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By unknown | Jul 02, 2009 | COMMENTS [ 0 ]

FIFTY-FOUR years ago 3000 South Africans of all races from all walks of life congregated at Kliptown to discuss the future of the country.

It was out of their input, some written on scraps of paper, that the Freedom Charter was born and eventually adopted as a document that encapsulated the dreams the delegates had about the future of South Africa.

An article in the ANC publication Sechaba, in commemoration of the Freedom Charter's 30th anniversary, described it as a "document of the people. Although it emanated from the ANC, it was adopted by the people of South Africa".

Two years before, the ANC's allies, including the SA Allied Workers Union, Congress of SA Students, the Azanian Students Organisation and the General Workers Union, had recommitted themselves to the Freedom Charter. They described it as " a document for which many of our comrades have fought, served terms of imprisonment and even died".

The Young Communist League has also described the Freedom Charter as "a blueprint for a better life, the guide to action from misery, poverty, hunger, violence, crime, exploitation and all other social ills caused by global capitalism".

From these descriptions it is obvious the Freedom Charter is an important document. In fact, even during its last election campaign, the ANC made the Freedom Charter its point of reference. It is therefore surprising that the 54th anniversary of the Freedom Charter - Friday, June 26 - passed with hardly a whisper.

What happened was a low-key ceremony at Luthuli House where a group of ANC veterans - who had attended the adoption of the Charter at Kliptown in 1955 - were hosted by deputy secretary-general Thandi Modise.

This was unlike what happened in 2005 when an estimated 20000 people gathered at the Walter Sisulu Memorial in Kliptown to celebrate the Charter's 50th anniversary.

The lack of fanfare during this year's commemoration has raised questions about the ANC's commitment to a document that has always been regarded as its "Bible".

The question is whether the ANC has abandoned the Freedom Charter, as its former chairperson and now Congress of the People leader Mosiuoa Lekota has suggested.

It is common knowledge that given the political compromise that led to the new South Africa, the ANC had to abandon one of the key tenets of the Freedom Charter - nationalisation of mineral resources and banks.

Recognition of property rights and the principle of willing buyer, willing seller have, to a large extent, undermined the government's drive to redistribute land among the dispossessed.

The sharing of the country's wealth remains skewed in favour of those with political connections, while the economy still remains largely in the hands of whites. The few that break through the ceiling of poverty do so under conditions that leave them tied to the strings of white capital.

There are criticisms - even from its allies - about how the ANC had abandoned the Reconstruction and Development Programme, which was seen as a cornerstone for the achievement of the spirit of the Freedom Charter in favour of a neo-liberal macro-economic policy (Gear) that is mainly based on the notion that opening up the economy to foreign investors will lead to economic growth, job creation and the redistribution of the wealth created.

History has shown that this has not happened as envisaged. Instead, developing countries like South Africa remain faced with high unemployment as investors pick and choose where they want to invest.

It can be argued that the world economic order has and is changing and therefore countries like South Africa need different strategies if they are to survive in the new global order.

This may be the case, but the Charter is an important document in the history of the fight against tyranny and human subjugation.

As already pointed out, people died for supporting the Freedom Charter. Others, like some members of the Black Consciousness Movement, died for their opposition to the charter.

The low-intensity war that ravaged KwaZulu-Natal in the 1980s was between those who believed in the Charter and those opposed to it.

For the sake of those who lost their lives in the quest for this country's freedom, we cannot afford to forget the role that the Charter played.

It is a known fact that the Freedom Charter has served as a footnote of this country'sConstitution, considered one of the most progressive in the world for its commitment to democracy, equality and freedom.


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