By Paul Trewhela, journalist, editor and political prisoner

There are times when silence speaks louder than words, and this was so at Chris Hani’s commemoration in Boksburg on Monday 10th April, the 24th anniversary of his murder.

President Jacob Zuma laid a wreath and addressed the gathering, which included Hani’s widow, Limpho, declaring Hani to have been an “example of what a revolutionary was supposed to be.”

Yet a silence hung over the event.

No word was said, or could be said, about the gulf between the powerful tribute which Chris Hani paid in November 1989 to his murdered comrade and fellow MK commander, Thami Zulu, when he was buried, compared with the silence at that time and ever since of Jacob Zuma, who’d held absolute command over TZ’s detention as deputy head of the ANC security department, Mbokodo.

I believe that as a senior MK commander who had grown up in a middle class isiZulu-speaking family in Soweto and who was privately educated in Swaziland, it was his loyalty to the then dominant and mainly Xhosa-speaking leadership in the ANC and MK in exile which caused Thami Zulu (birth name, Muziwakhe Ngwenya) to be considered a traitor by KZN-born members of Zuma’s faction.

This is my theory about his poisoning in Lusaka in November 1989 while under very close supervision, within days of his release from 17 months detention by Zuma’s wing of the ANC security police, Mbokodo.

The two top leaders of MK, Hani and Joe Modise, did their best to rescue TZ when he was already dying.

In my article “Jacob Zuma, Mbokodo and the death of Thami Zulu” (Moneyweb, 13 February 2009), I wrote: “There is no doubt that TZ was a very popular commander among the troops.

The laudatory nature of his funeral address by Joe Modise (commander of Umkhonto weSizwe ) and Chris Hani (chief of staff), cited by Mr and Mrs Ngwenya in their evidence before the TRC, is proof of that.

“TZ’s murder in detention by iMbokodo would have caused an uproar.”

In an article, “How the killing of Thami Zulu contradicts Zuma’s claims” (Politicsweb, 13 May 2013), Professor Kenneth Good wrote that if Chris Hani’s words at TZ’s funeral were genuine, then “MK held no real doubts about Zulu’s loyalty and competence.

He was buried in Swaziland in November 1989, with the mourners limited to family.

A statement signed by Modise and Hani, respectively Commander and Chief of Staff of MK, declared: The ‘Glorious army of our people salute you…we remember your efficiency and competence…we recall with sheer pride and emotion…this giant and gallant fighter’.

“Or the lies were compounded further, as they continued to be over coming years and decades. What is certain is that the missing information concerning Zulu’s killing remains in the hands of the ANC’s leadership.

“When the Skweyiya Commission reported to Mandela in 1992 it strongly recommended that secret ANC internal reports about Thami Zulu’s death ‘were matters of vital interest’: they should be released and ‘subjected to public scrutiny’ (Report, p.19).

Twenty one years later, as non-accountability and elitism stifles democracy, the need for scrutiny, of both the killing of Thami Zulu and the power accorded to Mbokodo, is greater still.”

Thami Zulu’s father’s evidence

In his evidence to the TRC in 1996, Thami Zulu’s father, Mr Philemon Ngwenya, said that his daughter-in-law, TZ’s wife, “phoned me to say TZ was now in an ANC cell and in solitary confinement and that he was being tortured.

At my expense, because the South African Council of Churches could no longer finance me to fly over to Lusaka, I bought my own air ticket and could not afford the second one for my wife.

I reached Lusaka by air and was received by Dr Ralph Mgijima at the airport. [TZ was poisoned  in the house of his friend, Dr Mgijima, who was ill in hospital at the time].

“This time no ANC official from headquarters would see me. I persistently asked to see Mr Nzo and Mr Jacob Zuma, and this was all in vain. At the time Zuma was in Swaziland I was told and would soon return to Lusaka. On his return from Swaziland to Lusaka he still would not see me.”

A jailer at Green House where TZ had been held prisoner, Sindiso Mfenyana, “told me that I would not see my son, TZ, unless Mr Zuma gives permission and Mr Zuma was away on official business in Swaziland. From Swaziland he would proceed to Harare…

“From there it was a question of going to headquarters daily, waiting for Mr Zuma to come back. On his return Mr Zuma would not see me personally when I got to Green House. He spoke to me through this gentleman Sindisiwayo and told me that he would send my son to the hotel, which thing they never did.”

Mr Ngwenya concluded: “There were very few people who were in contact with TZ during that period. When he was released he was released to Dr Mgijima. There are very few people who were with him. So the ANC could have followed that up and by now we would be knowing who poisoned him.

“Some of them, some of these people, were Chris Hani, Jackie Modise, Dr Zakes Zumukai and Dr Ralph Mgijima. Why is the ANC not finding out who poisoned TZ.”

The question still stands.