Betrayal of the Freedom Charter

Just over a month ago I was sitting at the local pub enjoying a few cold ones when I typically ended up having an intense conversation with one of the patrons about the state of South Africa and its politics. The conversation focussed on the issue of the Freedom Charter and the main sentiment expressed was that the governing party in South Africa had failed dismally to implement some of the resolutions that had been passed when this historic document was unveiled in Kliptown, Soweto many years ago. So this week we will be looking at some of the Freedom Charter’s ideals and aspirations and seeing how we as a country are doing if the Freedom Charter is used as a scorecard to measure our progress as a nation. The Freedom Charter begins by stating that, “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… that our country will never be prosperous or free until all our people live in brotherhood, enjoying equal rights and opportunities; that only a democratic state, based on the will of all the people, can secure to all their birthright without distinction of colour, race, sex or belief; 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.”  As you can rightly tell, these are very high ideals indeed and the question that immediately arises is: how are we as a country doing in terms of fulfilling or living up to these great ideals? Firstly the charter clearly states that, “no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people.” Can we with certainty say that the South African government acts in accordance with the will of the people? We know that most South Africans for example are in favour of the death penalty and yet our government has stubbornly refused to pass that into law based on the views of a small, influential minority within the ruling party. We also know that the majority of South Africans are against legalised abortion and same-sex marriages, but these sentiments weren’t taken into account when laws were passed concerning these particular issues. When the Scorpions where disbanded and former president Thabo Mbeki was “recalled” the will of the people was clearly not taken into account as the ruling elite saw fit to act in accordance with their own interests irrespective of the cost to society and the nation at large. So do we have a government that governs according to the will of the people? You decide, all the evidence is before you. Another aspect to look at is the issue of “living in brotherhood, enjoying equal rights and opportunities… without distinction of colour, race, sex or belief.” Do we live up to these great ideals as a nation? Again I will let you decide, but given that South Africa has the highest gini co-efficient in the world (measure of inequality) can it be truly said that our people are enjoying equal rights and opportunities? Given that the gap between the rich and the poor has increased in post-Apartheid South Africa and that (despite popular opinion) the primary beneficiaries of Apartheid are doing better under the new establishment than they did under Apartheid , would it be prudent to suggest that we are any closer to achieving equality of opportunity and rights for all our people? It would surely be more prudent to use the words uttered by Venezuela’s Roman Catholic Church after the tragic Caracazo in that nation, to accurately describe what is happening in contemporary South Africa, “the luxury of the few has become an insult to the misery of the masses.” Let us take a closer look at some of the specific objectives of the Freedom Charter and see how we match up: 1)      The people shall govern In contemporary South Africa it would probably be more accurate to say, “The party shall govern” as opposed to the people. I am reminded of the words of Albert Camus, “All modern revolutions have ended in a reinforcement of the power of the state.” In South Africa we can categorically state that our “national democratic revolution” has ended in a reinforcement of the power of the party, even above the state. The great cause of emancipating the people of South Africa has ended up becoming a scam for ruling party bigwigs to enrich themselves at the expense of the majority. Eric Hoffer in his book, The True Believer states that, “every great cause begins as a movement, becomes a business and eventually degenerates into a racket.” These words aptly describe the South Africa that we live in. Cadre deployment and crony capitalism have ensured that “the party” in South Africa keeps and increases its power at the expense of the people. Can we say that it is “the people” who are governing in South Africa? Yet again I’ll let you make the call. 2)      All national groups shall have equal rights. There shall be equal status in the bodies of state, in the courts and in the schools for all national groups and races; all national groups shall be protected by law against insults to their race and national pride; the preaching and practice of national, race or colour discrimination and contempt shall be a punishable crime. So how are we doing on this front? Well, it is debatable whether it can be accurately argued that there is “equal status in the bodies of state, in the courts and in the schools for all national groups and races” when clearly discriminatory and ineffectual policies like Affirmative Action and Black Economic Empowerment are being applied.  There is clearly no equality of all before the law, because as we have discovered over the past few years, there are different interpretations of the law as concerns ruling party cadres when compared to the rest of society. If you are part of the ruling party and have close connections to the ruling elite, then the law can be bent in order to accommodate you, even if it means society suffers and the nation loses out. Again I will appeal to the words of Albert Camus, “by definition a government has no conscience. Sometimes it has a policy, but nothing more.” We know our government has policies and policy documents galore, but there is a clear lack of conscience when it comes to applying the law to certain ruling party cadres who have fallen foul of the law. The charter also states that, “the preaching and practice of national, race or colour discrimination and contempt shall be a punishable crime.” Is this a reality in contemporary South Africa? One could argue that instead of discrimination being a punishable crime, it has actually been legalised in order to implement the rigid, Affirmative Action and Black Economic Empowerment policies of the ruling party. 3)      The people shall share in the country’s wealth. The national wealth of our country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people. Here again you could simply rephrase that and say, “The party shall share in the country’s wealth. The national wealth of our country, the heritage of all ruling party cadres, shall be restored to the party” if you want to accurately describe what is happening in South Africa today. The only sharing of wealth that we are seeing in South Africa today, is that between  ruling party cadres and their families, friends and associates. The people have been left on the periphery, with nothing to show after almost two decades of supposed democracy. This brings to mind the words uttered by former ruling party stalwart and anti-Apartheid activist, Joe Slovo, “Sometimes if you wear suits for too long, it changes your ideology.” It would appear that our ruling party cadres have been wearing suits for so long, that they have forgotten the ideals of the Freedom Charter that informed the anti-Apartheid struggle. 4)      All shall be equal before the law There is enough evidence emanating from a few high profile cases involving a few high profile ruling party cadres over the past few years to suggest that equality before the law is nothing but a myth in contemporary South Africa. If you are aligned to the governing clique in the ruling party you can pretty much get away with anything in this country. 5)      There shall be work and security With the high levels of crime and unemployment in this country and with a large part of the population being described by economists and analysts as “unemployable”, we know that there is neither work nor security in contemporary South Africa. 6)      The doors of learning and culture shall be opened It was Malcolm X who said that, “education is the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.” Do our young people have a passport to the future? The quality of the education being offered to the majority of our people at both a primary and high school level is of such a substandard nature that it can be confidently stated that we have set a whole generation up for complete failure. Access to higher education remains a pipe dream for a large percentage of our population so one can deduce from all this that the doors of learning and culture have remained tightly shut for most South Africans and as such many of them are faced with an uncertain future that they are thoroughly underprepared for. The education system that has been introduced by the ruling party has proved to be a complete failure and totally disastrous and many young peoples’ futures have been surrendered at the altar of mediocrity when we look at this particular aspect of South African society. 7)      There shall be houses, security and comfort… people have a right to be decently housed and to bring up their families in comfort and security…slums shall be demolished and new suburbs built where all have transport, roads, lighting, playing fields and social centres…ghettoes shall be demolished. The houses built by the post-Apartheid government have been of such a substandard nature that they are an insult to the humanity and dignity of poor South Africans. Instead of slums being demolished and new suburbs being built, in fact slums have increased and new informal settlements have been built by the government under the guise of providing “decent” housing. The new settlements not only have substandard houses built by ruling party cadres who get awarded contracts and tenders to build these houses, but they also contain no proper playing fields, social centres, parks, libraries and all other facilities that are necessary in order to create a healthy environment where children can be raised and families can flourish. An objective analysis of the ruling party’s performance in light of some of the ideals and aspirations of the Freedom Charter clearly shows utter and complete failure and raises questions about the lack of progress of the majority of South Africans in a democratic and free South Africa. It makes you wonder why certain elements within the ruling party are pushing for the nationalisation of mines as one of the goals and objectives of the Freedom Charter when it is blatantly obvious that there are other, significant and more important goals of the Freedom Charter that we have failed to attain as a nation. I end off with words from the Argentine poet Ricardo Gutierrez in his poem, La Victoria, “don’t sing victory hymns on the sunless day of the battle.” Whilst ruling party leaders are busy singing victory songs such as Mshini Wam and Dubul’ibhunu, it remains a sunless day of battle for most South Africans who bear the brunt of the incompetence, corruption and thuggery that permeates the South African political landscape.
Profile photo of Mugabe Ratshikuni

Mugabe Ratshikuni

introverted, shy, nothing to write home about

2 thoughts on “Betrayal of the Freedom Charter

  • January 3, 2011 at 9:48 pm

    Hi Mugabe I am of the opinion that there is a new
    “struggle” emerging from within all communities. The gap between
    rich and poor is growing at an alarming rate. The level of
    tolerance from within our communities is fast being replaced by
    very high levels of frustration and impatience. How long will this

  • Profile photo of Mugabe Ratshikuni
    January 10, 2011 at 12:56 pm

    Hi Marius

    I think the violent service delivery protests in SA last year and the many protests in different parts of the world over this rising inequality are a clear indication that the frustration levels of the “common man” have reached boiling point already.Whether this will be enough to bring about any significant change in the ordering and structuring of society I highly doubt however.


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