My father Chris Hani - regained and lost again

26 March 2017 - 02:00 By Lindiwe Hani
Lindiwe Hani recalls her famous father in a new book.
Lindiwe Hani recalls her famous father in a new book.
Image: MOELETSI MABE

Chris Hani was a much-loved revolutionary, a legendary freedom fighter and father of three daughters. In this book extract his youngest child, Lindiwe Hani, remembers settling down to 'normal' family life in Dawn Park, Boksburg, after years apart and on the run

We drove out of my beloved Maseru as a family in early December 1990. My heart felt like thunder as I watched forlornly, from the back of Mama's car, my familiar childhood streets fade into the distance behind us. Gone was all the hype and excitement I had initially felt when we were looking for a new house in South Africa. All I felt now was an enormous sense of loss.

But after the four-hour journey, once we entered Dawn Park, drove down Hakea Crescent, and got closer to our face-brick dream house, I began to feel the first stirrings of excitement.

As Daddy parked the car in the driveway, I found myself dashing out, through the front rooms and arches, into the back yard, stopping at the edge of the huge blue swimming pool, and taking the wonder of it all in.

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Not only did our new house have a pool and the best kitchen on the planet, it finally dawned on me that for the first time in my life I would have my very own bedroom. Mama had told me I could choose any colour for my walls. (I think this was mainly to drum up some excitement to change my despondent mood.) Well, it worked - I chose cornflower blue for my bedroom and it wasn't long before the "leaving Maseru sulks" were a thing of the past.

For the first few weeks we had no furniture because deliveries - we had bought all new furniture - would only resume in January. To tide us over Mama went to the Hyperama and bought garden furniture, which we used inside the house.

Although it looked quite hillbilly, I loved every new piece of it. Mama also bought a Nintendo, so all we did that December was play Mario Brothers. In fact, the incessant noise blasting from the console irritated Daddy so much that he banned us from playing it with the volume up.

When we weren't playing Mario B, we swam in our pool and lazed around in our fantastic plastic chairs. I also made my first friend in the neighbourhood, a vivacious blonde Afrikaans-speaking girl, Sonya, who lived next door. From the moment we laid eyes on each other we were inseparable and spent most days running in and out of each other's houses.

At this time, about to turn 10 years old, I was still entirely oblivious to racism. I had grown up in the multicultural mixing pot of Maseru and even during those first few months in South Africa I was unaware of any racial undercurrents.

The irony that my first real friend in South Africa was a white Afrikaner girl from Boksburg totally escaped me. It was only during the holidays, when Khwezi and I ventured out to Boksburg's East Rand Mall, that I was suddenly confronted by the irrational ugliness of racism when we overheard someone call us "kaffirs".

We looked at each other, completely bewildered. I don't think either of us even really knew what "kaffir" meant, but we sensed that it was derogatory. We went home and immediately told our parents. Daddy and Mama simply told us that such people were ignorant and we were not to pay them any attention.

With Daddy at home, we were now a "real" family. Initially, however, it was quite an adjustment because we had all kind of got used to having a dad we only saw a couple of times a year. As thrilled as I was to have him home, I now faced many challenges accepting my dad as the new head of the family. I had lived many years with just having Mama as the be-all and end-all, so I found myself challenging him on a number of issues.

block_quotes_start That was the thing about my father; he would say very few words, but each one had the power to make me want to crawl into a hole and change everything about myself block_quotes_end

One of the areas of contention was my bedtime: I was used to going to bed after watching TV shows such as Dynasty or Dallas, which I simply adored, but he wanted to set my bedtime at 8pm! I vehemently resisted, shouting that "Mama always lets me go to bed later". We finally struck a compromise in which some days I went to bed earlier, while on others I enjoyed some leniency.

Very soon the TV remote also became a battleground. My dad immediately laid claim to it but all he ever seemed to want to watch was the news or serious documentaries. He was a news man to the bone, and even slept with the radio on.

Numerous times I'd get out of bed in the middle of the night to go to the toilet and hear, "This is the BBC" coming from my parents' bedroom. That particular conflict was finally resolved by getting another television set, which was placed in their bedroom.

By the time the school term started on my first day at Saheti in the new year of 1991, I was a ball of anxiety. I had never been "the new girl" before and I was petrified. Fortunately, I was only to find out much later that, due to Daddy's politics, certain parents really did not want me at the school. They even wrote letters of complaint, horrified that Saheti had opened its doors to the daughter of South Africa's most dangerous terrorist. But, oblivious to these undercurrents, my social nature soon shone through and I quickly bonded with my classmates.

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It wasn't long before I began to enjoy an active social life and often found myself invited to at least one party per weekend. The upside to this was that my mother, who always wanted me to look impeccable, would get me a new outfit lest I be seen wearing the same thing twice - much to Daddy's irritation. He would shake his head at us as we walked in to the house with shopping bags. I'd run off to my room with the blue cornflower walls, get changed into a new outfit and then model for him. Of course his frowns would invariably break into smiles.

During those first few months in Dawn Park, I basked in the limelight of being an only child as neither of my sisters was living at home. Then one night, in early 1991, we received a distressed call from Khwezi, telling us she wanted to leave Machabeng in Maseru, that something had happened and she couldn't bear being there another day. Less than an hour later, Daddy had us all in the car, driving straight through the night to arrive in Lesotho well after midnight.

First thing the following morning my parents went to the school and promptly took Khwezi out. I never did get to hear exactly what went down to make her so unhappy, but the next thing I knew she was sitting beside me in the back seat as we drove back to Johannesburg.

I suddenly had my big sister with me, which made me deeply annoyed. Luckily, my cornflower-blue palace remained my own, and Khwezi moved into the study, which was converted into a bedroom. Before long, however, we were at each other's throat. For the smallest gap I had experienced the wonderful feeling of being able to just be me at school and at home.

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But Khwezi or no Khwezi, the truth of the matter was I was finding myself struggling academically at Saheti. According to Mama, I wasn't applying myself properly - maybe she had a point. I was the type to study for tests on the 45-minute drive to school. At the end of my first term I had done atrociously, barely scraping through.

My mother, sternness personified as she perused my dismal report, berated me. In my ten-year-old cheekiness I challenged her with, "What's the problem? At least I passed!" I kept spelling it out and repeating. "P-A-S-S. That's all that matters - P-A-S-S." She looked at me, her eyes stone cold, and said: "Well, let's see what your father thinks."

Oh my, I had completely forgotten about Daddy. I knew I had a few hours until he came home but was unsure what time he would actually walk through the front door. I made a desperate plan to avoid him and an inevitable scolding, so before the sun had even thought of setting, I hit the sack at 5pm.

Next morning I lay in bed for a few hours hoping that by the time I emerged he would have left the house. Seeing nobody as I tentatively opened the bedroom door, I marched confidently into the lounge - only to run smack into Daddy. His first words were, "We need to talk about your report."

Gone was all my previous day's bravado. "Yes, Daddy," I replied meekly.

My eyes were glued to the carpet as we sat down together in the lounge. His eyes didn't leave me as he quietly spoke.

"I am disappointed in your results, Lindiwe. I expect more from you. Now, is this the best you can do?"

"No, Daddy."

"Well, I expect better marks next time, Lindiwe."

Eyes still downcast. "Yes, Daddy, I promise."

I felt like a failure, that I had really disappointed and let him down. That was the thing about my father; he would say very few words, but each one - carefully chosen - had the power to make me want to crawl into a hole and change everything about myself. Mama's nagging and screeching, however, had absolutely no impact on me.

Eyes boring holes in the carpet, I felt like my world was about to come to an end. But he suddenly smiled at me and said, "What about some breakfast?"

block_quotes_start I would sit glued to the screen, literally shaking with pride for my father, knowing that the whole country was watching him talk about politics like an expert block_quotes_end

Besides the few battles over bedtime and the television remote, I adored having Daddy permanently back in our lives. I was especially drawn to his passion for exercise. I loved nothing more than swimming with him in our beautiful blue pool. He taught me how to dive and how to master all the different strokes - backstroke, breast stroke, butterfly, crawl.

I mainly joined him in the pool in the early summer evenings, though he often swam at dawn as well. We soon bought him a stationary exercise bike and a treadmill so even in bad weather the man wouldn't be deprived of his endorphin and adrenaline fix. When he jogged out on the suburban streets, I would be right behind him on my bike, keeping up with him as much as my wheels would allow.

The one thing Daddy was totally hopeless at was handyman stuff. The man who could put an AK-47 together in under two minutes had no idea how to wire a plug or change a light bulb. A few months after we moved to Dawn Park, the swimming pool began to go a little off colour. Before my mother could call the pool man, Daddy insisted that he would sort it out.

Under my father's guidance, from being slightly off-blue, the pool deteriorated into a mess of the deepest swamp green. The minute Daddy had to leave town for a few days, my mom called the pool guy to sort things out. When my father returned home, the pool was back to sparkling blue - we all told Daddy his methods had worked.

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Our new home always seemed full of visitors. There was hardly a time that you didn't walk in to find comrades either in the lounge or around the pool, engrossed in robust discussions. Mama would invariably be in her dream kitchen preparing food for the men. It seemed like I was forever being summoned to make coffee or bring drinks out for Uncle So-and-so.

My main gripe with so many people in the house was that I was often not allowed to watch TV, because the noise from the television would drown out the conversation. The one show Daddy insisted on not missing, besides the news, was Going Up with Joe Mafela. I loved watching it with him, giggling as my dad roared with laughter. If he wasn't there to watch it, we would have to tape it on our big VHS video machine.

The other TV show Daddy never missed was his favourite news show, Agenda - unless, of course, he was being interviewed for the show by Freek Robinson. I would sit glued to the screen, watching every second, literally shaking with pride for my father, knowing that the whole country was watching him talk about politics like an expert. After the show I would wait up for him, as he made his way home from the SABC.

The moment I heard the door open, I'd be sitting at the dinner table, knowing that he didn't like eating by himself. While he was chewing on a meal that my mother had lovingly prepared for him - shepherd's pie, roast chicken or lamb chops - I would take out my carefully prepared notes and go through what he had mispronounced in all my 11-year-old wisdom. "Daddy, it's vic-tree, not vic-tawry." He would sit there all serious, nodding at my crit, listening to every word and pretending to take it all on board.

The one thing the whole Hani family had in common was a love for meat. So when Daddy was diagnosed with gout not long after we moved to Dawn Park, he really suffered on the strict no-red-meat diet of fish and chicken that Mama now insisted on. But that didn't mean a thing when it came to lamb chops, his favourite meal.

One morning Khwezi woke up to discover that her carefully stashed-away leftover chops were missing. Khwezi immediately freaked out and went to interrogate Daddy, who very casually responded: "What leftovers? Oh, you mean the lamb chops left in my fridge?" Gout or no gout, as far as my dad was concerned, all leftovers were considered communal property.

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On 28 June 1992 Daddy turned 50 and Mama decided that it was cause for a big celebration. Since his birthday fell on a Sunday, we had a huge party at home the following Saturday. I could hardly squeeze through the throngs of friends and family.

Later that night I went to the bathroom to change but when I opened the laundry hamper to look for my pyjamas, much to my horror I discovered a human turd. My first instinct was to scream - it felt as if I'd discovered a dead body. Everyone came running in and, when they saw the turd, Sammy took the entire basket to the bottom of the garden and immediately proceeded to burn it. According to Sammy, this was a very bad omen, signifying an imminent death in the household. We never did find out who had left the offensive offering.

A few weeks later, in July, on arriving home from school one afternoon I heard from my pale-faced mom that there had been an attempt on Daddy's life in broad daylight in the centre of Joburg's CBD. I managed to gather bits of details that a young man had followed my dad, who was walking to the SACP office. Apparently, the man had slipped into a hair salon and begun fiddling with something hidden in his windbreaker.

The ladies working in the shop had found his behaviour suspicious and, as he quickly left the shop, they followed him. When they saw my dad, they immediately recognised him and ran to warn him that a man was following him. The would-be assassin bolted across the road, dodging traffic until he managed to scramble into a car carrying two white men that had been parked across the street. The car then sped away.

Luckily, Daddy was okay, but I was terrified. I couldn't shake the feeling that something disastrous was about to happen, and kept thinking about the turd and the bad omen it symbolised. It was around this time that I began to have vivid nightmares almost nightly.

Initially my dreams began with a stranger coming into our house looking for Daddy. In the dream we all panicked and scurried around the house, trying to find places to hide. The man who had come to hunt my father down would search and search but never seemed to find him.

I'd wake up terrified, heart beating like I'd just run a marathon, and rush to my parents' room. They'd sleepily soothe me while I crept into bed with them. Then my dreams began to change. This time the man looking for Daddy would find him and kill him. By this stage I was a permanent fixture in my parents' bed.

 

This is an edited extract from "Chris Hani's Daughter" by Lindiwe Hani and Melinda Ferguson (MFBooks Joburg, R225).

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