South African Jews Pay Respects to Slain Communist Party Leader

Jewish leaders joined 80,000 mourners packed into a Soweto soccer stadium Monday to pay last respects to Chris Hani, the South African Communist Party leader and African National Congress official assassinated April 10.

Among those taking part in the interfaith memorial service was South African Chief Rabbi Cyril Harris, who joined Methodist, Islamic and Hindu spiritual leaders in lauding the popular black activist.

Harris offered a prayer “that the darkness of his blood, shed on the soil of our land, may be transformed by the light of his spirit, which no assassin can ever put out.”

Paying tribute to Hani, Harris said: “In the rush of life, we saw his greatness. In the stillness of death, we acknowledge his courage, his passion for equality, his clarity of thought, his confidence in eventual success, his ability to change his methods and the humble human touch that made everyone love him.”

Among those attending the service which preceded Hani’s burial were the Israeli ambassador, Alon Liel; Seymour Kopelowitz, national director of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies; and Franz Auerbach, acting chairperson of Jews for Social Justice.

Last Friday, an 11-member delegation of the Johannesburg Jewish community paid respects to Hani’s widow.

In a show of solidarity, Harris of the Union of Orthodox Synagogues of South Africa and Rabbi Michael Standfield of the Reform (Progressive) movement, traveled together in a convoy of cars to the Boksburg home where Hani was brutally shot dead in broad daylight.

The delegation was led by Marlene Bethlehem, chairman of the Transvaal Council of the South African Jewish Board of Deputies.

Each member of the delegation used the traditional black solidarity handshake to greet the widow, Dimpho Hani. Harris wished her and her family “long life,” explaining this was the customary Jewish greeting to mourners.

WIDOW ACCEPTS CONDOLENCES

The widow accepted the condolences with quiet dignity, seated on a mattress on the floor, with a solitary candle burning in the room.

One of the other mourners, Hani’s aunt, Elisabeth Fuduka, responded to the words of the chief rabbi and Bethlehem by saying the Jewish community would be remembered for bringing comfort during this painful time and that the visit had helped to ease the pain.

Not one member of the delegation left the room dry-eyed, but, in traditional Jewish fashion, they left behind 80 cooked chickens and packets of tea, coffee, sugar, milk powder and biscuits to feed 90 minibus-loads of mourners who had arrived from the eastern Cape for Hani’s funeral.

The delegation also included other representatives of the Board of Deputies, the Women’s Zionist Council, Union of Jewish Women and Jews for Social Justice.

Outside the Hani home, bedecked with ANC flags and a Communist Party banner, the delegation was formally thanked by Mathole Motshekga, vice chairman of the ANC’s regional executive committee.

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