru II prison with Ferguson, the prison chaplain and the area commander present.
Hani was furious that she was not allowed to see Walus alone due to the prison’s victim-offender programme and nearly walked away in anger.
“I thought that a private conversation between the two of us would go better without other people intervening,” she says.
As the prisoner in orange uniform with silver hair and startling blue eyes walked, head bowed, into the room, Hani’s mind was in turmoil. “What’s the proper way to meet someone who has murdered your father? Do you lean forward, offer your hand?” she wrote.
She initiated the conversation, asking Walus about his Polish childhood, when he was taught to shoot and if he was racist. She questioned him about the assassination conspiracy theory surrounding her dad’s murder, but drew a blank.
When lunch arrived and Walus was invited to join them he was astonished, assenting with some discomfort. Hani recalled the “forced quiche lunch at the Derby-Lewis’s where I couldn’t eat a thing … but for some strange reason I don’t feel awkward about sharing a meal with the man who killed my father.”
Three weeks later, she met Walus for the second time, again with Ferguson, the chaplain and the area commander present. They talked for two hours, followed by lunch.
As they parted, she handed Walus a Ken Follett book.
She learnt during their first meeting that he enjoyed history and philosophy, “and I know that leaving him my book means I might see him again”.
She has met him again, but never alone — the prison chaplain is always present.
The synchronicity of her book’s publication with the 24th anniversary of her father’s death, and the fact that her daughter, Khaya, is exactly the same age she was when her father was gunned down, does not escape her.
“I lost my father when I was 12,” Hani says.
“It was touch and go for me for a number of years with my addictions. Now my daughter has regained a mother — for my life is coming together.”
Hani describes her years of cocaine and alcohol addiction honestly and forthrightly without sparing herself.
They were fuelled by a lack of confidence, the loss of her exuberant, extrovert personality after ‘Daddy’s death’, an abortion, the loss of her first serious boyfriend in a car crash and the mysterious death of her sister Khwezi.
“There was much media speculation about why she died and, yes, there were stories of drugs, but the coroner’s report concluded that it was an asthma attack,” Hani says.
She used to speak to Khwezi every day and was devastated by her death. But “with counselling, I came to understand and to accept that I may never know why she died”.
Her family’s tragedies, and her own, were compounded by her and her other sister Momo’s difficult relationship with their mother, Limpho.
Hani pulls no punches about her mother’s obsession with being the grieving widow of Chris Hani.
Nothing was to besmirch the family name and so when Hani booked into the Houghton House rehabilitation centre in Randburg using her real name, her mother was horrified.
“But I wanted to stop all the lies and pretending … in order to get better,” she says.
She refused to leave her daughter with her mother when she went into rehab, insisting that her sister Momo took her into her family. “My mother had not spoken to Momo in 10 years. That was my mother. She was hardcore,” she writes, before describing how she had to “kidnap” her daughter from her mother’s house.
Today, Hani talks about completing her Unisa English and communications degree and her plans for studying child psychology. She wants to create a Chris Hani Foundation after she completes her studies and hopes to work with young, recovering addicts.
The book does not mention two women, Cleopatra and Vanessa, who claimed that they were Chris Hani’s daughters from a relationship that preceded his marriage to Limpho.
“Cleo used to phone me, so I suggested she do a DNA test. I never heard from her again but she accused me of using my dad’s name for money,” Hani chuckles. “What communist has money! My mother was always the one who supported the family.”
Today, Hani is at peace with her family, bound to them by their love for Khaya. She has spent a lifetime being introduced as “Chris Hani’s daughter – often my own name is not mentioned” and has finally emerged from his magnificent shadow.
“Now I am the best daughter I can be. I think I am making him happy,” she says.