Freedom Charter at heart of split again

PEOPLE'S WISHES: Delegates discuss the clauses of the Freedom Charter in Kliptown in 1955. Pic. Unknown
PEOPLE'S WISHES: Delegates discuss the clauses of the Freedom Charter in Kliptown in 1955. Pic. Unknown

Eric Naki

Eric Naki

Is it not ironic that the Freedom Charter that split the ANC in 1959 is once again the cause of the organisation's latest breakaway, almost 50 years down the line?

The dichotomy though had carved a divergent proclivity, with the first breakaway being against, and the current one being for the Freedom Charter. Interestingly, communists and their influences were and are still at the core of these conflicts.

As Zoleka Ndayi, political analyst at Wits University, correctly pointed out recently, the conservatism of Africanists within the ANC over the white (and communist) domination of the party at the time, caused Robert Mangaliso Sobukwe and others to forsake the ANC.

Sobukwe opposed the policy document on the basis that it was a deviation from the movement's policy, with the proclamation that South Africa "belongs to all who live in it - black and white" - and the clause on the land question.

Comparatively and taking a cue from Ndayi, the same conservatism is behind the current split by Mosiuoa Lekota and company, who could not fathom the ANC being "hijacked" by leftists in the SACP. While acting diametrically opposite to the Africanists of the 1950s, Lekota and his comrades claim the post-Polokwane leadership, through their utterances and actions, have digressed from the Charter.

They are concerned about the war-talk, the undermining of judges and calls for a "political solution" to Jacob Zuma's corruption case. They claim there is conflict with the Charter's and the Constitution's respect for human rights and equality before the law and the independence of the judiciary, among other things.

The unleashing of various expletives by senior Alliance members against opponents, the declaration of no-go areas and the disruption of meetings by ANC members, has aggravated the environment.

The situation is fast becoming what Raymond Suttner, political analyst at Unisa, has described as the "Zanufication" of the ANC by the current leaders, a reference to how Robert Mugabe's Zanu-PF made life difficult for the opposition in Zimbabwe.

"I think we are entering a very dangerous situation, where Zanu-PF tactics are employed by ANC leaders against those who appear to be posing a serious threat," says Suttner.

He says there are signs of fragility in the Zuma camp as some silently rejoiced at or approved Julius Malema's behaviour and public utterances, while others like President Kgalema Motlanthe openly condemned Malema's actions and political intolerance.

Susan Booysen of Wits University says it is unfortunate that the violence or disruptions emanate from the ANC side.

"By not clamping down on these disruptions and intolerance, the ANC is shooting itself in the foot. This feeds into the perception that the party is violent," says Booysen.

Shadrack Gutto, a constitutional expert and head of the Centre for African Renaissance at Unisa, says law enforcement and intelligence agencies must act on lawlessness.

Measures must be put in place to ensure free campaigning in the run-up to the elections.

"Freedom of expression does not include heckling or disrupting meetings of other parties," says Gutto.

The question is, what is it about the Charter that has bedevilled the ANC for so long? The answer lies in different interpretations of the document.

With the PAC now trying to attract white voters by making overtures about the land issue, its opposition to "multiracialism" and "sharing the land" regardless of colour, are no longer valid. The fact is, Sobukwe's organisation had broken up several times since 1959 over its rigid approach to these matters and because of leadership squabbles.

The vision in the Charter includes calls that "the people shall govern", "all national groups shall have equal rights", "the people shall share in the country's wealth", "the land shall be shared among those who work it" and "all shall be equal before the law".

It is these clauses and their supplementary sub-clauses that made followers of Sobukwe, Lekota and Zuma differ. The purges that followed Polokwane fuelled the fire.

The current enmity is not about whether the Charter was good or not good as in 1959, but whether the ANC has gone off at a tangent from policy.

One thing is sure, leaders who will legitimately claim ownership to the Charter will demonstrate respect for democracy and human rights, the rule of law and equality before the law.

Such leaders appreciate that a lot of people's views countrywide had constituted the Charter at Kliptown.

They also know that the document was a genuine product of democracy and was not imposed from the top.

This will require much more than just shouting slogans about "the people shall govern". It will require delivery on the demands as enshrined in the Charter.

This will be the real challenge facing Zuma and Lekota as they engage themselves in a bullfight over this vital document.