63 years on, the Freedom Charter remains relevant

“South Africa shall belong to all who live in it, Black and White.”

As we continue with the discussions on the quest for the expropriation of land without compensation and how this is to be done within the law, these words of the Freedom Charter remind us of the goal of our struggle for freedom.

It was not so much a struggle ‘against’ as it was a struggle ‘for’ freedom, and the freedom as encapsulated in the Freedom Charter. The Freedom Charter articulated and envisioned a South Africa that was an antithesis to the one that the National Party wanted for our country. As they introduced apartheid in the fifties, so too the Congress Alliance, then the leaders of the mass democratic movement, canvassed all the people in South Africa to seek from them the type of society they wanted.

Very rarely in history do we have examples as such as the one in the drafting of the Freedom Charter where for months, ordinary people in their homes, in the factories and in the rural areas were canvassed and consulted on their vision for their country. Often when periods of transition occur, the leaders themselves put together a pact on behalf of the people and at most the people assent to the deal through a referendum. Not so with the Freedom Charter.

The Congress Alliance ensured that all South Africans, across barriers of race, gender, class and creed were given the opportunity to shape their vision for a better South Africa.

Therefore as the ANC entered into the negotiations at the Convention for a Democratic South Africa (CODESA) with a blueprint of the type of the negotiated settlement that it wanted for South Africa. By then, the early nineties and being thirty-five years in existence, the Freedom Charter had become the base document for political education training within the ANC in particular.

Activists at home, soldiers in the camps, exiles across the world and even prisoners had to learn and engage this seminal document which became the founding document for a free and liberated South Africa. Continuous reference to the Charter and the vision it envisioned for South Africa was the goal of the liberation movement.

However, the world today is a very different place than it was in 1955, 1995 and even 2015. While we may well demand that some of the clauses of the Charter be implemented literally, we must take cognisance that we live in a world that is globalised and that we are competing on an international scale. Whether we like it or not, we must acknowledge that after nearly three decades of an unfettered capitalist, Neo-liberal world order, our economy is not adapting as fast as it should be.

Despite the vicissitudes of the global economy, we must, however, be able to assert that “national wealth of our country, the heritage of all South Africans, [must] be restored to the people”, as enunciated by the Charter.

In particular, the Mining Charter that has been tabled recently and that is currently being discussed must a focal point of consensus.
The issue of the nationalization of the South African Reserve Bank it must be debated and harmonization must be constructed by all parties, coupled with the creation of a state bank and the deconstruction of monopolies through vociferous competition regulations in order to realise the vision, spoken of by the Freedom Charter, in respect of mineral wealth, the banks and monopoly industries.

Importantly, the Charter itself states that food security is the goal of land ownership while the state must assist in the cultivation of that land through the provision of implements, seeds, tractors and dams. It is to this end that the ANC insisted that a discussion on the question of land must not be done in isolation to that of food security.


Statistics South Africa suggested that in the first quarter of this year, over three thousand jobs were lost in the agricultural sector in the country. This could well be seasonal or even the drought experienced in many parts of the country. Whilst we acknowledge that this sector needs transformation, especially in the light of the question on land,  the ANC will take a responsible approach whereby jobs are saved and the land is redistributed.

The recent realisation of the national minimum wage adds to the Freedom Charter’s goals of guaranteeing a forty-hour working week, paid annual leave, sick leave and maternity leave for workers. While the national minimum wage might be long overdue it signals to South Africans the ANC government’s commitment to ensuring bringing about a society described in the Freedom Charter.

While we cannot achieve all the Charter’s goals overnight, we continue to struggle, engage and work to ensure that this society is realised.

However, the employment situation within our country must continue to concern all of us. In the same Quarterly Labour Survey, stated that a third of young people, ie 3.3 million, between the ages of 15 and 24 were not in employment nor in education or training. Overall the number of discouraged job seekers increased by a quarter of a million people.

Free higher education is not guaranteed by the Freedom Charter. Rather it states that “higher education and technical training shall be opened to all by means of state allowances and scholarships awarded on the basis of merit.” While the ANC government will continue to ensure that no poor child is denied an education, we must insist that merit and hard work by students go hand in hand with this assistance by the state.

The Freedom Charter lay at the very heart of our constitutional dispensation. It is a document that has guided those who have sought to bring about a non-racial, non-sexist, free and prosperous South Africa for all who live in it. Yet we must also value the context in which the Charter was drafted and acknowledge the conditions we are faced with today while not disregarding the ideals and values espoused by the Charter.

There is no doubt that the question of the economic challenges, as well as that of the debate centring on land and its possible expropriation without compensation, has triggered a heated debate in our country. A debate that can lead, and maybe has led, to racial division.

Yet it is important for both sides to realise that South Africa belongs to all who live in it. No one specific group can legitimately claim South Africa through the exclusion of others. We all belong here, this is our destiny.

One may, therefore, suggest that, if anything, the drafter of the Freedom Charter knew that before this seminal document expounds on anything else it must first and foremost unite South Africans. Before it pronounces on political rights, work, land, education, cultural rights, houses, security, among others, the delegates at Kliptown found it necessary to declare for all South Africans to know: that South Africa belongs to all who live in it.

If we are to tackle the challenges of inequality, unemployment and poverty it will do us well to adopt and implement that first line of the Freedom Charter first.

* Jessie Duarte is the Deputy Secretary General of the ANC.

Posted in Phambili
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