The Freedom Charter. File photo: Dumisani Sibeko
The Freedom Charter. File photo: Dumisani Sibeko

Freedom Charter still relevant

By Zwelinzima Vavi Time of article published Jun 28, 2015

Share this article:

The only way to fight back and truly celebrate the Freedom Charter is to work together to put our dream back on track, writes Zwelinzima Vavi.

All South Africans should celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Freedom Charter, adopted by the Congress of the People in Kliptown on June 26, 1955, with great pride. It was not only a milestone in our own struggle against apartheid, but a model for people around the world who are struggling for liberation from injustice and tyranny.

The Freedom Charter not only laid out a programme to eliminate colonialism and racism in South Africa, but also dealt with all the economic and social ills existing alongside apartheid. It gave us a stunning vision of a totally new kind of society, in which everyone shared in the country’s wealth and was treated equally and fairly.

That is why it is still so relevant 60 years later. We have adopted a constitution and many laws which reflect clauses in the Freedom Charter and give better guarantees of social justice, human rights and equality than those of most other countries in the world.

We have achieved the highest expansion of social grants in the world and one of the best records for providing the poor with houses, electricity, running water and access to education and health services.

But we still have to ask whether we have built a society in which:

* The people shall share in the country’s wealth;

* The national wealth of our country, the heritage of South Africans, shall be restored to the people;

* The mineral wealth shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole;

* All other industry and trade shall be controlled to assist the wellbeing of the people; and

* The doors of learning and culture shall be opened for all.

These surely have to be the cornerstones of the society envisaged in the Freedom Charter, but the sad reality is that in practice millions of South Africans are still denied, because the inequalities and injustices we inherited from apartheid remain in place.

Inequality has increased across the board. The Gini coefficient, which measures income inequality, stands at 0.65, the highest in the world. Statistics SA shows from 1994 to 2010 the share of the gross domestic product (GDP) going to labour in wages, as opposed to capital in profits, fell 7 percent.

A PwC report, Executive Directors’ Remuneration: Practices and Trends, July 2013, found the gap between the remuneration of the lowest-paid workers and chief executives of JSE-listed firms was more than 50 times.

According to an Oxfam report, the two richest South Africans (Johann Rupert and Nicky Oppenheimer) owned wealth equal to the poorest 50 percent of the country – 26.5 million people. At least 54.3 percent of South Africans live in poverty and 14 million go to bed hungry every night.

Inequalities in income and wealth are still racialised. At least 56 percent of whites earn more than R6 000 a month, while 81 percent of Africans earn less than R6 000 a month. The means of production remain concentrated in white hands: almost all the top 20 paid directors in JSE-listed companies are white males. This is far cry from what the drafters of the Freedom Charter envisaged.

And there is no sign things are getting better, with unemployment at an appalling 36.1 percent by the more realistic wider rate, including those who have given up looking for work.

Economic growth in the first quarter of 2015 crawled at a miserable 1.3 percent, so the prospect of any early relief for the unemployed is dim.

The yawning gulf between the extreme poverty of the majority and the excessive wealth of the minority lies behind the mushrooming of often violent service-delivery protests in the in poorer communities. We are sitting on a time bomb unless we get back to the principles of the Freedom Charter.

All this is made worse by the scourge of corruption and the looting of public money by tenderpreneurs, corrupt politicians and officials and even some union leaders, who exploit the climate of “anything goes” to get rich quick at the expense of the workers, consumers and the economy.

We face the biggest crisis since the birth of democracy in 1994, epitomised by the statement of the Minister of Police, Nathi Nhleko, on the excessive R246 million Nkandla spend.


The only way to fight back and truly celebrate the Freedom Charter is to work together to put our dream back on track and create a truly egalitarian, united, democratic, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous South Africa. The mass march against corruption in Pretoria on August 19 must be the first step in this pursuit.


* Vavi is former general secretary of Cosatu.

Sunday Independent

Share this article: