Address by President Thabo Mbeki at the Celebration the 50th
Anniversary of the Freedom Charter, Kliptown, Johannesburg, 26 June 2005
Veteran volunteer organisers of the Congress of the People,
President of the Republic, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka,
Our dear friend and comrade,
Anand Sharma, Director of Information of the Indian Congress Party, Mahatma Gandhi's
movement, who has travelled from New Delhi to be with us on this historic day,
of the national, provincial and local governments,
Chief Justice and members
of the judiciary and magistracy,
Presiding officers of our legislatures,
of our political parties, trade unions, civic, business, religious, women's, youth
and other organisations of civil society;
Premier of Gauteng and Mayor of Johannesburg;
responsible for the construction of this great monument;
On this historic day, June 26th, 2005, the day of the 50th
Anniversary of the adoption of the Freedom Charter, I am honoured to convey the
best wishes of our government to all our people. It is indeed a great privilege
that we mark this day at the very place in Kliptown, Johannesburg, where the Congress
of the People took place on June 26th, 1955.
It is also most appropriate
that this venerable heritage site is now named after one of the great giants of
our struggle, the late Walter Sisulu. Gathered as we are here, at a place that
will forever carry the name of Walter Sisulu, we cannot but use this memorial
meeting to pay tribute to the mighty legions of freedom fighters whose sacrifices
brought us our freedom.
All of us are very pleased and greatly inspired
that today we have among us some of the patriots who mobilised the people to contribute
to the drafting of the Freedom Charter, and otherwise helped to organise the Congress
of the People. To these veteran volunteers, we say thank you for everything you
did, which gave us the founding document of our democratic order.
to you that we will continue to do everything in our power to ensure the realisation
of the vision projected by the Freedom Charter, which has now found expression
in our national Constitution.
Central to that vision is the course on which
the Freedom Charter set our country when it said, South Africa belongs to all
who live in it, black and white. To this our constitution-makers added the important
words, united in their diversity.
That forthright proclamation, that South
Africa belongs to all who live in it, was made at a time when the apartheid state
felt supremely confident of its power and longevity. Accordingly, the captains
of apartheid deliberately chose not to hear the noble message broadcast to our
country and people by the Congress of the People, through the Freedom Charter.
that proclamation confirmed the strength and depth of the humanism that constitutes
the soul of the masses of our people, which dictated that they should totally
reject all racism, even as they continued to suffer from the perpetuation and
entrenchment of the apartheid crime against humanity.
committed these masses to conduct an unrelenting struggle until it could truly
be said that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, united
in their diversity.
The 1955 Congress of the People, which adopted the Freedom
Charter, stands almost exactly halfway between two other important national gatherings
that, together with that Congress, defined our country during the 20th century.
first of these gatherings was the all-white South African Convention that concluded
its work in 1909 with the adoption of the Constitution that was subsequently legislated
into force by the British Imperial Parliament, and assented to by King Edward
VII in September of the same year, as the South Africa Act, 1909.
gathering was the democratically elected and non-racial Constitutional Assembly,
which finalised its own work in 1996, with its adoption of the Constitution of
the Republic of South Africa, 1996.
The Congress of the People convened
here in humble surroundings to repudiate the pernicious results that had emanated
from the South African Convention and the British Houses of Parliament 46 years
earlier, in 1909. The Constitutional Assembly met in 1996 to translate into our
fundamental law the noble vision that had issued from here 41 years before, in
Determined to ensure that all our people helped to define their destiny,
the organisers of the Congress of the People of 1955 reached out to these masses
to ask them to submit their views about what should be contained in the Freedom
The Constitutional Assembly of 1996 emulated this pioneering determination
to hear the voice of the people, and also reached out to the people to seek their
inputs into what would become the current Constitution of the Republic of South
Neither the leaders who met at the South African Convention of 1909
nor the British Imperial Majesty and the British Houses of Lords and Commons,
saw it fit to listen to the views of the people.
This included the views
of the minority of white South Africans who understood even at the very beginning
of the 20th century that regardless of the circumstances of the day, our people,
black and white, shared a common destiny.
One such white South African whom
the architects of the South Africa Act, 1909, chose not to consult was the novelist,
writer and activist for progressive change, Olive Schreiner. As the South African
Convention met to chart the course for our country that cost many lives and brought
us to the very brink of a major catastrophe, Olive Schreiner spoke out in favour
of a South Africa that belongs to all who live in it, black and white. She hoped,
in vain, that the white male delegates at the Convention would respond to her
Olive Schreiner was born in 1855, exactly 100 years before Congress
of the People and the adoption of the Freedom Charter. She passed away in 1920.
As a country, we should have used the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the
birth of a remarkable South African woman both to celebrate her life and induct
especially our youth into the humane values that Olive Schreiner espoused.
should all of us feel a sense of remorse that we have allowed the historic occasion
of her 150th birthday to pass unnoticed, as we have done with regard to other
important dates that define our march to freedom.
In redress, I am privileged
to have the opportunity to take advantage of this victory celebration to let her
speak to our nation once again, 85 years after she departed the world of the living.
the whites-only South African Convention of 1909 refused to hear her, I am confident
that today millions of our people will not only be interested to listen to her
words, but will also be inspired to work even harder to realise the uplifting
objectives she set for herself, her contemporaries, and all of us.
to everybody who will, today, listen to what Olive Schreiner had to say almost
100 years ago, to bear with us that we may now be unfamiliar with some of the
language she used.
Rather than focus on the texture of the specific words
and language she used, let us open our ears, our hearts and minds to the substance
of her message, which is as relevant to us today as it was when she communicated
it to our country and people, as the all-white Convention met and adopted the
racist Constitution of 1909.
97 years ago, in a Letter to the Editor of
the publication, the Transvaal Leader, dated De Aar, October 30, 1908, she wrote:
,I hold (the Native Question) to be the root question in South Africa; and as
is our wisdom in dealing with it, so will be our future.
South Africa must
be a free man's country. The idea that a man born in this country, possibly endowed
with many gifts and highly cultured, should in this, his native land, be refused
any form of civic or political right on the ground that he is descended from a
race with a civilisation, it may be, much older than our own (as white people),
is one which must be abhorrent to every liberalised mind. I believe that (any)
attempt to base our national life on distinctions of race and colour will, after
the lapse of many years, prove fatal to us.
Every great nation of the past
or present has contributed something to the sum total of things beautiful, good,
or useful, possessed by humanity: therein largely lies its greatness. We in South
Africa can never hope exactly to repeat the records of the past.
before us in South Africa a part as great and inspiring as any which any nation
has ever been called upon to play--if we are strong enough to grasp it.
problem of the twentieth century will not be a repetition of those of the nineteenth
or those which went before it. The walls dividing continents are breaking down;
everywhere European, Asiatic and African will interlard. The world on which the
twenty-first century will open its eyes will be one widely different from that
which the twentieth sees at its awaking.
And the problem which this century
will have to solve is the accomplishment of this interaction of distinct human
varieties on the largest and most beneficent lines, making for the development
of humanity as a whole, and carried out in a manner consonant with modern ideals
and modern social wants. It will not always be the European who forms the upper
layer; but in its essentials the problem will be everywhere the same.
blinded by the gain of the moment, we (the white South Africans), see nothing
in our dark man but a vast engine of labour; if to us he is not man, but only
a tool; if dispossessed entirely of the land for which he now shows that large
aptitude for peasant proprietorship for the lack of which among their masses many
great nations are decaying; if we force him permanently in his millions into the
locations and compounds and slums of our cities, obtaining his labour cheaper.;
if, uninstructed in the highest forms of labour, without the rights of citizenship,
his own social organisation broken up, without our having aided him to participate
in our own; if, unbound to us by sympathy, and alien to us in blood and colour,
we reduce this vast mass to the condition of a great seething, ignorant proletariat
- then I would rather draw a veil over the future of this land.
Are we to
spend all our national existence with a large, dark shadow looming always in the
background - a shadow-which-we-fear?
I would not willingly appeal to the
lowest motives of self-interest, yet it may be permitted to say this: as long
as the population of South Africa is united, and the conditions of warfare remain
what they are, we need fear no foe.
With our inaccessible coast, and few
harbours, our mighty mountain ranges and desolate plains, into which the largest
armies might be led and left to starve, we are as unassailable as Northern Russia
behind her steppes and ice fields; it would take more than a Napoleon to walk
over us; we are, indeed, an impregnable fortress in these Southern seas - if the
entire population is united.
It was recently reported in one of our Houses
of Legislature, in a speech by one of our leading men, that once when discussing
the question of the light and dark races with (an African), the latter had said:
,ÄúWhen you do well to us, you do well to yourselves.,Äù
seems to me to sum up the philosophy of the whole matter.
Today we in South
Africa stand at the parting of the ways; and there is no man and no woman, however
small and without influence their voice may be, and though themselves devoid of
citizen rights, who, believing that the future of South Africa depends on our
taking, in this matter, the higher and more difficult path, can absolve them to
themselves, if they do not speak the word which weighs on them.
fitted to be the national (leaders) of a great heterogeneous people (require)
certain qualities not asked for in the leaders, even the great leaders, of a homogeneous
At all costs to (themselves, these leaders) will persist in holding
up before us the ideal, by which (they are themselves) dominated, of a great South
Africa, in which each element of our population, while maintaining its own individuality,
shall subserve the interests of others as well as its own; till from this sense
of mutual service and from that passionate love for our physical Mother Earth,
which is common to all South Africans, shall grow up the wide and deep South African
feeling that alone can transform us into a ,great nation.
In spite of many
mistakes and many failures, and the sorrow which walks beside all who strike out
new paths for the feet of men, such (leaders) would form the true centre of our
national life, and, however fitfully and slowly, would lead our national conscience
to shape itself in harmony with that ideal.
For beneath the self-seeking
and animal instinct which covers the surface of our lives, lies that which in
its saner moments does recognise singleness of purpose where it finds it, and
knows only that a wide justice and humanity between men is righteousness - the
righteousness that (exalts) a nation.
And when, with the passing of the
years, the mists of present self-interest and racial antagonisms have faded from
before our national eyes, (people) standing beside (the) graves (of our leaders)
will recognise (them) for what (they were) - the fathers and mothers of (their)
What South Africa calls for to-day is no hero or saint or impossible
figment of the mind - simply for (leaders) with a clear head and a large heart,
organically incapable of self-seeking or racial prejudice.
If among those
things which fate still holds hidden from us in the hollow of her hand there be
such (leaders), loving justice and freedom, not only for themselves or their own
race, but for all their fellow-countrymen, and able to imbue us with their own
larger conception of the national life, and lead us towards it, then I see light
where the future of South Africa rises; if not, we shall still attain to a political
unification in some form or other, but it will be a poor, (piddling) thing when
we have it ,Äì perhaps bloody.
We in South Africa are one of
the first peoples in the modern world, and under the new moral and material conditions
of civilisation, to be brought face to face with this problem (of unity of diverse
peoples) in its acutest form. On our power to solve it regally and heroically
depends our greatness.
If it be possible for us out of our great complex
body of humanity to raise up a free, intelligent, harmonious nation, each part
acting with and for the benefit of the others, then we shall have played a part
as great as that of any nation in the world's record.
And as we today turn
our eyes towards Greece or Rome or England for models in those things wherein
they have excelled, nations in the future, whatever their dominant class may be,
will be compelled to turn their eyes towards (South Africa) and follow our lead,
saying, 'Hers was the first and true solution of the problem'.,Äù
You have just listened to what an extraordinary South African,
who also happened to be white and a woman and, in fact born in Lesotho, had to
say about what we had to do to contribute to the evolution of human civilisation.
was convinced that we had the obligation and possibility to proclaim to ourselves
and the world, that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white,
united in our diversity.
She was convinced that within the context of a
globalising world, in which, as she said, ,everywhere European, Asiatic and African
will interlard, our country would stand out among the nations as the one country
in the world that would succeed to build a truly non-racial society.
this regard, she said, ,There lies before us in South Africa a part as great and
inspiring as any which any nation has ever been called upon to play - if we are
strong enough to grasp it.
That great, inspiring and unique part is the
creation of the genuinely non-racial and non-sexist society as visualised in the
She thought that our circumstances dictated that, given
the national will, we would be the first in the world genuinely to create such
For this reason, she made the prophetic appeal that, What South
Africa calls for to-day is no hero or saint or impossible figment of the mind
- simply for (leaders) with a clear head and a large heart, organically incapable
of self-seeking or racial prejudice.
In these forthright words, she spoke
out against those among us who will do everything possible, with no concern for
the collective interests of our people, both black and white, to advance their
personal fortunes or their factional ethnic, racial or class interests.
build the free, intelligent, harmonious nation, each part acting with and for
the benefit of the others, that she visualised, we need the leaders and activists
with clear heads and large hearts, organically incapable of self-seeking or racial
prejudice, that she called for.
The volunteers who mobilised for the Freedom
Charter and the Congress of the People, some of whom are here with us, were patriots
who had such clear heads and large hearts. They were not then, and are not now,
either self-seeking or driven by racial prejudice.
The vision for our country
that inspired these volunteers 50 years ago, and the dream dreamt by Olive Schreiner
97 years ago are reflected in the demands contained in the Freedom Charter.
we meet here today in conditions of liberty, free to recall the difficult days
when those who fought for our liberation met here to spell out our future, with
no threat that anyone among us will be charged with treason, we must reiterate
what was said in Kliptown on June 26th, 1955:
South Africa belongs to all
who live in it, black and white;
The people shall govern;
All national groups
shall have equal rights;
The people shall share in the country's wealth;
land shall be shared among those who work it;
All shall be equal before the
All shall enjoy equal human rights;
There shall be work and security;
doors of learning and of culture shall be opened;
There shall be houses, security
There shall be peace and friendship.
Together we reiterate
these demands not as a matter of formality or attachment to routine. As patriots,
determined to realise the achievements which Olive Schreiner dreamt of, we are
committed to take the long walk that Nelson Mandela spoke about, knowing that
it will take time for us to accomplish the noble vision spelt out in the Freedom
In the same way that it took time and great sacrifices for us to
achieve our liberation, so will it take time and demand new sacrifices for us
fully to translate into reality the vision born in struggle, of the all-round
emancipation of all our people, as visualised in the Freedom Charter.
achieved our emancipation from white minority domination after a costly and protracted
struggle. That historic victory has given us the possibility to engage the difficult
struggle to liberate the masses of our people from want, from hunger, from poverty
and disease, from ignorance.
We have been engaged in this struggle for 11
years now, starting from the very first day of the victory of the democratic revolution
Today, speaking in Kliptown, at this historic home of the Congress
of the People that now bears the illustrious name of Walter Sisulu, I would like
to repeat what millions of our people said as we fought to defeat the apartheid
regime - the struggle continues, and victory is certain!
We made that confident
revolutionary statement certain of our own determination to liberate ourselves,
and assured of the solidarity and support of the peoples of the world, as exemplified
by the Indian people represented here today by Anand Sharma.
That he, in
particular, is here today is no accident. He is with us because the Indian and
South African people can and do claim parentage of a most eminent and historic
human being, Mahatma Gandhi.
Anand Sharma is here because of the unbreakable
ties of solidarity that unite the peoples and liberation movements of India and
South Africa. He is here because he stands out as one of, and represents the millions
of activists of all nations, who took action to help us achieve our liberation.
He is here today to give meaning to what the Freedom Charter said - that there
shall be peace and friendship.
His presence here at Kliptown, at a site
surrounded by the challenging images of Soweto, which we can all see, rather than
the lush lawns of the northern suburbs of Johannesburg, speaks to our commitment
to join hands with the poor of the world to achieve the objective of a better
life for all, globally.
We have today, at this historic gathering, restated
the objectives and freedoms enunciated in the Freedom Charter, in order to make
a commitment, as did the delegates who met here at the Congress of the People
50 years ago, that, ,ÄúThese freedoms we will fight for, side by side,
throughout our lives, until we have won our liberty,Äù.
this commitment, I feel empowered to say:
Long live the Freedom Charter!
live the Constitution of our democratic Republic!
The people shall govern!
Matla ke a rona!
Matimba a hina!
Issued by: The Presidency