Hero’s wel­come in Poland awaits the hit­man who killed Man­dela’s ally

A revered cult fig­ure for the Pol­ish far right, Janusz Waluś has spent 25 years in jail in South Africa. If granted pa­role, he will soon re­turn to his home­land

The Observer - - World - Chris­tian Davies

Ewa Waluś was a small child when her fa­ther, Janusz, em­i­grated to join his fa­ther and brother in South Africa in 1981, just two months be­fore Gen­eral Jaruzel­ski’s im­po­si­tion of mar­tial law. Eva and her mother were left in the town of Radom, cen­tral Poland. She didn’t see her fa­ther again un­til he made a brief visit to his home coun­try in 1992. A year later a South African court would sen­tence him to death for mur­der.

Radom is best known in Poland for a vi­o­lent out­break of worker un­rest in June 1976 dur­ing the com­mu­nist era, when thou­sands of peo­ple took to the streets to protest at sud­den price in­creases. Em­ploy­ees of the Łucznik met­al­works stormed the lo­cal party com­mit­tee, strip­ping Radom’s first sec­re­tary down to his un­der­pants and throw­ing tele­vi­sion sets, fur­ni­ture and por­traits of Lenin out of the win­dows be­fore set­ting the build­ing on fire. Three peo­ple died in clashes with the para­mil­i­tary po­lice.

Janusz Waluś was liv­ing in south­ern Poland at the time, but moved to Radom in the late 1970s when the city was still suf­fer­ing from reprisals im­posed by the com­mu­nist au­thor­i­ties. It was a pe­riod when dis­si­dents started to co­or­di­nate their ac­tiv­i­ties with Pol­ish work­ers, lay­ing the foun­da­tions for the es­tab­lish­ment of Sol­i­dar­ity in 1980 and the even­tual over­throw of the regime.

Waluś didn’t con­cern him­self with pol­i­tics when he lived in Poland – he pre­ferred rac­ing cars. But af­ter mov­ing to South Africa he be­came in­volved in pro-apartheid and far-right move­ments, in­clud­ing the white su­prem­a­cist Afrikaner Re­sis­tance Move­ment of Eu­gene Terre’Blanche. On the morn­ing of 10 April 1993, in Boks­burg, east of Jo­han­nes­burg, he ap­proached the home of Chris Hani, leader of the South African Com­mu­nist party and a com­man­der of uMkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African Na­tional Congress, and shot him at point-blank range in the chin, be­hind the ear and in the chest.

“We found out about it from TV,” Ewa Waluś told the Ob­server, sit­ting in a lit­tle cafe in cen­tral Radom. “First we heard it was a Pol­ish im­mi­grant, and then that it was Janusz Waluś. I was re­ally scared when I saw my mother – she aged 10 years in one minute.”

The as­sas­si­na­tion of the charis­matic Hani, con­sid­ered by many as a po­ten­tial suc­ces­sor to Nel­son Man­dela as leader of the ANC, brought South Africa to the brink of a race war, just as the process of ne­go­ti­at­ing a tran­si­tion from apartheid to a mul­tira­cial democ­racy was at its most frag­ile.

Waluś and his co-con­spir­a­tor, Clive Derby-Lewis, a rightwing mem­ber of par­lia­ment who op­posed the peace process, were sen­tenced to death for the mur­der, but their sen­tences were com­muted to life im­pris­on­ment in 1995. They were re­fused amnesty by South Africa’s truth and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion com­mis­sion in 1999, on the grounds that they had “failed to make a full dis­clo­sure” about the cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing the or­der­ing of the mur­der.

“Chris Hani was as­sas­si­nated a year be­fore our first demo­cratic elec­tions. The coun­try at that time was awash in vi­o­lence and fear, and his killing brought the peace process to a knife edge,” said Zelda Ven­ter, a se­nior court re­porter in Pre­to­ria, who has re­ported ex­ten­sively on the Waluś case. “For many mil­lions of South Africans, the

scars left by those trau­matic times are still raw.”

Those wounds were re­opened when Waluś was granted pa­role by a court in Pre­to­ria in 2016, a de­ci­sion de­nounced by Hani’s widow, Lim­pho, as racist. The rul­ing was over­turned in 2017 by the South African min­is­ter of jus­tice, Michael Ma­sutha.

How­ever, in Septem­ber, South Africa’s high court set aside the min­is­ter’s de­ci­sion be­cause of ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties in the process, giv­ing Ma­sutha 120 days to re­con­sider the pa­role ap­pli­ca­tion.

That raises the prospect that Waluś, who is now 65 and wishes to re­turn to Poland to be with his fam­ily, could be re­leased as early as next year, a pos­si­bil­ity re­garded with hor­ror by many in South Africa.

“He must die in prison,” said Dipuo Mve­lase, a se­nior ANC official in the north­ern province of Gaut­eng, who served un­der Hani dur­ing the An­golan civil war in the 1980s. “He doesn’t de­serve to walk the streets of our coun­try, and if he goes back to Poland he will pol­lute it with his racism.”

But while widely re­viled in South Africa, Waluś is re­garded by many on the Pol­ish right as a mod­ern­day re­sis­tance hero – a vic­tim of the Pol­ish com­mu­nist regime he left be­hind in 1981. His killing of Hani is seen as mo­ti­vated by a de­ter­mi­na­tion to pre­vent the im­po­si­tion of “com­mu­nism” in South Africa un­der the guise of black ma­jor­ity rule.

“[The ANC] are com­mu­nist and they will de­stroy this won­der­ful coun­try,” Waluś had de­clared dur­ing his trial. “They will squan­der all that was built here by whites. It pains me that ev­ery­thing here will be de­stroyed in the name of a mul­tira­cial utopia that will never work here.”

Waluś has be­come a cult fig­ure among rightwing Pol­ish foot­ball fans, in par­tic­u­lar, who dis­play ban­ners at matches with slo­gans such as “Free Janusz Waluś” and “Stay Strong Brother”. When foot­ball fans gath­ered at the Jasna Góra monastery in south­west­ern Poland, the coun­try’s holi­est shrine, for a “pa­tri­otic pil­grim­age” last year, a priest led the con­gre­ga­tion in prayer for Waluś’s re­lease.

“The cult of Janusz Waluś started in the 1990s, but it has re­ally spread in the last cou­ple of years be­cause of his re­cent pa­role ap­pli­ca­tions, and of course it coincides with the rise of the far right in Poland,” said Rafał Pankowski, a pro­fes­sor at Col­legium Civ­i­tas in War­saw and di­rec­tor of the Never Again as­so­ci­a­tion, an an­tiracism cam­paign group.

Waluś’s re­lease is sup­ported by a num­ber of politi­cians in Poland. Sev­eral MPs have ar­gued that he is a po­lit­i­cal pris­oner, while Jan Żaryn, a se­na­tor of the rul­ing Law and Jus­tice party, de­scribed his con­tin­u­ing de­ten­tion as “the re­sult of per­sonal vengeance from part of the South African elite”.

Waluś’s sym­pa­this­ers pro­vide more than just moral sup­port, col­lect­ing money that goes to­wards pay­ing his le­gal fees.

“I wish to ex­press my deep gratitude for your spir­i­tual and moral sup­port,” Waluś wrote in a re­cent let­ter from Pre­to­ria cen­tral prison to the fans of the foot­ball teams Le­gia War­saw and Raków Częs­to­chowa. “For all your cam­paigns. For the post­cards. For the demon­stra­tions in the sta­di­ums. For the funds that make my/our le­gal bat­tle pos­si­ble.”

But many in Poland and South Africa re­ject the no­tion that Waluś should be re­garded as some kind of re­sis­tance hero. Whereas in Poland com­mu­nism was used as a tool to op­press the ma­jor­ity, they ar­gue, in South Africa it was a tool of lib­er­a­tion. Poles may have suf­fered un­der the com­mu­nists in their own coun­try, but as whites in South Africa they ben­e­fited from the suf­fer­ing of oth­ers.

“It’s a very strong and con­ve­nient nar­ra­tive of the rightwing in South Africa, that their racism is founded on anti-com­mu­nism,” said Mve­lase. “The apartheid nar­ra­tive was that any­one who didn’t ac­cept it was a com­mu­nist and a ter­ror­ist.

“This is a man who, to­gether with his group, was sent out to change the di­rec­tion of our coun­try – they were hop­ing for a war.”

‘If he goes back to Poland, he will pol­lute it with his racism’ Dipuo Mve­lase, ANC official

Pho­to­graph by Jarek Praszkiewicz/ Fo­rum AP

LEFT Janusz Waluś sup­port­ers in Kraków dis­play his im­age. LEFT Waluś in 1997 at a hear­ing of South Africa’s truth and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion com­mis­sion, which re­fused him amnesty.

Getty

ABOVE South African Com­mu­nist leader Chris Hani, right, with Nel­son Man­dela in 1990.

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