Accessibility links

Breaking News

South Africa Releases Notorious Killer

FILE - In this Monday, Nov. 24,1997 file photo. Polish immigrant and convicted killer Janusz Walus is sworn in during a Truth and Reconcilliation Commission hearing in Mamelodi, South Africa.

South Africa's top court on Monday ordered the release on parole of a Polish immigrant who shot dead Chris Hani, a prominent anti-apartheid hero in 1993, a death that nearly sparked a civil war.

Janusz Walus, 69, has served nearly three decades of a life sentence for the murder, which took South Africa to the brink of a race war as negotiations to end apartheid entered their final phase.

Walus killed Chris Hani, a hugely popular leader of the Communist Party, one year before South Africa's first multi-racial elections.

Constitutional Court judge Chief Justice Raymond Zondo ordered Justice Minister Ronald Lamola to place Walus "on parole on such terms and conditions as he may deem appropriate."

In assassinating Chris Hani, Walus "seemed to have been intent on derailing the attainment of democracy by this country," said Zondo.

Still, Zondo ordered that Walus must be released on parole within 10 calendar days from Monday.

Hani was the general secretary of the South African Communist Party (SACP) and chief of staff of Umkhonto we Sizwe, the armed wing of the ruling African National Congress (ANC).

Walus "was convicted of very serious crime... cold blooded murder", said Zondo, adding "his conduct nearly plunged this country into civil unrest", but he was entitled under law to parole.

Still in negotiations with the apartheid government over an election date, then-ANC president Nelson Mandela appeared on national television after Hani's murder to appeal for calm.

In assassinating Chris Hani, Walus "seemed to have been intent on derailing the attainment of democracy by this country," said Zondo.

Hani's family had repeatedly opposed Walus's parole.

"This judgment is diabolical, totally diabolical," Hani's widow Limpho told a local TV channel shortly after the announcement. "This court has not even addressed the victims."

Solly Mapaila, leader of the SACP, a political alliance of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) called the judgment injustice.

"An injustice has occurred today through justice," Mapaila told reporters outside the Constitutional Court in Johannesburg.

Walus immigrated to South Africa from then-communist Poland in 1981.

His accomplice, Clive Derby-Lewis, who supplied the gun that shot Hani, was released in 2015 on medical parole after 22 years in jail. He died of lung cancer in 2016, aged 80.