Hani killer Janusz Walus takes parole bid to ConCourt, urges ‘ubuntu’
In October 1993, Polish immigrant Janusz Walus was convicted of a crime that ‘nearly derailed democracy’ — he assassinated anti-apartheid activist and SA Communist Party leader Chris Hani. Nearly 30 years after being jailed, he is once again attempting to be released on parole.
‘Political pressure” on Justice Minister Ronald Lamola is preventing the granting of parole to Janusz Walus, who could well be South Africa’s longest-serving inmate.
This was argued in the Constitutional Court on Tuesday, 22 February during a hearing dealing with yet another attempt by Walus, originally from Poland, to be released on parole.
Central to court proceedings was that Walus had effectively ticked all the boxes, including apologising to those affected, in terms of what needed to be done for him to be granted parole.
However, questions were asked about whether the gravity of the crime he committed meant that he should still, nearly three decades later, remain in jail.
Questions were also asked about what it meant if the crime was viewed as too heinous for him to be released, and whether this would ever change.
These discussions boiled down to whether it was unfair and cruel to keep Walus in jail without him knowing what needed to be done for him to serve retribution.
It was argued, on behalf of Walus, that it was unconstitutional to keep him jailed without the option of parole.
Judgment in the matter has been reserved.
During proceedings, advocate Roelof du Plessis, representing Walus, brought up examples of apartheid criminals who were eventually freed, including death squad leader Eugene de Kock in 2015 after 20 years in jail, and hitman Ferdi Barnard, released in 2019 after more than 20 years behind bars.
Referring to Lamola, Du Plessis said: “The minister is always going to be under political pressure in this case.”
Du Plessis said if the minister decided to release Walus, he would become known as the minister who freed Chris Hani’s killer. There would be political fallout.
“I submit if one applied ubuntu in this matter, the outcome should be in favour of [Walus],” Du Plessis said.
He wanted the Constitutional Court to step in, given his view that Lamola was “under political pressure” in terms of deciding on Walus’s parole.
If the decision about Walus’s parole was again referred to Lamola, Du Plessis wanted this to be done with conditions, including a time frame indicating when Lamola needed to decide.
In addition, if there were further challenges to what Lamola decided, Du Plessis wanted the Constitutional Court, and not a lower court, to deal with them.
Du Plessis emphasised that Walus had previously and publicly apologised to Hani’s widow Limpho, as well as to the SACP.
On Tuesday he had instruction from Walus “to again apologise” to the public, Limpho Hani, the SACP and South Africa.
“He has sincere remorse,” Du Plessis said.
Walus and Clive Derby-Lewis (who died in 2016) were sentenced to death for murdering Hani outside his home in Boksburg on 10 April 1993.
In a July 2021 affidavit, Walus said that he had been convicted in October 1993 of murder and illegal possession of a firearm. He was “sentenced for death” for the murder and to five years in prison on the firearm charge.
“This was commuted to life imprisonment on 7 November 2000. I have served almost 28 years of incarceration.”
On 16 March 2020, one of his more recent attempts to be released on parole was turned down. Walus brought an application to review that decision and this was discussed on Tuesday in the Constitutional Court.
At the time his March bid for parole was denied, Lamola had said: “The crime was intended and had the potential to bring about a civil war within the Republic at the time. It must also be noted that Walus was convicted of murder with no extenuating circumstances having been found to be present.
“Considering this fact, placing offender Walus on parole would negate the severity that the court sought when sentencing him. With this premise, and balancing both negative and positive factors, the placement on parole for offender Walus is not approved at this stage.”
During Tuesday’s proceedings, advocate Muzi Sikhakhane, representing the SACP and the Hani family, delivered a hard-hitting address to the court.
He started with a quote from Hani: “I’ve never wanted to spare myself because I feel there are people who are no longer around and died for this struggle. What right do I have to hold back, to rest, to preserve my health, to have time with my family, when there are other people who are no longer alive — when they sacrificed what is precious: namely life itself.”
Sikhakhane said if Walus’s crime had achieved its “ultimate objective”, it would mean that “this court would not exist… half of us would be dead”.
Had Walus achieved his goal, he said later, “all of us in this room would not exist”.
Sikhakhane said that Hani’s assassination was not simply the murder of a man, but “the murder of a country,” “the murder of a family” and “the murder of a democratic dream of a society”.
Acting Chief Justice Raymond Zondo said Hani’s murder remained in many people’s minds.
“Speaking for myself… I still remember where I was when I heard the news that day.”
Zondo said the assassination “nearly derailed our democracy”.
Advocate Marumo Moerane, representing the justice minister, started off with a reference to Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
“This was murder most foul,” Moerane said.
He referred to the trial court’s description of Hani’s murder, which took weeks of planning: “The murder was a deliberate cold-blooded one. The act was cowardly to the extreme.”
During proceedings, Du Plessis portrayed Walus as contrite. He said Walus “has gone far beyond the retribution part of these proceedings”.
Du Plessis said the case “is not a normal matter” and that Walus, as far as he was aware, was South Africa’s longest-serving inmate.
At one stage, Du Plessis quoted South Africa’s first democratically elected president, Nelson Mandela, saying: “The way that a society treats its prisoners is one of the sharpest reflections of its character.”
During Tuesday’s proceedings, Du Plessis frequently made reference to the times Walus had apologised for what he did. One of his apologies is contained in a letter dated 30 May 2013 to Limpho Hani, now a part of court documents.
It states: “Greetings Mrs Hani. I am fully aware of your feelings regarding myself and I fully understand them. I cannot undo what I have done, nevertheless I want to offer to you Mrs Hani and to your daughters my most sincere apology, and express how deeply sorry I am for what I have done to you and to them by taking your beloved husband and their father away.
“If you cannot forgive me I will understand and respect it. However, I still want you to know that my biggest wish is that after those 20 years these wounds in your heart will close up and heal.
“If you do feel that our direct meeting would make the healing easier, I would be grateful to be given the opportunity to apologise to you face-to-face. Wishing you everything of the best, Mr JJ Walus.”
During Tuesday’s proceedings, it emerged that Limpho Hani had indicated that she would not forgive Walus. DM
Daily Maverick © All rights reserved