Every little girl if they are lucky considers their father to be their hero, I was no exception. I didn’t realize that my father was ‘Chris Hani’ until after he died. To me he was daddy; yes I acknowledge that he didn’t live with us like my friend’s fathers but that made no difference. I remember making up different professions for my father depending on how I was feeling at that particular time. What does your father do? That question would be met with answers ranging from doctor to lawyer. Most people find it crazy that I didn’t know that my father was an exceptional freedom fighter, I answer simply that my parents made sure that I had the most normal childhood that I could possibly have and succeeded in doing so.
I spoke to my father most days while he was in exile; he made sure to phone and speak to each of his daughters. The conversations were never about the state of world affairs but I would tell him that I came first in a race or there was some girl at school that was bullying me. No matter whatever I chose to tell my father he would listen intently and give me advice as though I was discussing the freedom of Nelson Mandela. I now realize that that’s the reason he is one of the most beloved leaders of the struggle, his capacity to listen to every problem as if his life depended on it.
Chris Hani was always my hero, realizing that he was the whole country’s’ hero was an extremely difficult process for me. I was torn between pride and pure selfishness of wanting to keep him all to myself. I remember a time where we as his children were complaining that we never see him and we want him to live permanently with us. Naturally he called a family meeting where we were all given the opportunity to voice our grievances, which we did, towards the end of the meeting after listening intently he said “if you want me to give up the ANC tomorrow and come and live with you and have a normal profession, I will”. As young as I was, I remember the tension in the room, the anticipation as my late sister and I looked to our older sister for direction, my eldest sister replied “you will never be happy doing anything except what you are doing now and that is fighting for the freedom of your people”. Obviously we echoed her sentiments and I believe we did the right thing by him and the South African people.
The realization of what my father meant to the people of this country was both an incredible blessing and curse. The blessing being that I felt that his sacrifice of his family was not in vain and the numerous people who were harassed, tortured and victimized had a true role model. The curse was that I could never grieve for my father as the whole nation was watching and I was commanded (by an ANC leader) to be stoic and strong. That the country was looking at me and I had to show them a brave face, that I was not allowed to be human but had to always come across as completely together at all times. Due to this I spent many years feeling resentful and angry that they didn’t allow us to mourn him. I began to believe that I could by no means be vulnerable and that privacy was a luxury.
It has now been nineteen years since my world shattered and what that ANC leader didn’t take into consideration was that the people were and have always been there for our family. That the South African people have in no way placed their emotions of the loss they experienced above my own. That I have finally understood through the support, strength and empathy of all our people exactly why my father was so passionate and dedicated to this country.
I have read most of what South African’s have said about my father and some of the comments were hurtful, while it took a lot of restraint to not comment. I know who my father was and what he stood for, my father was not a terrorist, he was not a racist and he never thought that any race was above the other. My father believed that freedom had to come at an expanse and he was willing to die not through words but always actions. Was Chris Hani a prophet? Was he a savior? Was he going to eventually be our President? I don’t know all the answers. What I do know is that he would have rather died then see any South African (including white people) suffer while the minority people prosper. He was for our country black and white, and he was never a pawn. The first people to point out his killer were our Afrikaner neighbor, my first friend in SA was an Afrikaans girl named Sonja. My father would not turn in his grave because I might vote DA; he has been turning for awhile observing the actions of his brethren.
I miss my father everyday just as I know the nation misses Chris Hani, we all miss his courage, integrity, humility and kindness just to name a few traits. Most of all we miss having hope that there is someone fighting for our happiness, someone wanting better for us then we expect for ourselves. That is the reason I have finally come to terms with sharing him because what made him such an amazing leader was that he was an exceptional father. The comfort is that as much as his memory lives in my family, my daughter and I, he continues to thrive in all of us. As long as we all hold on and fight in his memory he will always be here. Thembisile Martin ‘Chris’ Hani, our father, our hero.