Free­dom Char­ter is a dream de­ferred

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS - Per­spec­tive Per­spec­tive Power Power

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.

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