THE FREEDOM CHARTER CONTINUES TO GUIDE US
The African National Congress celebrates with pride the 63rd anniversary of the historic congress of the people, when South Africans gathered at Kliptown to shape the vision of the South Africa they want.
A unique gathering: 25-26 June 1955
The 25th and 26th of June 1955 was the culmination of a campaign that saw volunteers, including Nelson Mandela and Albertina Sisulu, covering the length and breadth of the country to collect demands from our people. The volunteers went to farms and mine compounds, to reserves, villages and townships. The demands were collected on scraps of paper and eventually consolidated into the document presented to the people.
The apartheid government knew that this campaign by the ANC and others of the Congress Alliance, the South African Council of Trade Union (SACTU), the Congress of Democrats, the Coloured People Organisation, the Federation of South African Women and the South African Indian Congress would deal a decisive blow to its own grand apartheid ideal of racial segregation and oppression.
It arrested those who campaigned, who wanted to attend the Congress of the People and banned others. Before and during the event, it surrounded the field of Kliptown with police and the army. After the trial 156 leaders of the Congress Alliance, men and women, black and white, were arrested for High Treason, in what became the longest treason trial in the history of our country.
Nkosi Albert Luthuli, South Africa’s first Nobel Peace Laurette described why this event was so unique when he said: “it will be the first time in the history of our multi-racial nation that its people from all walks of life will meet as equals, irrespective of race, colour and creed, to formulate a Freedom Charter for all people in the country.” This idea of an all-inclusive convention was first proposed by Prof. ZK Matthews at the Cape Congress in 1953, ‘to draw up a Freedom Charter for the democratic South Africa of the future.’
The Freedom Charter was discussed and adopted at Kliptown by the over three thousand delegates, including amongst their ranks, according to the SA History online, “were workers, peasants, intellectuals, women, youth and students of all races and colours.”
Afterwards, the African National Congress and the other members of the Congress Alliance adopted the Freedom Charter as their policy platforms.
We are therefore proud that UNESCO has declared two of the original copies of the Freedom Charter from 1955, as part of the heritage of all humanity. The ANC congratulates the Department of Arts and Culture and the South African government for making this happen.
A vision of the South Africa we want
The Freedom Charter declared unequivocally in its preamble 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 the people.” This remained the foundation of the struggle against apartheid and forms the foundation of the Constitution of a democratic South Africa.
The Freedom Charter pays attention to many aspects of the society we seek to build, with its clauses talking about national unity and diversity, about land, about women’s emancipation, about the economy, education, human rights, the right to work, about housing and security, and indeed about the world we want and South Africa’s place in that world.
The relevance of the Freedom Charter today therefore remains undisputed
As the African National Congress yesterday gathered with civil society and others in a Consultative workshop on its Election Manifesto, it was mindful of this historical mission.
This included the Manifesto workshop’s discussion on the land that must be shared amongst those who work it, as the Parliamentary Review Commission starts its work today.
It shaped the Manifesto’s workshop discussion on economic transformation, as it sought to examine how we will ensure that after 25 years of democracy, the wealth can be shared amongst all the people, and that in the context of ANC’s policy on full employment, we can work together for work and security for all, especially for young men and women, and for equal pay for equal work.
The delegates to the workshop recalled the commitment of the Freedom Charter to the promotion of culture and the exchange of ideas. And it delved into what needs to be done to ensure that the doors of learning and culture are opened to all South Africans, irrespective of class, gender or race.
Indeed, the Manifesto workshop renewed the commitment made by delegates of 1955, when they said: “these freedoms we shall fight for, side by side, throughout our lives, until we have won our liberty”.
FREEDOM CHARTER REMAINS A CALL TO ACTION
The African National Congress calls on government to redouble its efforts towards realising the wishes of our people as guided by their articulations in the Freedom Charter. Our country and its people must hold us accountable against the realisation of what they said 63 years ago. We must also, as stated in this historic document, ensure that our government is truly a people’s government!
Issued by the African National Congress
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