Freedom Charter is a dream deferred
Tabane is author of and host of on Power 98.7 9pm to midnight. Follow him on Twitter @JJTabane
TODAY we pause to remember the adoption of one of the most important documents in our history – the Freedom Charter. Since 1955, so obscure has it become in our body politic that the only real mention of it these days is political parties fighting over who is the best custodian of its seminal contents.
A few years ago, Cope adopted its name based on the historic meeting where this document was adopted, much to the irritation of the ANC, which even went to court to try and stop this move.
Next was the EFF, whose members believe they alone are custodians, especially when it comes to the crucial issue of land. In the process, the true meaning and spirit are lost in all the noise.
The sad reality is that, since its adoption, while it has served as a mantra of liberation forces marching to freedom, we have fallen very short of its intentions, and those that have so far claimed it as custodians have failed its bold pronouncements.
It requires a full paper to expatiate this point, and so I will focus on two cardinal clauses only: The people shall govern; and The doors of learning and culture shall be open to all. Have sufficient strength and courage gone into realising these high ideals?
In an interview on Power Perspective with the spokesperson of the youth league a few weeks ago, I inquired what the young lions have done about opening the doors of learning and culture through the implementation of the ANC’s Polokwane resolution on free education.
This is because, a full decade later, all we see is protestation from young people who await the implementation of this resolution amid hollow promises and policy obfuscation.
The shocking answer was that the ANC “took almost 100 years from establishment to freedom”. This is the nub of the matter: a lack of urgency and a refusal to snap out of the underground and Marxist Leninist theories into the modern world, where policy shifts don’t have to take a hundred years to materialise.
And so the clause of the Freedom Charter that the doors of learning and culture should be open to all doesn’t even serve to excite the youth league to help open those doors. And so a nation that is not educated, and therefore whose minds are still in bondage, is unlikely to realise fully the cardinal clause of the charter that the people shall govern.
While the people have been enfranchised and this must be celebrated as a step in the right direction, how can we safely say that the people are governing without land and without the means of production being in their hands?
Failure to resolve the land question with the necessary sense of urgency is robbing the people of meaningful governance. At this rate, someone else has captured the state and the markets are governing the country instead of the people.
There are far more protests by disillusioned people now than took place in the days of uprisings against an illegitimate regime. The numbers and frequency of such protests are simply staggering, painting a picture of hopelessness and a loss of confidence in the governing alliance whose mantra should be that the people shall govern.
The people, who clearly do not believe that governance is in their hands, even burn down libraries and other state-owned properties in the belief that these don’t really belong to them.
Many assumed that when democracy dawned the new leaders would govern with the interest of the people in mind to give effect to this notion of government for the people, by the people. As soon as civil society was demobilised so much went wrong. The few developments over the last few years, be it the public protector’s reports on various things or even the auditor-general’s latest report painting a picture of chaotic management of municipal finances, shows that that notion simply doesn’t exist.
There is an urgent need to go back to Kliptown and, like collecting the soul of the dead, to collect the spirit of the Freedom Charter. Quite frankly, it is gone. The ANC gathers at the end of this week to assess the implementation of its policies.
The last time it so gathered it spoke of the second phase of the transition; this week we are not likely to hear anything other than the rather hollow slogan of radical economic transformation. It is actually sad to see our movement failing to take stock and instead moving the goalposts.
The concocting of what seems like a new policy a few moments before the next election is a tactic that the people have seen right through if the last elections were anything to go by; the ANC emerged with clear losses. It is clear from the utterances of the leadership that election results are seen as one big mistake and not really the will of the people. If you claim to listen to the people you can’t keep finding excuses for why you lost elections.
The policy conference remains a golden opportunity for the ANC to re-look at its record of being the true and only custodians of the Freedom Charter and to answer truthfully what has caused its failure to keep the torch of the Kliptown founding fathers.
The forthcoming gathering will discover a dead alliance, a moribund youth league, a rogue MK veterans league and a shameful women’s league.
Every part of the movement is coming apart. And despite repeated protestations, the centre is simply not holding.
And until this diagnosis is accepted, rebuilding the once glorious movement will remain a dream deferred. It’s time to read the charter again and to remember what our forebears wanted to achieve. And therefore we, the People of South Africa, black and white together – equals, countrymen and brothers – adopt this Freedom Charter. And we pledge ourselves to strive together sparing neither strength nor courage, until the democratic changes here set out have been won.
The Preamble of the Freedom Charter written on a wall in the cell in which the Rivonia Trialists were kept at the Palace of Justice.