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 prominent anti-apartheid leader Chris Hani.
Many feared that Hani’s killing could provoke a racial war, coming at a crucial point in talks for the white minority to hand over power, which eventually happened when Nelson Mandela became president the following year after the country’s first all-race elections. It is unclear 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 interviewed Walus for his book, told the BBC. Walus, an immigrant from Poland who had acquired South African citizenship, and his co-defendant Clive Derby-Lewis, were sentenced to death shortly after Hani’s killing, but the sentence was commuted to life sentence after South Africa abolished the death penalty.
They both appealed for amnesty during the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 1997, with Walus saying that he was driven by political, anti-communist motives to kill Hani, who was then the secretary-general of the South African Communist Party (SACP), and also a leading figure in the armed wing of the African National Congress. The two parties were close allies in the fight against apartheid. Their appeal was rejected. Derby-Lewis, who provided the gun used to kill Hani, died in 2016, a year after he was granted parole for health reasons.
According to BBC reports, a journalist Cezary Lazarewicz, who interviewed Janusz Walus; “Walus told me that he was very sorry for killing Lindiwe’s father. But he never regretted [killing a] communist leader. He told me, in 1993, 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,”
As his supporters call for his freedom in football games in Poland, it’s 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.