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Introduction to `Selected Writings on the Freedom Charter`

London 1985

This year the people of South Africa commemorated the 30th anniversary of the Freedom Charter. That was on June 26th. All over the country people pledged their commitment to the ideals enshrined in the Freedom Charter. The Second Consultative Conference of the ANC, held in Zambia in June this year, did the same thing. Sechaba, the official organ of the ANC, ran a series of articles to commemorate this event. So did other journals of the movement.

This was an important occasion for the people of South Africa. This was Important because, though the idea of the Freedom Charter emanated from the ANC, it was adopted by the people of South Africa — hence it is a people`s document. Even its contents came from the people themselves — demands made at innumerable meetings, some written on scraps of paper.

The people accepted their document at Kliptown on June 25 and 26 where about 3 000 people gathered. This was the most representative gathering in the history of South Africa. Even after that, in 1960, during the peasants revolt in Pondoland, the resisters independently came to adopt the Freedom Charter — in the jungles of Pondoland.

The thirty years that have passed since the adoption of the Freedom Charter were years of struggle, sacrifice and deprivation. Many of those who worked tirelessly for the Congress of the People did not live to see it implemented. The `Call to the Congress of the People`, issued by the National Action Council, was heard loud and clear the length and breadth of our land. It read, in part:

`We call the people of South Africa black and white — let us speak together of freedom!

We call the farmers of the reserves and trust lands. Let us speak of the wide land, and the narrow strips on which we toil. Let us speak of brothers without land, and of children without schooling. Let us speak of taxes and of cattle and of famine. Let us speak of Freedom!

We call the miners of coal, gold and diamonds. Let us speak of dark shifts and the cold compounds far from our families. Let us speak of heavy labour and long hours, and of men sent home to die. Let us speak of rich masters and poor wages. Let us speak of Freedom!

We call the workers of farms and forests. Let us speak of the rich foods we grow, and the laws that keep us poor. Let us speak of harsh treatment and of children and women forced to work. Let us speak of private prisons, and beatings and of passes. We call the workers of factories and shops. Let us speak of the good things we make, and the bad conditions of our work. Let us speak of the many passes and the few jobs. Let us speak of foremen and of transport and trade unions; of holidays and of houses. Let us speak of Freedom!

We call the teachers, students and the preachers. Let us speak of the light that comes with learning, and the ways we are kept in darkness. Let us speak of the great services we can render, and of the narrow ways that are open to us. Let us speak of laws, and governments, and rights. Let us speak of Freedom!

We call the housewives and mothers. Let us speak of the fine children that we bear, and of their stunted lives. Let us speak of the many illnesses and deaths, and of the few clinics and schools. Let us speak of high prices and of shanty towns. Let us speak of Freedom!

Let us speak together. All of us together — African and European, Indian and Coloured. Voter and voteless. Privileged and sightless. The happy and the homeless. All the people of South Africa; of the towns and the countryside.

Let us speak together of freedom. And of the happiness that can come to men and women if they live in a land that is free. Let us speak of freedom. And how to get it for ourselves, and for our children`.

But the younger generation — some born after 1955 — are continuing the struggle of their predecessors. Recently, the South African Allied Workers Union (Saawu), banned in the Ciskei, the now-banned Congress of South African Students (Colas), the General and Allied Workers Union (Gawu) and the Azanian Students Organisation (Azaso) declared:

`We reiterate our uncompromising commitment to the historic Freedom Charter as the only democratic document drafted in the history of the liberation struggle. The Charter stands out from all other alternatives for change in South Africa, not only because of the manner in which it came into being, but also because of the demands reflected in it. It can therefore never be substituted without the will of the majority. Any attempt by an individual or group to discredit or undermine it can only be seen as an act of betrayal to the aspirations of all the people of South Africa`.

This statement was issued in 1983 — 28 years after the adoption of the Freedom Charter and 23 years after the banning of the ANC. The people, even today, are demanding the implementation of the Freedom Charter whose prerequisite is the destruction of the system of apartheid.

When the racists in our country are talking a lot about `reforming` apartheid, abolition of pass laws, common citizenship — in short tinkering with apartheid or at best removing the `hurtful aspects` of apartheid — the demands enshrined in the Freedom Charter are more relevant than before. The demands enshrined in the Freedom Charter are the demands of the people; the abolition of apartheid, land reform, franchise, democracy, participation of everybody at every level of the political sphere, solution of social and welfare problems, democratisation of the education system abolition of child labour and the `tot system` — in short, all that the ANC stands for. In other words, the Freedom Charter demands the national liberation of the blacks, especially the Africans, and the social emancipation of all South Africans, black and white.

Sechaba publishes this booklet in the hope that the international community will understand what we are fighting for. This is one of the prerequisites for the support of our struggle. It is only when people understand us that they will support us. Most of the articles printed here have appeared in the columns of Sechaba.

This is one of the ways of commemorating the 30th anniversary of the Freedom Charter — a document for which many of our comrades have fought, served terms of imprisonment, and even died.