We have gathered in Kliptown to relive the historic moment in the history of our country 60 years ago, when the visionary document, the Freedom Charter, was adopted by the Congress of the People.
We pay homage to the 3000 delegates who gathered here in Kliptown and made history by uniting regardless of race, gender and class.
They adopted the Freedom Charter as the most practical tool to articulate their common hopes, dreams and aspirations for a future South Africa.
Before we discuss the glorious day in the history of our country, let us also spare a thought for the families of more than 44 people who lost their lives in Marikana, Rustenburg.
Yesterday we released the Marikana Commission report. This national tragedy brought back the pain and the shock that engulfed not only the families but the nation at large.
We reiterate that such violence has no place in our democratic country. We should draw lessons from this tragedy to ensure that never again would any conflict over wages or any reason, degenerate into such a shocking loss of life.
Work will begin to implement the recommendations of the report so that there can be closure.
We urge political parties not to use this national tragedy for political posturing. The tragedy should instead unite us as South Africans behind the resolve of eliminating all forms of violence in our country.
Comrades and compatriots,
The conception of a Freedom Charter was proposed by Professor ZK Matthews at the ANC Cape provincial conference in Cradock in 1953.
Within months, it became a national ANC campaign and the Council of the Congress of the People was created, with Chief Albert Luthuli as chairman and Walter Sisulu and Yusuf Cachalia as joint secretaries.
The Congress of the People was to create a set of principles for the foundation of a new South Africa.
In May 1954, Chief Albert Luthuli issued a call urging ANC volunteers to travel the length and breadth of South Africa to collect demands and to encourage people to describe their vision of a democratic South Africa.
Thousands of ANC volunteers trekked to all corners of the country to hold meetings, rallies and public forums with ordinary people in factories, on the farms, in communities and churches, women’s organisations, schools, trade union branches, to prepare a schedule of popular demands for change. These were then collated and compiled.
At the Congress of the People, an open assembly of democratically elected delegates held on 25-26 June 1955, thousands of delegates then gathered here in Kliptown, including Nelson Mandela, Walter Sisulu, Helen Joseph and Father Trevor Huddleston, to adopt the Freedom Charter.
The Preamble of the Freedom Charter reads:
“We, the People of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know:
That South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people;
That our people have been robbed of their birthright to land, liberty and peace by a form of government founded on injustice and inequality; That our country will never be prosperous or free until all our people live in brotherhood, enjoying equal rights and opportunities;
That only a democratic state, based on the will of the people, can secure to all their birthright without distinction of colour, race, sex or belief;
And therefore, we, the people of South Africa, black and white, together – equals, countrymen and brothers – adopt this Freedom Charter;
And we pledge ourselves to strive together, sparing neither strength nor courage, until the democratic changes here set out have been won.”
On that momentous occasion, the Charter was read aloud, amidst an overwhelming number of delegates with the police and members of the Special Branch milling around taking photographs and intimidating delegates.
Spanning two days, each section of the Charter was adopted by acclamation.
In the treacherous days of repression and despair, the Freedom Charter became a great beacon of hope for millions of South Africans uniting in a common struggle for dignity, equality and social justice.
The Freedom Charter called for the abolition of racial discrimination and the achievement of equal rights for all.
It welcomed all those who embraced its values to strive for a united, democratic, non-racial and non-sexist South Africa.
Non-racial unity had emerged from the crucible of the mass campaigns of the 1940’s and 1950’s, which united in action, the organised might of bodies and movements representing all racial and class components of South African society.
The Congress Alliance had been born during the Campaign of Defiance against Unjust Laws of 1952.
The Freedom Charter is the foundation of our democratic and non-racial value system. It is an inspiring and visionary document that has shaped the development of democracy in South Africa and most importantly laid the foundation for the democratic South African Constitution.
Comrades, Compatriots, Friends,
The apartheid regime viewed the Charter as an act of treason. The racist state was particularly horrified by the merging of non-racial opposition and it moved decisively to intensify repression in order to defeat the forces of democracy.
One hundred and fifty six leaders of the Congress Alliance were arrested and tried for treason.
But the trial backfired badly, since it cemented the unity among the leadership and focussed international attention on the apartheid policy.
The racist regime’s campaign of repression culminated in the massacre of 69 unarmed demonstrators at Sharpeville on March 21 1960.
It followed this up ten days later with more repression including banning of liberation movements and all avenues of peaceful protest were closed.
The international community was shocked beyond belief. The United Nations declared through a special resolution, 21 March as International Day against Racial Discrimination.
Comrades, Compatriots, Friends,
At the Third World Conference Against Racism held in Durban in September 2000, the African National Congress made a submission to the NGO Forum on our history of the non-racial struggle.
Our movement said;
“At its formation in 1912 the African National Congress became the pivot of African unity in South Africa and beyond…
“From its inception, the ANC conceived of a South Africa composed of diverse cultures living in a common society and sharing a common sovereignty, expressed through democratic representation.
“In its first years, the Congress focused on uniting African people in defence of the limited freedoms that they then had.
“Where previously separate indigenous armies had waged war against colonial forces, the ANC sought to unite the diverse peoples in an effort at moral persuasion.’’
Indeed, each act of the racist state that attempted to divide our people and prevent the emergence of non-racial unity, generated greater determination within the liberation movement to achieve precisely this goal.
In the words of President Oliver Tambo;
“ . . . Since it was the express aim of the Government to enforce sharp racial divisions among the population and to set up separate and possibly hostile racial camps, the very act of co-operation and unity among all opponents of racial discrimination and white domination was in itself an attack on Government policy.
“It was, therefore, of great political and strategic importance for the African National Congress to rally, and to welcome, the support of other oppressed groups and of democratic whites.’
The 60th anniversary of the Freedom Charter is in essence also a celebration of the unity that prevailed at the worst periods in our struggle within the ANC and its broader Alliance family.
Throughout the twentieth century the ANC consciously fostered the unity of the broadest range of forces opposed to the racist state.
Non-racial unity was forged in the crucible of working class struggle. The Communist Party of South Africa, (the CPSA later known as the SACP) was among the first organisations in South Africa whose membership was open to all races.
The role of white Communists, some of whom became leading fighters in the struggle for national liberation, did much to build the spirit of non-racialism. Their presence was a constant reminder that our struggle was (and is) against an oppressive society and not a racial group.
The enduring influence of Gandhi’s philosophy of action also contributed to the broad stream of the liberation movement’s non-racialism. Mahatma Gandhi conceived and inspired the tactics of Satyagraha during the 21 years he spent in South Africa after his arrival in 1893.
His legacy found enduring organisational expression in Transvaal and Natal Indian Congresses, which he helped to found and which entered into a formal alliance with the ANC in 1947.
Within the Coloured community, the African People’s Organisation (APO) emerged in the first decade of the twentieth century as perhaps the first truly national party, open to persons of all races and with branches in all the colonies that later constituted the Union of South Africa.
Following the APO’s demise, the ANC developed a strong coloured support base, particularly among rural and urban workers in the Western Cape.
In the 1950’s, the Coloured People’s Congress mobilised working class coloureds in defiance of apartheid laws, and led popular and effective campaigns against segregation on Cape Town’s trains.
The CPC became a key component of the Congress Alliance in the 1950’s.
This unity amongst all the national groups in our country was the cornerstone of the Congress of the People. We recommit ourselves today, to working harder than ever before, to unite our people and reinforce non0racialism and unity within the mass democratic movement and within broader society.
The growth of the women’s movement after the founding of the ANC Women’s League in 1941 and the Federation of South African Women in 1954 played a key role in cementing the position of women in the struggle.
The strong influence that both the ANC Women’s League and FEDSAW acquired within the Congress tradition ensured the evolution of a gendered perspective on questions of race and class within the ranks of the liberation movement.
President Oliver Tambo was a leading exponent of women’s emancipation within the liberation movement.
He consistently articulated the position that evolved, that the oppression of women is symbiotically linked with racial and class oppression:
“The mobilisation of women is the task, not only of women alone, or of men alone, but of all of us, men and women alike, comrades in struggle’’, said Comrade Tambo.
Comrades and friends
Celebrating the Freedom Charter also enables us to celebrate the role of the religious sector in the struggle for freedom and the promotion of the unity of the oppressed.
Many of the early ANC leaders were clergy, and this strong support from people of faith has never ceased.
We remember today the non-racial ecumenical Christian Institute led by Dr. Beyers Naude, and their seminal document, the ‘Message to the people of South Africa‘, which denounced apartheid as a false gospel.
It was produced in cooperation with the South African Council of Churches.
We also recall the World Council of Churches document, the Programme to Combat Racism, and the Kairos Document of the 1980s. These were all critical milestones in the mobilisation of communities of faith within the broad stream of the liberation struggle.
Comrades, fellow South Africans,
The Freedom Charter is not only a document in our history, it is part of our lives.
As said earlier, it formed the basis of the progressive Constitution of the Republic of South Africa.
In much the same way that South Africans were called upon to make suggestions that led to the adoption of the Freedom Charter in 1955, the South African Constitution shares a similar history of a substantive and comprehensive public participation programme.
In addition, not only does the South African Constitution take its roots from key ANC human rights documents such as the 1923 Bill of Rights in South Africa, 1943 African Claims and 1955 Freedom Charter, further constitutional developments occurred in mid-1988, when the African National Congress published the Constitutional Guidelines for a Democratic South Africa.
This was a public expression by the ANC of an initiative aimed at achieving a negotiated settlement in South Africa. In terms of these Constitutional Guidelines, the ANC committed itself to the adoption of the Bill of Rights enforceable through the courts. The initial consequence of this initiative was the adoption of the Harare Declaration by the Organization of African Unity in August 1989.
This document used the Constitutional Guidelines as a basis for outlining the minimum principles of a post-apartheid constitution acceptable to the international community.
It was later adopted by the Non-Aligned Movement and the United Nations General Assembly. The ANC further proposed its own Bill of Rights for a New South Africa in 1990, with further amendments in 1991 and 1992.
The Constitution drafting process touched thousands of people across the length and breadth of South Africa.
Thousands of public meetings were held, reaching almost every town and village in South Africa, educating and engaging fellow South Africans on the content of the new Constitution.
Civil society structures played an intermediary role, enhancing engagement and participation with communities.
Members of the Constitutional Assembly participated extensively in this campaign, and travelled across the country – to townships, informal settlements, rural villages, churches and schools, to consult with the public about the constitution making process.
The media through television and radio was also used extensively to obtain peoples’ views on the content of the new constitution apart from the two million written submissions received by the Constitutional Assembly.
The South African Constitution was adopted on 08 May 1996 by an overwhelming 87 percent of the members of the Constitutional Assembly.
Following adoption, the constitutional text was referred to the Constitutional Court for certification and consequent to two hearings by the Court, the constitutional text was given a stamp of approval on 04 December 1996.
The first democratically elected President of the Republic of South Africa, Comrade Nelson Mandela, signed the Constitution on 10 December 1996 in Sharpeville, and urged all South Africans to work together in building a united democratic non-racial and non-sexist South Africa.
The words of Madiba rang out in unison with the crowds gathered in Sharpeville heralding in a new era:
“Let us now, drawing strength from the unity which we have forged, together grasp the opportunities and realize the vision enshrined in this Constitution. Let us give practical recognition to the injustices of the past, by building a future based on equality and social justice.
“Let us nurture our national unity by recognizing, with respect and joy, the languages, cultures and religions of South Africa in all their diversity’’.
Comrades and compatriots,
The ANC is the oldest living political organisation in Africa. Its formation stirred the imagination of the continent. African National Congresses were formed in Zimbabwe, Zambia and even as far afield as Uganda.
Our anthem, ‘Nkosi Sikelel’iAfrika’, which is sung in a host of Southern African nations, is a reflection of the pan-African vision and unity for which the ANC has always stood.
When the storm of colonialism swept our continent, South Africa became the hub of the Southern African labour market. The wealth of South Africa has been created through the toil of the Southern African working classes.
Our pan-African vision was sharpened by the emergence of a trade union movement that reflected this objective reality.
The Industrial and Commercial Workers Union, formed in 1919 became the first major union of black workers in the sub-continent, and was led by a Malawian worker, Clements Kadalie.
We thus reaffirm our strong African identity and our firm belief in the unity of the African peoples throughout the continent. We also re-affirm that as the African people from Algeria to Zimbabwe, we are one people, we have one destiny. We have always been one people.
The ANC is committed to continue playing a key role in promoting unity and peace within the continent. This is in line with the call of the Charter, that there shall be peace and friendship in our relations with the continent and the world.
The Charter also inspired the formation of international solidarity.
In a message sent to this celebration today, Tony Dykes, the Director of Action for Southern Africa (ACTSA) in London, the successor of the Anti-Apartheid Movement, notes that it is was no accident or mere coincidence that the meeting in London that founded the Anti-Apartheid Movement (AAM) took place on 26 June in 1959.
That meeting was addressed by amongst others the late President Julius Nyerere and Archbishop Trevor Huddleston who was awarded the Isithwalandwe /Seaparankoe Medal in Kliptown.
On this historic occasion, we pay tribute to all freedom loving democrats across the world who walked with us on the march towards a free, democratic, united, non-sexist and non-racial South Africa.
Much has been achieved since the adoption of the Freedom Charter and of the Constitution of the republic.
Our Constitution commits us, individually and collectively, to build a nation based on the democratic values of human dignity, equality and freedom, through constitutionalism and the rule of law.
It describes the mechanisms and institutions which we have created to ensure that we achieve this.
The separation of powers remains a critical doctrine, promoting cooperation between the Executive, parliament and the judiciary, which constitute the new democratic state.
Since 1994, the democratically elected governments have focused on addressing historical injustices and creating new institutions to facilitate the building of a democratic society based on the principles of non-racialism and non-sexism.
Substantial progress has been made in the areas of accountability, political stability, government effectiveness, regulatory quality, integrity, the legitimacy of the state, and the rule of law.
Concrete steps were taken immediately in 1994 to overhaul the legislative framework upon which institutionalised racial discrimination was based.
During the first ten years of democracy alone, 789 laws or amendments aimed at reconfiguring South African society were approved by Parliament.
The dismantling of the legal framework of apartheid and transformation of many state institutions has led to the visible improvement of the socio-economic conditions of millions of people.
We created the Chapter 9 institutions to strengthen and protect constitutional democracy and human rights.
Working with our people we expanded the delivery of social services to the poor.
We began reorienting the provision of services from serving a minority to the entire population, to build a better life for all.
The ANC government put in place new institutional arrangements and structures to combat racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, informed by the Freedom Charter and the Constitution.
We introduced a new regulatory environment to enable the private sector to reverse the legacy of racial discrimination and to begin deracialising the economy of the country. This is being done to lay the ground for achieving economic freedom.
As we enter the third decade of democracy and in the 21st year of our freedom, we remain committed to the 1923 Bill of Rights in South Africa, 1943 African Claims, the 1955 Freedom Charter and the many other constitutional and human rights documents prepared by our glorious movement the ANC.
We must move decisively, as we did then, to consolidate the gains of our constitutional democracy and advance the socio-economic transformation agenda with full vigour and might as a nation.
As ANC members we must live the values in the Freedom Charter and Constitution. We must promote unity, non-racialism, discipline and a selfless commitment to building a better South Africa for all.
We must embrace all in our country especially those in need and hardship.
At this point, we urge ANC members to lead by example and embrace the families of those who were killed brutally in Marikana.
Our brothers and sisters in Marikana should not shoulder the pain of losing their loved ones alone.
The last three years was a difficult period for the whole nation. We should now begin a new chapter of unity and face the difficult road ahead together.
The ANC government will continue to provide as much support as possible to the families in Marikana.
Comrades and compatriots,
We are truly privileged to be part of the celebration of 60 years of the Charter.
We have come this far since 1994. Nothing can stop us now, in our pursuit of economic freedom and the full emancipation of our people from poverty, inequality and unemployment.
We declared 2015 as the Year of the Freedom Charter and Unity in Action to Achieve Socio-Economic Freedom.
We must recommit ourselves to unity, non-racialism and to work together to build a prosperous South Africa.
Cde Jacob Zuma is the President of the ANC