By Chico Twala

In the winter of 1955 the Freedom Charter (FC), a document that became the blueprint for a free South Africa, was adopted by the Congress of the People in Kliptown, Soweto. The meeting, which took place on 26 June, brought together various organisations and people linked to the liberation movement, the African National Congress (ANC).

A lot has been penned about the lasting importance of the FC. This comprises its vision for an equitable social and economic system. Some have gone as far as describing the FC as having an influence on South Africa’s broadly celebrated constitution. In re-examining the 1955 gathering, one cannot help but be filled with admiration and applaud the bravery and valour of the people who crafted the document at the height of apartheid. They dared to tell the apartheid regime: “The People Shall Govern”
Every man and woman shall have the right to vote for and to stand as a candidate for all bodies which make laws. All people shall be entitled to take part in the administration of the country.
The rights of the people shall be the same, regardless of race, colour or sex. All bodies of minority rule, advisory boards, councils and authorities shall be replaced by democratic organs of self-government.
Over and above, the document directly objected to the right of the racist government of the time to continue governing when it said: “No government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people.”
It is important to note the emphasis of the FC’s mention of “The People” which conveyed the concept of universal rights, with adulthood being of great importance in a country where black adults of African stock were denigrated, addressed as boys and girls.
This knock-back of human rights always entailed the breaking of human dignity, severe injuries and/or death. We were denied our humanity and quality as individuals and societies. The assertion to speak as “We, the people…” was about reclaiming human dignity and complete personal identity. It sought to retrieve what had fallen apart as a result of apartheid tyranny.
The uncomfortable conversation that some, especially within the governing party, avoid is whether the degree to which changes in the country since the end of apartheid in 1994 have lived up to the ideals of the charter.

The Albatross
The very first clause of the charter, The People Shall Govern, which I have touched on above, has become an albatross around the governing party’s neck…and will remain as such for some time.
It is prudent for me to put forth that I joined the ANC at a very young age. As a youngster, I grew up under the tutelage of Andrew Masondo who was the national commissar of Umkhonto we Sizwe. Masondo was the enforcer of the party’s policies. Our political prowess and sharpness as cadres of the movement was his core responsibility.
Without failure or a slip, he always emphasised the importance of politics to a man behind the gun because without it that man was a danger to the struggle at large. As a result, we all had to know the ten clauses of the Freedom Charter off our hearts; but more importantly to understand their philosophical meaning and the bearing they were to have on the aspirant society we were sacrificing our youth for.
Every member of the ANC was proficient in the Charter as it distinguished it from other liberation struggle contenders for the hearts and minds of the people of South Africa. 1980 was declared the year of the Freedom Charter; the entire ANC program of action was geared and aligned to ensure that the document found its way into every house across the length and breadth of the country. This was important because the document carried in it the message which captured a future South Africa. All units outside and inside the country had to give meaning to this directive. I am sketching this background painstakingly to highlight the centrality of the Freedom Charter in our struggle against apartheid.
It was with utter disgust that I picked up news that the governing party and its allies had chosen to vote for the electoral act amendment bill in its current form for signing into law by President Cyril Ramaphosa. What struck me as odd was the total blackout on the parliamentary channel of this critical debate on our future as a nation.

All this bears the hallmarks of thuggery. It gives credence to the saying, “there’s no honour among thieves”. Society was deprived of the opportunity to see and hear arguments for and against the bill as that would have laid bare the culprits behind the frustration of the attainment of true freedom as envisaged in the Charter. Instead, we were shown a damp squib debate in the NCOP.
I guess the leading con artists behind this act of denying the nation access to this important debate got kudus for a job well done. These villains truly pulled the wool over our eyes; all this was done to hide a nefarious process designed to keep us beholden to corrupt political parties driven by greed and control of the country’s resources for their gains. One man one vote means just that as stipulated in Clause 1 of the Freedom Charter; Every man and woman shall have the right to stand for and choose a candidate of one’s choice to all bodies which make laws; nowhere does it say the party on behalf of the people will make laws. Lucky Twala is a former MK combatant and Robben Island inmate.

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