ON June 26, we will be observing the 56th anniversary of the adoption of the Freedom Charter. It remains an important guide about the direction we should take our country as a consequence of its reconstruction and development.
The Freedom Charter’s visionary prescriptions have served as an educational tool for generations of freedom fighters and the masses of the people of South Africa. For decades its eloquence has adequately answered the question: what kind of South Africa do we want?
To those who sought to balkanise our country into separate entities as a way of entrenching the ideology and practice of racism, as well as those who thought this country belonged to one race to the exclusion of others, the Freedom Charter’s message is clear and simple: “South Africa belongs to all who live in it”. The profound meaning of this correct assertion goes deeper than the legal recognition of citizenship rights.
It means the authority of those who govern the country must be derived from the will of the people. Our democratic government is based on the important assertion of “the people shall govern” made in 1955.
Our country is also divided between the rich and the poor. Therefore, when the Freedom Charter says: “The people shall share in the country’s wealth”, it enjoins us to take conscious and deliberate measures to ensure the wealth of our country and the benefits of our economy are enjoyed by the people as a whole. Accordingly, government has created and continues to create opportunities for black people to engage in all the economic activities of our country.
As government, we have taken appropriate steps to redress the land dispossession of the African people. We have been true to the Freedom Charter call: “The land shall be shared among those who work it”.
Through a number of laws that we have passed, we have improved the tenure rights of those who live on farms, while the land restitution process has gathered pace.
The criminal justice system has made many important advances in restructuring our courts, our police and every part of the law enforcement agencies.
Because we have implemented the demand of the Freedom Charter, “All shall be equal before the law”, and ensured that everyone is given a fair trial, there have been many instances when criminals have taken advantage of our new legal framework. Parliament has passed a number of important laws to make it difficult for criminals to get easy bail and exploit our criminal justice system.
Because of the Freedom Charter clause, “All shall enjoy equal human rights”, we made such strides that we are among the leading nations where there are pervasive freedoms of speech, assembly, expression and worship. We have to be vigilant, though, that none amongst us abuses these rights.
One of the biggest challenges facing our democracy is the need to expand the economy and create jobs. We will spare no effort to make real the call that “There shall be work and security”.
There are still many challenges in our struggle to turn our schools into centres of excellence where “Cultural treasures of mankind shall be opened to all, by free exchange of books, ideas and contact with other lands”. Yet, we have made impressive advances in fighting illiteracy and with the collaboration of the private sector, we are introducing our pupils to modern technology.
When we say, “The doors of learning and culture shall be opened”, we also mean we should open the doors of the information and communication technology.
Government has in the past 17 years built more than five million houses, provided water to more than 98% of poor households and connected electricity to many homes, guided by the advice that “There shall be houses, security and comfort”.
The Freedom Charter remains the clearest, most concise and most enduring expression of a programme to end racism, sexism, poverty and all other forms of discrimination in South Africa.
Gift Siphiwo Ngqondi, Office of the Chief Whip, Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality