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Article in Fighting Talk by W.M. Sisulu: Forward with the Freedom Charter

26 September 1955

It was not for nothing that thousands of South Africans from all walks of life, of all races, of different political outlooks, religious beliefs and of different social status, travelled to take part in the greatest assembly ever known in our country, the Congress of the People (C.O.P.). These men and women came in response to a clarion call made by the Joint National Executive of the Congress movement, to meet and plan the future of their country as they would like to see it.

On June 26, these sons and daughters of our land unanimously adopted the "Freedom Charter" embodying their faith and their aspirations.

"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 the people." The Charter further declares that: "The people shall govern. All national groups shall have equal rights! The people shall share the country`s wealth! The land shall be shared among those who work it! All shall be equal before the law! All shall have equal human rights! There shall be work and security and comfort! There shall be peace and friendship!"

Mirror of Our Struggle

What is now to be done? The Congress of the People is over and the "Freedom Charter" has been adopted. The question cannot be answered simply by saying that the Joint Executives have decided to campaign for one million signatures to the Charter. It is necessary first to understand the significance of the "Freedom Charter" itself.

For the "Freedom Charter" is not just another resolution.

It is the common programme of our movement now and in the future. It is the mirror of our struggle. Its significance does not lie in its fine words, but in the fact that it is a document drawn up by the people themselves. It is the expression of the collective demands of the peoples, even from the remotest corners of the country. It is the embodiment of their aspirations, the total sum of their demands; and it is therefore the creed of the people.

The "Freedom Charter" is the basic law of our liberatory movement, a declaration of principles uniting all the people in our land, except for the few reactionaries, who see in the Charter the end of their long established domination and exploitation. The Charter is the picture of future South Africa, in which oppression and exploitation shall be no more. It is a document to be treasured by all who love freedom, for generations to come.

The Nationalists know the significance of the Charter even more than some of us. They remember the effect of the American Declaration of Independence; they remember what the Chartist movement meant to the English masses many years ago.

The People`s Era

Once our people understand the Charter and its significance, the attainment of economic and political power in our lifetime nothing can stand in the way of making its demands a reality.

The opening of the campaign for one million signatures has begun; yet the important thing about the campaign for the Freedom Charter is not just the collection of signatures; nor is it just the bringing of the ideas of the Charter to every home and making them the golden household words of the people. This is, by itself, very good indeed, but the important thing is that the overwhelming majority of the South African population should proclaim the "Freedom Charter" as their guiding star. In other words, they must understand fully the meaning, the inspiration and the significance of the Charter. As someone has already said the end of the C.O.P. was but a beginning.

The campaign which produced the "Freedom Charter" was the beginning of our great campaign, of the building from our multi-racial society of a united nation, free from poverty and misery, free from racial strife and antagonism. It is our hardest campaign which will bring to the broad masses of our people the understanding that they have much more in common than the things which superficially appear to divide them; that they have nothing to lose but much to gain, from the victory of the "Freedom Charter".

The government have great fear of the "Freedom Charter". They know how powerful the "Freedom Charter" movement can be, and how it can fire the imagination of the millions of our people. They are haunted by the knowledge that the Charter means the beginning of the end of their era and the opening of a new era the People`s Era of Freedom!

The Joint Executives of the four Congresses have correctly decided to campaign for the endorsement of the Charter by one million people from the multi-racial South African society. It seems clear that we cannot achieve this gigantic task of educating the people, popularising the Charter and obtaining one million signatures, without first examining the weaknesses which showed themselves during the C.O.P. campaign so that we can build on a foundation which is more solid after the experiences of that campaign. It is hardly necessary to enumerate all the weaknesses here. Suffice it to say that the organizational plan set up in the early stages of the C.O.P., the establishment of committees in every town, dorp, village or factory in the Union was not accomplished. We failed to link up the C.O.P. with our daily struggles. Many people in the movement, including some leaders in the ANC particularly, did not very well understand the C.O.P. They suspected it was to be a new organisation which would come to replace the ANC or to dominate the ANC. Some regarded the C.O.P. as nothing more than just a big conference unconnected with their positive struggles. Others thought it was an attempt by the leadership to evade the positive and militant struggle of the people against the Nationalist onslaught on their rights.

Win the Future

These views can well be understood, especially when they come from the ordinary members of our organisation, but when they come from the leadership they are very harmful and extremely dangerous. Now that the C.O.P. is over, there should be no more such wrong ideas. If we are to succeed in our great task these mistaken views must not be carried over into the "Freedom Charter" campaign. They will undermine the people`s struggle, and prove very dangerous to the whole movement.

What was not achieved in the C.O.P. campaign can now be achieved in this campaign, provided our weaknesses are honestly admitted and set right, provided these corrections of wrong views are made and provided the rich experience gained in the first campaign is fully utilised. The success of the "Freedom Charter" campaign depends on the building of committees in every town, dorp or factory. It depends on the daily issues of the people being related to the demands of the Charter. This will be far easier now than it was during the C.O.P. campaign since there is no issue to which the "Freedom Charter" does not point the answer and the people`s goal. Whether it be matters of culture, education or religion; of freedom of movement or press; of population registration or pass laws; of removal of the group areas; high rent or lack of houses; of low wages or unemployment, everything is closely and vitally connected with the "Freedom Charter". We can talk about culling of stock or shortages of land, cattle dipping or payment of poll tax, and a chapter of the Charter can and should be quoted.

How can I describe the "Freedom Charter" for my readers to have the same inspiration which I have? I can say no more than this: that it is the harnessing of all the springs and the rivers of our land, to wash down all that is dirty, undesirable and unhealthy; that it is the clean water which will quench our thirst for all times, water our vast tracks of land and create beautiful gardens for all to live in.

The Charter is our inspiration now, and in the future. Let us all go out to win South Africa to accept it. Let us work with goodwill and unity, with the spirit of dedication to freedom which inspired the delegates at the Congress of the People to declare:

"These Freedoms we will fight for, side by side throughout our lives, until we have won our liberty."