The Freedom Charter was adopted in Kliptown sixty years ago and is still seen as the rallying point in South Africa today
The Freedom Charter is a landmark document in the struggle for liberation in South Africa. From its inception, and especially during the 1980s, the demands of the Freedom Charter became a rallying point for many in the struggle against apartheid. In particular, for revolutionary militants from all parts of the liberation movement, the Charter has consistently been at the centre of key theoretical and political debates.
During 2014, the Freedom Charter once again took a prominent position on South Africa’s political stage: for an increasingly fractured ANC/SACP, as its declared political custodian and vanguard of the National Democratic Revolution; for the newly formed Economic Freedom Fighters, who burst on to the political stage vowing to rescue the Charter from the ANC; and for large numbers of ordinary working class South Africans who continue to look to the Charter as a guiding vision for positive political and socio-economic change.
Setting the scene for the Charter’s 60th anniversary this year (2015) the ANC’s ‘End of Year Statement’ for 2014 was entitled ‘Advancing the Ideals of the Freedom Charter’. Then, in its customary 8th January statement this year, the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ANC declared 2015 as “The Year of the Freedom Charter and Unity in Action to Advance Economic Freedom.” The NEC charted what it calls the “good story that is 20 years of freedom and democracy” by assessing progress against each of the Freedom Charter’s main clauses. Not surprisingly, the ANC mostly congratulated itself on a job well done.
However, if the ANC was to ask the impoverished masses of the townships, farms and villages of South Africa whether they agree that the “ideals of the Freedom Charter” are mostly a living reality in today’s South Africa they would most likely get a negative answer from most. While there have no doubt been many advances since 1994, there can be little argument that on the social and economic fronts, much of what the Freedom Charter demanded remains unfulfilled.
There has been a rise in societal inequality, alongside a massive concentration of wealth in the hands of both an old and new elite. More people than ever are out of work. There are still millions of people living in shacks and a generalised crisis in the local delivery of basic services. Added to this are growing levels of corruption at all levels of government and society and worrying signs of the gradual rise of a secretive, security state.
Today, 20 years into the new democracy and 60 years after the adoption of the Freedom Charter, there is growing anger and discontent amongst the majority who have been left behind in South Africa’s new democracy. It will simply not do for the ANC/SACP to continue to invoke the Charter while blurring the very real contradictions between its vision and the reality of life for that majority.
The masses are caught between yesterday and tomorrow. It is time for workers, the unemployed, the youth and indeed all progressive people to take stock and chart a new way forward.