South African communist and anti-apartheid activist; leader of Umkhonto we Sizwe (the military wing of the African National Congress (ANC)) from 1987 and secretary general of the South African Communist Party (SACP) from 1991. One of the most popular black South African leaders, particularly among the radical young, he was seen as a potential successor to Nelson Mandela. He was assassinated by a right-wing extremist.
In exile Hani joined Umkhonto we Sizwe in 1962, but fled the country later the same year after being sentenced to prison under the Suppression of Communism Act. While in exile he fought against white rule in Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe and Zambia) and subsequently ran an Umkhonto network in Lesotho, where he survived two assassination attempts. In 1987 he was made chief of staff of Umkhonto. His death in April 1993 came as a serious blow to the ANC, for whom he provided a vital and influential link with black militant groups.
In South Africa Hani was born in the Transkei. He joined the SACP and Umkhonto we Sizwe after graduating as a classical scholar in Latin and English. Despite his military experience gained in Zimbabwe, upon his return to South Africa in 1990, Hani threw himself wholeheartedly into seeking a peaceful solution to his country's problems. He was very popular among the mass of black South Africans and moderate whites. His acceptance of the SACP leadership in December 1991 seemed to reduce his chances of succeeding Mandela. Hani was, however, following a longer-term strategy, with the aim of mobilizing working-class blacks, and perhaps even showing that a practical form of communism could succeed in a single country where it had failed internationally.
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