Inspector Kallie Etsebeth points at the wall where Nelson Mandela wrote the Freedom Charter at the Palace of Justice in Pretoria when he was held there during his trial. Picture: Liza van Deventer

Fifty-nine years later, both the significance and inherent danger of the Freedom Charter is sometimes lost to us, says Gwede Mantashe.

Johannesburg - On this day, 59 years ago, South Africans of all walks of life gathered together in Kliptown. They emerged from this meeting, which had been called for by the ANC, with what we now know as the Freedom Charter.

This document would prove to be a significant expression of the aspirations of the people of our land.

For the ANC – in particular, it would be its blueprint and a vision of the nature of society our people desired and sought to realise.

The Freedom Charter, in many ways, marked a paradigmatic shift.

Placed in its historical context, it was a negation of the thesis of apartheid racism, which advocated an exclusionist and minority form of society.

In the first instance, unlike the racist regime, the Charter based itself on the will of the people as a whole.

This principle of the people, as the advocates and drafters of the Charter held, dictated that the people be at the centre of all that the new society was to be about.

It is no coincidence that its preamble is premised on such a principle, thus “we, the people…”

It follows, therefore, that the Charter would assert that any government that sought to be a legitimate representative of the people of South Africa could only do so if it was based on the will of all the people.

Today, 20 years into a free and democratic South Africa, both the significance and inherent danger of the Freedom Charter is sometimes lost to us.

Against this backdrop it is necessary to consider the underpinning of South African society today.

It is true that South Africa today is far better than it ever was. We have realised the basic demand of the Charter, that is: a democratic government formed by the will of the people.

Most of the clauses of the Freedom Charter are a reality.

The greatest challenge, as recognised in the recent ANC lekgotla and President Jacob Zuma’s State of the Nation address, is to transform the socio-economic conditions of the majority of the people.

The deracialisation of the economy, ensuring the black majority has ownership and equity, is a small step in that direction.

However, the broad-based economic policies should begin to embrace the majority of those who remain outside economic participation.

Recent suggestions by the Ministry of Rural Development and Land Reform in ensuring that those who work the land share in its ownership takes us closer to what the Freedom Charter called for. Access to land is central to the sustainable livelihood of the people. It is about the ability of people to produce. But it is also about skilling the people.

Enabling the people to have access to the land is a means to restoring their relationship to their being and bringing to a conclusion an alienation of more than three centuries.

Our collective ability to ensure greater participation in the economy by the young, working class and the poor would make the freedom we now enjoy a reality.

The other challenge, in addition to the economic ones above, is the need to confront in today’s South Africa whether our country is getting closer to the non-racial society envisaged in the Freedom Charter. In recent times, we have seen some unsavoury statements and behaviour that suggest we are beginning to wane in our determination to realise this kind of society.

In the ANC, it is has always been our view that the Struggle was against white domination and not whites as people.

It is this principled stance that informed Madiba’s impassioned statement of his distaste for black domination as white domination.

We can overcome these challenges if we return to the principles of the Freedom Charter.

The real maxim that should guide our action and our celebration should be the people.

* Gwede Mantashe is secretary-general of the ANC.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Newspapers.

The Star