Biography of the Week: Chris Hani

Names: Hani, Thembisile 'Chris'

Born: 28 June 1942, Cofimvaba, Transkei, (now Eastern Cape), South Africa

Died: 10 April 1993, Dawn Park, Boksburg, South Africa

In summary: Chief of Staff of Umkhonto we Sizwe and General-Secretary of the SACP.

Thembisile Chris Hani was born in the rural village of Sabalele, in the Cofimvaba region of the former Transkei. He was the fifth of the six children of Gilbert and Mary Hani. Three of the five children died young. The name Chris was adopted by him as a nom de guerre, and was in fact the real name of his brother. Chris grew up a devout Christian.

Hani was introduced to the politics of inequality early in life, when his father had to leave their rural home in search of work in the urban areas of South Africa. This had a profound influence on the young Chris, who became aware of his mother's struggle to run the household. Like other young men of his age, Chris tended the livestock until he reached school-going age.

Hani was enrolled at a Catholic school and soon developed a love for Latin. At this stage of his life, Hani's desire was to enter the priesthood, but his father disaproved and moved him to a non-denominational school, Matanzima Secondary School at Cala, in the Transkei. In 1954, a number of Hani's school teachers who were active in the Unity Movement lost their jobs after protestng against the introduction of Bantu education. This played a further role in developing Hani's political ideas. Hani later moved again to the Lovadale Institute in the Eastern Cape, where he matriculated in 1958.

Hani was exposed to Marxist ideology while a student at Fort Hare University, where he also explored his childhood love for the classics and for literature. Hani attended Fort Hare from 1959-1961 and graduated in 1962 from Rhodes University in Grahamstown, with a BA degree in Latin and English. He then moved to Cape Town and worked as an article clerk with the Schaeffer and Schaeffer legal firm from 1962-1963, but did not complete his articles.

Hani was exposed to political thought from a very young age through the influence of his father, Gilbert Hani, who was active in the ANC and eventually left South Africa and sought asylum in Lesotho. However, Hani's political involvement really began in 1957 when he became a member of the African National Congress' Youth League (ANCYL). He sites the conviction of the ANC's leaders in the Treason Trial (1956) as his main motivation to begin participating in the struggle for freedom.

Biography Retrieved from South African History Online at

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