Huge banners bearing the portrait of Janusz Walus can often be seen draped around football stadiums in Poland calling for the freedom of a man serving a life sentence in South Africa for the 1993 murder of the prominent anti-apartheid leader Chris Hani.
Many feared that Hani’s assassination could spark a race war, at a crucial time in talks for the white minority to hand over power, which ultimately happened when Nelson Mandela became president the following year after the first elections. all races in the country.
It is not known how Walus became a symbol for young Polish nationalists and fascists, but about 10 years ago he started receiving letters from supporters in Poland, journalist Cezary Lazarewicz, who has interviewed Walus for his book.
“They wrote to him that they admired him because he was trying to stop communism in South Africa, that he was the great hope of the white race,” he said.
In the photos and videos uploaded, some football fans in the stands are wearing scarves with the hashtag #StayStrongBrother printed on them.
It is inspired by a song dedicated to him whose lyrics: “Some men could never take the step you have taken, to enter the path to glory and victory”.
“The fans are not calling for Walus’ release on humanitarian grounds, but they are glorifying what he did and the ideology,” Dr Rafal Pankowski of the Never Again association told the BBC. anti-racist group.
The song, which is sung in English, is “a good example of the internationalization of contemporary white nationalism,” he adds.
- Leader of the South African Communist Party
- Chief of staff of uMkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the African National Congress (ANC), allied with the SACP
- Launch of attacks against the apartheid government
- Considered a potential successor to Nelson Mandela
- Assassinated on April 10, 1993
Walus, a Polish immigrant who had acquired South African citizenship, and his co-defendant Clive Derby-Lewis, were sentenced to death shortly after Hani’s murder, but the sentence was commuted to life imprisonment after South Africa has abolished the death penalty.
They both requested amnesty at the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 1997, with Walus saying he was pressured by political and anti-communist motives to kill Hani, then general secretary of the Communist Party of South Africa (SACP) , and also a leading figure in the armed wing of the African National Congress. Both sides were close allies in the fight against apartheid.
Their appeal was rejected.
Derby-Lewis, who supplied the weapon used to kill Hani, died in 2016, a year after being granted parole for health reasons.
Walus, who is serving his life sentence in a maximum security prison in Pretoria, continues to make his mark online.
Even more shockingly, the array of merchandise supporting and celebrating him as a “political prisoner” was sold on an online marketplace website owned by South Africa.
Withdrawal is not enough
The BBC has confirmed that scarves, a T-shirt and a sticker with Janusz Walus’s name and image have been listed for sale on OLX’s Polish website. These items have since been deleted.
OLX is owned by tech investment firm Prosus, a subsidiary of South Africa-based global tech giant Naspers.
The Never Again association reported the sale of Walus and other “racist” items to OLX.
“The promotion of fascism or racial hatred is prohibited by Polish law, but the implementation of the law is notoriously weak,” said Dr Pankowski.
OLX Poland’s regulations also prohibit the sale of articles containing “content that incites hatred due to national, ethnic, racial, religious differences or due to non-denominational status”.
In a statement to the BBC, Naspers said that
“Our systems use technology automatically to identify and remove listings that violate OLX policies,” spokeswoman Shamiela Letsoalo said.
The Walus articles were not listed under his name so the system missed them, the statement said, adding that they were “promptly deleted” after the team was notified.
But that’s not enough for SACP spokesman Alex Mashilo, who told the BBC that Naspers must “act, more than they said for convenience.”
He added that the party “would examine this matter further and decide on the next steps to be taken”.
One explanation for the increased visibility of Walus’ case is a series of court and government decisions that led to the overturning of a 2016 decision to release him on condition.
Hani’s family and the SACP had opposed the decision even after South African authorities withdrew his citizenship from Walus in 2017, paving the way for him to be deported to Poland if he was released from prison. prison.
In March, the Justice Department finally ruled out his release.
Walus is “unrepentant except for his claims to comply with parole eligibility,” Mashilo said.
“The incorrigible killer who almost plunged South Africa into a civil war with profound implications must not be paroled. As it stands, there has not been a full disclosure of the truth and all the circumstances surrounding Hani’s assassination, ”Mashilo added. .
He said questions remained about the weapon used to kill Hani.
“The murder weapon on which the man pulled the trigger was taken from the military armory. Who took it, whose hands did it go through … [get to] his destination, Walus, and his assassination of Hani? He asked.
The last time most South Africans saw Walus was during TRC sessions, answering questions about Hani’s murder.
At one point during the hearings, he locked his head in a lightly titled position and threw a blank but burning gaze across the room – it’s a look like this that can be seen on scarves and banners. in Polish football stadiums.
Last year, an audio message from Walus was uploaded to YouTube and Facebook, in which he thanked his fans for raising legal fees and purchasing sports equipment.
When Lazarewicz visited Walus two years ago for an interview, he found a man who, 25 years after his incarceration, was relentless in his convictions.
“Four years ago, Walus met Hani – Lindiwe’s daughter in prison. He told him [that] when he lost his father [in 1997] then he understood that Chris Hani was not only a Communist, but that he was also a father and a husband, ”Lazarewicz said.
“Walus told me he was really sorry he killed Lindiwe’s father. But he never regretted [killing a] communist leader. He told me in 1993 that there was a war in South Africa and he felt like a soldier… he still believes in the system of racial segregation and that whites and blacks should live apart ”, he added.
This could explain why Walus has become an icon of white supremacist groups.
So even as his supporters call for his freedom in football matches in Poland, it is their shared allegiance to a racist ideology that will block any chance of parole and confine him to prison for the rest of his life.
- South Africa