EKURHULENI - “That time was the closest this country came to burning, those were dark days.”
This is how Peter Harris, attorney and friend of assassinated South African Communist Party (SACP) leader, Chris Hani, remembers the day he was killed.
Hani was gunned down in the driveway of his Boksburg home by convicted assassin Janusz Walus. Walus and his accomplice Clive Derby-Lewis are serving life behind bars for the killing.
At the time Harris was heading peace structures in the Johannesburg, East Rand and West Rand region. The structures had been formed to oversee a national peace accord that had been signed in 1991 with the aim of stabilising the country and ending the violence.
Harris was close to Hani and had represented him on a number of occasions.
“I remember the day he was killed like yesterday,” said Harris. He adds, “When he was murdered I got a call soon after and we went to his house in Don Park and I soon realised it was a shocking act that would bring the country into a state of great crisis.”
Harris says the country was plunged into chaos soon after the assassination.
"Chris was an exceptional man and an exceptional leader who was enormously popular especially amongst the youth and the country feared there would be enormous blacklash,” he added.
“You had situations where 40,000 to 50,000 people mainly youth started coming into cities including Johannesburg [after the murder]. We had to mediate between the ANC and the police around the code of conduct on how people, including the police, would behave leading to the funeral and at the funeral,” Harris said.
An agreement was signed between Thabo Mbeki for the ANC and the chief of police of the Witwatersrand region,” he said.
On April 13 Nelson Mandela addressed the nation in a televised speech, appealing for calm and unity.
“Over the next few days there were a lot of incidents of violence but none that serious to destroy the code of conduct signed,” said Harris.
Two decades later, Harris says the assassination was one of the events that shaped the country’s history "We lost a great man who would have been a great leader if he was allowed to have participated in our country's democracy. He never got to see the dawn of democracy,” said Harris.
Then ANC lawyer Tefo Raditapole also remembers the days following the killing. He was involved in the ANC investigation into Hani’s murder and had to report back on the police probe.
“At the time, apartheid police were investigating the murder and their ballistic report was viewed as suspicious, as many people believed there had been two shooters,” said Raditapole.
He says an international investigator was called in to review the report.
“He confirmed the ballistic report which stated that there was one shooter. The belief that there were two shooters was because the gun used was powerful and the bullet went through him and through the garage door. It hit the wall and bounced back through the garage door, leaving two holes,” he said.
Raditapole remembered the daunting task of reporting back to the ANC, saying there was disbelief.
“I had to talk to Matthews Phosa and an ANC investigation team that was looking into the matter.” He adds, “It was hard to accept for them but it was evidence.”
Now, 20 years later, Hani is being remembered as a hero.
In a statement, Cosatu has hailed his contribution to the struggle saying he was robbed of the chance to celebrate the dawn of democracy.