Forgotten dreams

2010-07-01 00:00

LAST Saturday, June 26, would have been the 55th anniversary of the Freedom Charter. I deliberately use “would” rather than “was” because as you might have noticed, not even he of “nationalise the mines because that is what the charter says” fame, could get himself to say something on the day.

The Freedom Charter is no ordinary document. It has been as much a rallying call as it has been a divisive piece of paper.

In the late fifties, a group of African National Congress activists refused to buy into its thinking that South Africa belonged to all who lived in it. They went on to form the Pan Africanist Congress.

In the eighties, siblings and friends turned against each other in a bitter feud between United Democratic Front (UDF) activists (who vowed by the charter) and the Black Consciousness adherents who rejected it. Black Consciousness activist George Wauchope remains exiled in Zimbabwe today because of the fear that he might be prosecuted for the murder of a UDF activist in Soweto.

More recently, the Congress of the People (Cope) was formed on the basis of, among other things, the belief that the ANC had abandoned the principles that underpin the charter. The ANC even objected to Cope calling itself by that name, saying the name (Congress of the People) was part of ANC history and therefore belonged to the ruling party.

Last Saturday the ANC and Cope, who claim to be the custodians of the values enshrined in the charter, pretended that June 26 was just another ordinary day in South African history.

We cannot blame the World Cup for this. June 16 and Father’s Day also came smack in the middle of the tournament but we did not forget them.

Not to say that the charter is a perfect document.

Its language of “national groups” and pretence that the descendents of settler colonialists had as much claim to Africa as the indigenous people were always going to be problematic in a struggle based on land dispossession and social and economic exclusion, with whites the perpetrators and beneficiaries, and black people the victims.

But flawed as it may have been, the charter was an articulation of a collective dream.

It envisaged a South Africa far from the realities that must have prevailed on that winter day in Kliptown, southwest of Johannesburg. It was a rallying cry for those who dreamt of a South Africa reborn.

It ranked along with Martin Luther King Jnr’s “I Have a Dream” speech and John F. Kennedy promising Americans that they would have a man on the moon by the end of the sixties. The other slogan of those times — freedo­m in our lifetime — gave the dream a time frame to work with.

After the founding of the ANC itself, its adoption of the Freedom Charter was one of its most important milestones up to that point.

The American revolution has its Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773, and South Africa has its Freedom Charter Day on June 26, 1955. That is why some of its declarations form part of our Constitution.

Call me cynical if you wish but choosing to forget Freedom Charter Day was a deliberate act. We remember what we choose to. Nobody in the ruling party forgets the significance of January 8, the ANC’s birthday.

Those in power would rather have the masses forget that they once were sold a dream of a better South Africa where not only mines would be nationalised but where quality education would be accessible to everyone and a justice system that would ensure that criminals stayed in jail regardless of who their friends were.

Under such circumstances, the challenge to society is to keep producing dreamers and those who will remind those in power of the dreams that propelled them to high office.

If the current rulers can forget the Freedom Charter how can they be trusted with goals to which they are merely intellectual or diplomatic converts, such as the Millennium Development Goals?

All societies have their cynics who believe they have seen and tried it all without any success. Successful societies are those where the dreamers do not necessarily outnumber cynics, but where they outwork them, inspired by the dreams of their leaders which they in turn make their own.

Dreams and dreamers propel societies to greater heights. Both prosperous and failed nations tend to reflect the quality of leadership they have and the dreams they hold. Having a plan to execute the vision separates the great from the good leaders.

There is still a lot South Africans can dream about. We still have children of school-going age who are not in class, racism is rife and we have one of the world’s most unequal societies. Our society can do with big dreamers and visionary leaders.

No society, organisation or business that became great, did so without being rallied by the dreams of their leaders.

Conversely there are many who failed to live up to their great promise because they forgot the dreams they might have had before they became too comfortable.

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