Hero’s welcome in Poland awaits hitman who killed Mandela’s ally (The Observer)

Photograph: 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. Ewa and her mother were left behind in the town of Radom, central Poland. She hasn’t set eyes on him since he made a brief visit to Poland 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.

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.

But while widely reviled in South Africa, Waluś is regarded by many on the Polish right as a modern-day 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.

My report for the Observer can be found here.

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