South Africa’s top court on Monday ordered the release on parole of a Polish immigrant who shot dead 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 popular leader of the Communist Party, one year before South Africa’s first multi-racial elections.
Constitutionalist Court judge Chief Justice Raymond Zondo ordered the justice minister to place Walus “on parole on such terms and conditions as he may deem appropriate”.
He said Walus must be released on parole within 10 calendar days from Monday.
He “was convicted of a very serious crime… cold-blooded murder”, said Zondo adding that “his conduct nearly plunged this country into civil unrest”, but he was entitled under law to parole.
In assassinating Chris Hani, Walus “seemed to have been intent on derailing the attainment of democracy by this country,” said Zondo.
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).
He was shot dead in the driveway of his house on April 10, 1993, in a suburb east of Johannesburg. The incident led to protests in black townships.
Still in negotiations with the apartheid government over an election date, then-ANC president Nelson Mandela appeared on national television to appeal for calm.