What Happened to South Africa’s Freedom Charter
A Black Agenda Radio commentary by Glen Ford
“The official voice of labor, COSATU, cannot credibly claim to represent the interests of working people when it is a partner of the ruling party whose police kill, beat and imprison workers.”
In 1994, the African National Congress of South Africa made a deal with the devil. There would be one-person, one-vote, majority rule of electoral politics. But corporate power over the South African economy would not be tampered with, and white civil servants would be guaranteed they could their well-paying jobs, for life. The ANC also set itself another goal: to create a class of Black millionaires.
Much earlier, the ANC had made a solemn commitment to the broad masses of people. It’s called theFreedom Charter, adopted in 1955, which served as the unifying document of the struggle against apartheid that culminated in the elections that brought the ANC to power. The Freedom Charter promised that “the national wealth of [the] country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people;” that “the mineral wealth beneath the soil, the Banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole;” that “all other industry and trade shall be controlled to assist the wellbeing of the people; all the land re-divided amongst those who work it to banish famine and land hunger;” and that “all shall have the right to occupy land wherever they choose.”
Yet, none of this has come to pass. The Freedom Charter is absolutely incompatible with the deal the ANC made for a peaceful transition to Black majority rule. If corporate privileges are untouched, there can be no collective ownership of the mineral wealth, the soil, the banks and industries. And social systems that breed new Black millionaires – or millionaires of any kind – cannot possibly give priority to the well-being of the masses of people.
“The Freedom Charter is absolutely incompatible with the deal the ANC made for a peaceful transition to Black majority rule.”
South Africa was one of the most unequal places in the world in 1994, and it is at least as unequal, today – because of the deal cut by the ANC. The covenant with white privilege and corporate power was also entered into by the ANC’s partners: the South African Communist Party and the Congress of South African Trade Unions, COSATU. Thus, the three pillars of the liberation movement agreed that they would not upset the existing corporate framework, and they would not implement the clearly socialist aims of the Freedom Charter. Instead, they nurtured a tiny, Black capitalist class made up largely of ANC insiders. Union leaders became rich men, while conditions for the poor and working classes deteriorated.
These chickens have now come home to roost, especially following the massacre of 34 miners at Marikana. The mining industry is in turmoil, with 41 percent of South Africa’s gold output shut down. Hundreds of thousands of municipal workers will go on strike this week to protest poor pay and corruption. Yet the official voice of labor, COSATU, cannot credibly claim to represent the interests of working people when it is a partner of the ruling party whose police kill, beat and imprison workers.
This fundamentally corrupt arrangement has run its course. There will be nothing but mass bloodshed at the end of this journey unless the African National Congress breaks the pact that it made with corporate power, in 1994. The ANC stands at a crossroads, and must make a turn. For Black Agenda Radio, I’m Glen Ford. On the web, go to BlackAgendaReport.com.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.