Address by President Thabo Mbeki at the Celebration the 50th Anniversary of the Freedom Charter, Kliptown, Johannesburg, 26 June 2005

Director of Ceremonies,
Veteran volunteer organisers of the Congress of the People,
Deputy 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,
Leaders of the national, provincial and local governments,
Chief Justice and members of the judiciary and magistracy,
Presiding officers of our legislatures,
Leaders 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;
Workers responsible for the construction of this great monument;
Distinguished guests,
Fellow South Africans:

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.

We pledge 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.

Nevertheless, 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.

That proclamation 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.

The 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.

The second 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 1955.

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 Charter.

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 Africa.

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 pleas.

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.

We 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.

Whereas 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.

I appeal 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.

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.

The 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.

If, 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

This 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.

(The people) 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 race.

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) people.

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

Fellow South Africans:

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.

She 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.

In 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 Freedom Charter.

She thought that our circumstances dictated that, given the national will, we would be the first in the world genuinely to create such a society.

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.

To 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.

As 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;
The land shall be shared among those who work it;
All shall be equal before the law;
All shall enjoy equal human rights;
There shall be work and security;
The doors of learning and of culture shall be opened;
There shall be houses, security and comfort;
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 Charter.

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.

We 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 in 1994.

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.

To reaffirm this commitment, I feel empowered to say:

Long live the Freedom Charter!
Long live the Constitution of our democratic Republic!
The people shall govern!
Amandla ngawethu!
Matla ke a rona!
Matimba a hina!

Issued by: The Presidency
26 June 2005

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