Hani Memorandum: 50 years on


March 2019 marks the 50th anniversary of the Hani Memoranda. The first and more popular one was written in about January 1969 whereas the second, submitted to the ANC leadership at the time and three months later, was in response to the onslaught against the signatories of the first Memo. The signatories, together with Chris Hani, had been expelled from the ANC because they authored the first Memo. The March memo was an appeal against this sentence. 

In fact, so ghastly was the onslaught, these revolutionaries were at one stage even facing the death penalty in ANC camps had it not been for the intervention of President OR Tambo. It was also later reported that, then already, there was an attempt on the life of Chris Hani but was foiled through the interventions of people like Ray Simons.  

Yet these ANC cadres were simply, what we would term today, speaking truth to power. Having emerged from the devastating campaigns of Wankie and Sipolilo and having sat in jails for more than a year, these comrades, led by Chris Hani, were utterly depressed at the state of the ANC at the time. 

25 MK members had been killed in action. A dozen had been sent to prison in Rhodesia, South Africa or Botswana. Even after these devastating defeats, the demoralised situation they found themselves in were nothing compared with the state of the organisation. Yet we, on this side of history, are often made to believe that the crisis that the ANC finds itself in today is new. Some of the challenges outlined in the January 1969 Hani Memorandum speak to the challenges that the ANC continues to face today, 50 years on. 

It would be useful to highlight the following nine. 

1. An ANC completely out of touch with the people. The Memo read: “The ANC Leadership in Exile has created a machinery which has become an end in itself. It is completely divorced from the situation in South Africa. It is not in a position to give an account of the functioning branches inside the country…an over-concentration of people in offices – this has become a fully fledged activity in itself.” 

There is no doubt that a recurring refrain leaders, members and volunteers of the ANC would hear as they go about canvassing for votes in these upcoming elections is: “we only see you at election time.” ANC branches have become nodes for the personal progression of a few and remain distant from the plight of our communities. Come 9 May, the ANC will go back to its inward looking self, concentrating on its agenda and not pursuing the issues of the people at grassroots level. As we can see though, this is not new.

2. Careerism and opportunistic tendencies.  The Memo: “We are disturbed by the careerism of the ANC Leadership Abroad who have, in every sense, become professional politicians rather than professional revolutionaries… It is high time that all members and cadres of the ANC, be they in M.K. or not, should receive equal treatment and be judged only on the basis of their dedication and sacrifice to the cause we serve. The principle of thorough selection of cadres should be on the basis of merit and such selection should never be delegated to an individual.” 

The refrain often sung by leaders of the ANC, often those who were in exile, is that today the ANC is used by opportunistic individuals as a launching pad and is not the selfless sacrifice organisation it used to be. Indeed many sacrificed, even with their lives and families, but not all were “selfless”. As the Memo points out, careerism was entrenched in the ANC even by 1969. 

Even more so, the Memo goes on to complain about those – 

3. Using the ANC to do business and make money: “These comprise the opening of mysterious business enterprises which to our knowledge have never been discussed by the leadership of the Organisation. For instance, in Lusaka a furniture industry is being run by the ANC. In Livingstone a bone factory whose original purpose was to provide cover for underground work in Botswana is now being used as a purely commercial undertaking.” 

In addition, the Memo highlights the serious corruption, nepotism, materialism, desire for perks and especially cars when it points out –

4. Corruption and nepotism: “Certain members of M.K. are receiving payments from the External Mission, eg the C-in-c and the C.P.O. who as a matter of fact are getting allowances and the fact that the C-in-C has a posh and militarily irrelevant car at his disposal. The fact that these soldiers are paid has a very demoralising effect on the other revolutionaries…practice of nepotism where the leadership uses its position to promote their kith and kin and put them in positions where they will not be in any physical confrontation with the enemy.” 

5. Materialism, perks and cars. The Memo continues: “Individual leaders keep cars and run them and this coupled with the fact that they receive salaries alias allowances is in every way building them up as a middle class in our revolutionary organisation and in M.K… Whenever leaders are sick arrangements are made for them to receive excellent medical attention without delay but this sort of concern is hardly shown to the rank and file of the movement. We maintain that all of us are important in so far as the Revolution is concerned and should thus be accorded the same treatment.” 

A major criticism of the High-Level Report on the State Security Agency released recently by the presidency is just how myopic it is in trying to understand the challenges of the intelligence community, especially its politicisation, in South Africa. As if these problems only started in 2005! The Hani Memo though is clear about the –

6. Challenges in the intelligence services: “In the prosecution of its internally directed activities the Security Department has become notorious. Those who serve in it have the central task of suppressing and persecuting dedicated cadres of M.K. who have nothing to lose by participating in the struggle except their chains.” 

Then there is the links with Israel. The ANC leadership simply finds it difficult to implement conference resolutions in regards to Israel. Already, by 1969 some in the ANC, with direct access to high offices, were captured by the Israelis.

7. Inability to severe links with Israel. “Mrs V. Nokwe, the wife of the Secretary-General and Chief of Security of the ANC, Comrade D. Nokwe, is presently working for Amiran Israel. We demand an explanation for this anomalous situation and we demand that we should cut links with the counter-revolutionary organisation forthwith and should there be any other links with the Israel, the ANC should sever them in the interests of our Revolution.” 

The ANC is often criticised for cadre deployment. If only its detractors knew how reasonably bad the ANC was implementing this policy. There is no formal mechanism and there is no formal process whereby a cadre, that is someone with merit and who is capable, is placed in the correct deployment. 

The challenge with cadre deployment in the ANC is that it is in a shambles and its more about a “boetie-boetie”, or “who knows who” system; far from, cadre deployment per se. In fact, some people deployed are not even members of the ANC. Yet by 1969 the authors of the Hani Memo could write that there is a :

8. Failure in an efficient cadre deployment system: “There has been a tendency to appoint people to the National Executive outside [sic]. We would like to know what is the yardstick for these appointments. We have been forced to conclude that a few individuals are monopolising posts in the Organisation.” 

Finally, about the – 

9. ANC Youth League. “The farce of the Bulgaria ANC Youth delegation should never be repeated and those responsible should acknowledge the mistake they made. We therefore take particular exception to the appointment of certain students as leaders of the ANC Youth. Thabo Mbeki who went to London on a scholarship sponsored by NUSAS is a leader of ANC bogus Youth Organisation.”

It is therefore a bit disingenuous to suggest that the state of the ANC Youth League is in the state that it is today because of people like Collen Maine. The troubles were there in 1969 already. 

The reality is that the leaders whom the co-signatories of the Hani Memorandum were criticising came home, from exile, and ran South Africa for its first twenty-five years of democracy. This institutional culture that existed in the ANC prior to its unbanning was simply carried over into the unbanned organisation. 

The easy part was that we knew, or at least some of us know, that the Apartheid state was rotten to its core. Some leaders in government, post 1994, tried reformation. In some instances it worked, in maybe most instances it remained the same. However, we underestimated the challenges within the ANC itself! We were maybe too romantic about the organisation led by OR Tambo.

Yet this is a major challenge with how South Africans solve problems today. We think they started yesterday and that they would end tomorrow. We do not realise that these challenges that we face today have become institutionalised and for institutionalisation to have taken place, it means that the patterns of practices were in place for decades. 

If the ANC is therefore serious about renewal and unity, it must start by realising that its problems did not start in 2005. The question is: will the challenges outlined in the Hani Memorandum be the eventual downfall of the ANC? For surely it will not be able to survive another 50 years if it continues on the same trajectory.  


Wesley Seale is a member of the ANC in Essa Moosa branch, Dullah Omar Region. He is currently pursuing his PhD in Beijing and writes in his personal capacity.