Growing Pains: Live Freedom Charter’s values

2014-07-01 12:00

When I was six or seven years old, I saw the Freedom Charter on the walls of Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College in Tanzania. A kid slightly older than me read out each of its eight commandments, explaining what it meant.

I imagine the kid reading the charter was unlike the adult on the podium in Kliptown 59 years and two days ago?–filled with an idyllic sense of what it meant. People had come from every part of South Africa to hear it.

Many delegates coming to the Congress of the People had heeded the call on pamphlets organised by the National Action Council, the team that organised volunteers to get ideas from all over the country about what South Africa should look like.

The call said 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 … Let us speak of brothers with no land and of children without schooling … Let us speak of freedom.

“We call the miners of coal, gold and diamonds. Let us speak of dark shifts and cold compounds far from our families. Let us speak of heavy labour and long hours. Let us speak of rich masters and poor wages. Let us speak of freedom.”

And so it went, calling on workers, teachers, housewives, mothers, everyone, itemising their agonies and chanting “let us speak of freedom”.

I’m finding that the people’s view of freedom is contextualised by their oppression. The call provides an insight into what oppressed our forebears.

Sadly, looking at this part of the call, it feels like we could still be back there in the bad old days. The five-month platinum strike brought this sharply into relief. Some lament that our leaders sold out the Freedom Charter.

On the face of it, much has been done in the past 20 years to give the charter life. Where we are stuck now in many people’s minds are the economic clauses?–“the people shall share in the country’s wealth and the land shall be shared among all who work it”.

But I believe the issue is much deeper?– where we are really stuck is values.

As much as one can tick off our achievements in reading the Freedom Charter, it is its spirit that eludes us. If the legislative mechanisms to enforce the sharing of wealth and land were enacted today, we would not be done.

The charter stood against apartheid and everything it represented, including its deeply entrenched ideology: “I can only have at your expense.”

This ideology is perhaps more pervasive today because even freedom fighters raised on the charter believe this perverse lie.

The charter imagines a society where we all have an abundant mind-set, where we are caring and just, yet still enterprising, diverse and proud.

And if those of us who still recognise the importance of the charter are not living this ideal, we are selling it out. Even if we can faithfully tick off every declaration.

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