In 2013, Polish sociology professor Rafał Pankowski sat in entrance of his laptop and watched a Europa League soccer recreation between Italian membership Lazio and Warsaw-based Legia Warszawa.
In the course of the recreation, followers of the present Polish champions unfurled a banner within the stands. Printed on the flag was the picture of a person: stony-faced with chiselled options.
“At first I wasn’t positive who it was. However I checked. And it was Janusz Walus,” mentioned Pankowski, who’s a spokesperson for the Warsaw-based anti-racism motion By no means Once more.
Janusz Walus is the self-confessed killer of former South African Communist Social gathering (SACP) secretary basic Chris Hani. Walus, along with Clive Derby-Lewis, a member of the now-defunct Conservative Social gathering, plotted, deliberate and killed Hani outdoors his Boksburg residence in 1993.
Hani’s homicide threatened to ship South Africa down a spiral of potential civil conflict solely 10 months earlier than the nation’s first democratic elections in 1994.
Throughout a Fact and Reconciliation Fee listening to in 1997, each males described intimately how they went in regards to the homicide. They have been each denied amnesty.
Derby-Lewis died in 2016, whereas Walus continues to serve a life sentence in jail. In March, he was denied parole for the umpteenth time.
A logo for the Polish proper
Pankowski’s revelation began a seven-year technique of documenting the rising prominence of ultra-right-wing and racist teams in Poland and their connection to Walus.
“On the time after I first noticed the banner throughout the recreation with Lazio, Legia was fined. However, Uefa [the Union of European Football Associations] didn’t know who the particular person was and carried out a rule that no political symbols or photographs be proven in stadiums.”
Pankowski mentioned the effective was substantial, however that Legia was “fortunate”. It’s because Uefa didn’t interpret the banner as a racist image, however as a political banner.
In a latest recreation on August 28 in Warsaw between Lechia and Raków Częstochowa, a banner with the picture of Walus might be seen hanging behind the house group’s goalposts.
Since then, the rising presence of Walus’s picture and identify, significantly at native soccer video games, has turn out to be a part of a rising right-wing name for his launch on parole in South Africa and his return to Poland.
Pankowski is unclear how Walus turned an emblem for the Polish proper. However he believes it’s much less to do with Hani being a communist, and extra to do with him having been a black man.
“Sure, their message is predicated on anti-communist rhetoric, however that’s synthetic in a manner. On the core of the pro-Walus motion is the glorification of racial violence. In addition they don’t simply say he must be launched on parole on humanitarian grounds, which is a degree we will debate, however they’re glorifying what he did,” Pankowski mentioned.
“Assist right here for him is so huge that there are even banners that learn ‘Janusz for President’. It can by no means occur. However simply seeing that’s scary.”
The commodification of Walus’s picture
One other worrying growth for Pankowski is the rising commodification of Walus’s identify and picture. T-shirts, buttons, and scarves along with his likeness, identify and messages of help are on the market on the web.
One of many webpages on which such paraphernalia is accessible is second-hand items website OLX Poland. Expertise-investment firm Prosus owns OLX. Prosus is, in flip, owned by South African-based tech large Naspers.
The Mail & Guardian has seen Janusz Walus-inspired scarves and clothes on the positioning. One reads, “Anti-communism capturing membership. Poland. South Africa. Tribute to Janusz Walus.”
Naspers media relations director Shamiela Letsoalo mentioned that the tech and media large “unequivocally condemns racism, together with racist content material posted by exterior events on the market on the buying and selling platforms of our firms”.
Letsoalo added that Naspers regards any content material that incites violence, racism or discrimination as abhorrent and opposite to the values and beliefs of the organisation.
“OLX Poland has 20-million energetic user-generated listings and attracts and critiques 240 000 new listings each day — a median of 10 000 per hour. Our techniques use know-how routinely to determine and take away listings that violate OLX’s insurance policies,” mentioned Letsoalo.
She added that OLX techniques routinely block problematic phrases if they’re entered into the product description discipline. Inappropriate photographs are detected by picture recognition programmes, however not with full accuracy. The corporate mentioned its know-how makes use of “quite a lot of strategies, together with picture recognition, and that it “seems to be at as many information factors because it presumably can, and we’re consistently enhancing its accuracy”.
“Filters are in place at OLX Poland that stops objects from being listed that use the identify Janusz Walus. The itemizing that you simply flagged on Sunday night, September 6, didn’t comprise the identify Janusz Walus and, consequently, it was not recognized as a violation. Upon additional investigation of the hyperlinks you supplied, our group confirmed that each got here from a single itemizing, which has since been eliminated,” Letsoalo mentioned.
The instance despatched to Naspers by the M&G was a shawl with Walus’s identify surrounded by different right-wing paraphernalia. Naspers responded on Tuesday, September 8. As of Tuesday night time, the “anti-communism capturing membership” T-shirt was nonetheless out there on the web site.
Rising racist sentiment
“It’s not solely Walus stuff however different racist stuff as nicely [on the website],” Pankowski mentioned.
“It’s tough for me to clarify, however why would an organization with a fancy historical past like Naspers condone one thing like that? It’s careless and irresponsible,” he added.
There are additionally Fb pages calling for “freedom for Janusz Walus”, calling him a “political prisoner” in South Africa.
The By no means Once more motion has been combating rising right-wing and racist sentiment in Poland since 1996. Its work has intensified in recent times to counter rising anti-immigrant, xenophobic and racist populist political events slowly making beneficial properties, electorally and in membership dimension.
Pankowski mentioned that soccer golf equipment and stadiums look like fertile floor to transform Poles, significantly the younger, to a nationalist, right-wing message.
“The irony is that Polish soccer groups are fairly various. Gamers from different international locations and continents are right here. The groups are fairly completely different from Polish tradition basically. In the event you stroll down the road, everybody seems to be the identical. However our soccer groups are racially various. It’s disappointing as a result of we see a rise in xenophobia and racism,” Pankowski mentioned.
The controversy round Walus’s rising attraction in Poland could also be worlds other than South Africa. However it additionally nonetheless displays a rustic nonetheless struggling to search out social cohesion 26 years after free and truthful elections.
Approached for remark, the Hani household, by daughter Lindiwe Hani, mentioned it “wouldn’t prefer to take part”.
The SACP mentioned it had been conscious of the rising use of Walus’s picture in Poland for a while, including that it’s being saved knowledgeable of developments by the Communist Social gathering of Poland.
“The SACP is conscious of the outrageous actions of the racist right-wing parts in Poland. They’ve been utilizing Janusz Walus for some time because the rallying image of their agenda. It’s barbaric to have a good time an murderer and glorify his assassination deed,” SACP spokesperson Alex Mashilo mentioned.
Requested whether or not the SACP, as a member of the governing ANC tripartite alliance, would name for a diplomatic response by calling the Polish ambassador to reply for the rising use of Walus’s picture in that nation, Mashilo mentioned it continued to boost the event “internally”.
The celebration is adamant that any purposes by Walus’s authorized group that he be launched on parole be rejected.
“We stay resolutely agency that the murderer should stay in jail, in orange overalls — he should not be launched on parole. We wish full disclosure of the reality and all of the circumstances of the assassination that the murderer who pulled the set off of the homicide weapon dedicated,” Mashilo mentioned.