The Freedom Charter: 62 years later it is archaic and unworkable - BizNews, 21 July 2017

The Charter was adopted as the Congress’s official programme. “Thus the Freedom Charter became the common programme enshrining the hopes and aspirations of all the progressive people of South Africa.”


By Sara Gon 

On 27 June 2017, Cyril Ramaphosa, Deputy President and contender for African National Congress (ANC) president, wrote in Business Day:

“The ANC’s programme of radical economic transformation has its roots in the Freedom Charter, which was adopted at the Congress of the People in Kliptown 62 years ago this week.

“The Freedom Charter captures perfectly the intent and, to some extent, the content of radical economic transformation. It was at the Congress of the People that representatives of the people of this country gathered to declare that: ‘The People Shall Share in the Country’s Wealth’.”

The Charter has been elevated to the status of religious dogma. Thus, it is still the reference point for what the ANC does.

The banning of the ANC and other anti-apartheid organisations helped to cement their reverential status. The religion became socialism and the ANC became its “broad church”.

The incompatibility of those varied beliefs could be subsumed into the greater good of the struggle by the ghastliness of apartheid. However, a political party cannot sustain the romance surrounding a liberation movement. And, today, the ANC is just a political party, no longer a liberation movement.

In the early fifties, the ANC saw the need for a clear statement on the future of South Africa. A “Freedom Charter” became the agreed vehicle and the Congress of the People Campaign was initiated to draft the Charter.

The ANC and its allies “invited the whole of South Africa to record their demands” so that they could be incorporated in a common document. The document, the Charter, would be accepted at the Congress of the People.

Thousands of people sent in their demands for the kind of South Africa they wished to live in. Apparently 50 000 volunteers went into townships to gather these demands for recordal in the Charter. These were synthesised into the final document by seven people; all but one were white and all were members of the South African Communist Party (SACP).

On 25 and 26 June 1955, the Congress gathered at Kliptown. The three thousand delegates comprised “workers, peasants, intellectuals, women, youth and students of all races and colours”.

The Charter was adopted as the Congress’s official programme. “Thus the Freedom Charter became the common programme enshrining the hopes and aspirations of all the progressive people of South Africa.” (South African History Online)

The Charter was inspirational and aspirational, supportive of democracy and the rule of law. However, it reflected the dogma of socialism in its economic plans.

The original Communist Party of South Africa was formed in 1921, disbanded itself in 1950 and was banned in 1953. The SACP, aligned to the Soviet Union, was formed in 1955 and used the ANC as its political front.

The SACP showed unalloyed allegiance to Stalinism, notwithstanding the horrors perpetrated by Joseph Stalin, including the starvation of nearly 10 million people.

Pallo Jordan, in his critique, Crisis of Conscience in the SACP: A Critical Review of Slovo’s “Has Socialism Failed?” (Lusaka, February 1990), said: “Any regular reader of the SACP’s publications can point to a consistent pattern of praise and support for every violation of freedom perpetrated by the Soviet leadership, both before and after the death of Stalin. …. (T)he political culture nurtured by the SACP’s leadership over the years has produced a spirit of intolerance, intellectual pettiness and political dissembling.”

The SACP’s support of Stalinism was particularly interesting given that Stalin died two years before the SACP’s formation, and a year before the Soviet Communist Party denounced Stalin and his crimes.

The USSR depended extensively on its oil and gas resources. When world oil prices collapsed in 1986 the Soviet economy was severely hit.

“The complex demands of the modern economy and inflexible administration overwhelmed and constrained communism.” (Daniel Yergin, The Quest: Energy, Security, and the Remaking of the Modern World (2011)).

It is incontrovertible: successful global economies are those that follow a free enterprise, capitalist economic model in a variety of forms. Socialism, by its very essence, is bound to fail sooner or later.

The Charter was a product of its time and circumstances. It was the result of the naivety and idealism of its drafters and the Congress’s supporters. While understandable then, sixty-two years later it is archaic and unworkable.


Restriction of landownership on a racial basis shall be ended, and all the land redivided amongst those who work it, to banish famine and land hunger;

The state shall help the peasants with implements, seed, tractors and dams to save the soil and assist the tillers;…”

All shall have the right to occupy land wherever they choose;…”

Everyone agrees that there is no racial basis for landownership. But “redivision of land” to those who work it was a failure under communism. “Redivision” is not and never will be a guarantee of banishing famine and land hunger.

The ANC state has failed spectacularly to “help the peasants with implements” etc. Merely taking occupation of farming land is insufficient. Without modern agricultural training and capital support to farmers, the land is pretty useless.

“All shall have the right to occupy land wherever they choose” implies land grabs.

Too many examples, Zimbabwe included, demonstrate the destruction this wreaks on an economy.


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

The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the Banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole;

All other industry and trade shall be controlled to assist the well-being of the people;

All people shall have equal rights to trade where they choose, to manufacture and to enter all trades, crafts and professions.”

Why the mines? Why the banks? What is monopoly industry and why should the state own them? Surely other industries would follow? It’s 2017. Marxism arose in response to the first Industrial Revolution. We are now dealing with the fourth and the world of the fourth revolution is unrecognisable from the world of the first.

The global experience of the past 60-odd years shows that a literal interpretation of the Charter is a recipe for economic disaster and state capture. The socialist model is anti-growth.

The Charter guarantees rights from housing and food to medical care and all social amenities. Whatever has been achieved is now deteriorating inexorably. The tax base is shrinking and the ability to meet the unequivocal aspirations of the Charter is receding.

The Charter may have been inspiring in the dark days of apartheid, but it is not an immutable, biblical tract. It is an ideological wish-list of a certain time and place. South Africa is no longer in that time or of that place. Neither are more than 40 former socialist countries.

The difficulty for ANC leaders in disavowing their longstanding religion of socialism is understandable. It has been a lifetime’s belief for many, but it is now inexcusable. The ANC risks becoming a death cult.

*Sara Gon is a Policy Fellow at the IRR, a think tank that promotes economic and political liberty. Follow the IRR on Twitter @IRR_SouthAfrica.

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