'The decision to release Chris Hani's killer is, frankly, despicable'
The perpetrator of the greatest crime of the new South Africa should have rotted in jail.
The decision by a Pretoria court that Janusz Walus, the man who assassinated South African Communist Party leader Chris Hani, should be released on parole after serving 22 years in jail is lamentable. More than that, it is despicable.
The court ordered that he be released within 14 days after his co-conspirator, Clive Derby-Lewis, was released in June last year.
The release of Derby-Lewis — now 80 years old and suffering from cancer — was itself questionable. But there are no fig-leaves behind which the release of Walus can hide.
The real problem with this release is that it severely undermines the criminal justice system's biggest weapon — the deterrent of a full life sentence.
It demonstrates that there is, in fact, no such thing as a 'life sentence' — the ultimate deterrent in a society which has abandoned the death penalty. It sends a signal that in this nation of endless compromise, even the killing of a statesman in an effort to bring the society to its knees, will one day be forgiven.
Make no mistake — there was no greater crime than that committed by Walus. In April 1993, the nation was one year away from its first democratic election. The armed struggle against apartheid had long been suspended. The parties to the conflict had been in three years of negotiation.
The end was in sight and South Africa was, finally, on the road to democracy.
The assassination of Hani was a deliberate, planned intervention aimed at striking at the heart of settlement. It sought to incite a return to the trenches, a re-opening of war, drowning the country in a lake of blood.
And it nearly achieved this. So great was the national trauma and the threat of violent retaliation that president F W De Klerk did the unthinkable — He handed over the national broadcaster to Nelson Mandela to deliver a call for calm on national television.
The nation came to a standstill as he delivered his statement.
It began: "Tonight I am reaching out to every single South African, black and white, from the very depths of my being. A white man, full of prejudice and hate, came to our country and committed a deed so foul that our whole nation now teeters on the brink of disaster. A white woman, of Afrikaner origin, risked her life so that we may know, and bring to justice, this assassin."
Take note of the Mandela's choice of words — "a deed so foul that our whole nation now teeters on the brink of disaster".
"This," he said, "is a watershed moment for all of us. We must not let the men who worship war, and who lust after blood, precipitate actions that will plunge our country into another Angola."
Mandela's address and the work of activists around the country managed, against the odds, to pull the country back from the edge of the abyss. Believe me, it was touch and go.
When Walus was sentenced to life imprisonment, it sent a signal to the nation that the ultimate punishment had been meted out for the ultimate crime.
The decision to release Walus has dissolved this punishment into a puddle of pathetic compromise.
Now read this: What Mandela said when Chris Hani was killed
-This article was first published by the Rand Daily Mail.
digital access - or try
a day pass for
only R15! SUBSCRIBE