Freedom Charter

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Freedom Charter memorial in Kliptown

The Freedom Charter was the statement of core principles of the South African Congress Alliance, which consisted of the African National Congress and its allies - the South African Indian Congress, the South African Congress of Democrats and the Coloured People's Congress. It is characterized by its opening demand; "The People Shall Govern!"[1]

In 1955, the ANC sent out fifty thousand volunteers into townships and the countryside to collect "freedom demands" from the people of South Africa. This system was designed to give all South Africans equal rights. Demands such as "Land to be given to all landless people", "Living wages and shorter hours of work", "Free and compulsory education, irrespective of colour, race or nationality" were synthesized into the final document by ANC leaders including Z.K. Mathews, Lionel "Rusty" Bernstein and Alan Lipman (whose wife, Beata Lipman, hand-wrote the original Charter). The Charter was officially adopted on 26 June 1955 at a Congress of the People in Kliptown.[2][3] The meeting was attended by roughly three thousand delegates but was broken up by police on the second day, although by then the charter had been read in full. The crowd had shouted its approval of each section with cries of "Afrika!" and "Mayibuye!"[4] Nelson Mandela only escaped the police by disguising himself as a milkman, as his movements and interactions were restricted by banning orders at the time.[5]

The document is notable for its demand for and commitment to a non-racial South Africa, and this has remained the platform of the ANC. Members of the ANC with opposing Africanist views left the group after it adopted the charter, forming the Pan Africanist Congress. The charter also calls for democracy and human rights, land reform, labour rights, and nationalization. After the congress was denounced as treason, the South African government banned the ANC and arrested 156 activists, including Mandela who was imprisoned in 1962. However, the charter continued to circulate in the revolutionary underground and inspired a new generation of young militants in the 1980s.[4]

On 11 February 1990, Mandela was finally freed and the ANC came to power soon afterwards in May 1994. The new Constitution of South Africa included in its text many of the demands called for in the Freedom Charter. Nearly all the enumerated concerns regarding equality of race and language were directly addressed in the constitution, although the document included nothing to the effect of the nationalization of industry or redistribution of land, both of which were outlined in the charter.


  1. ^ (1955), Freedom Charter, ANC 
  2. ^ "Father of Freedom Charter dies", Johannesburg Star, 28-01-13
  3. ^ Pillay, Gerald J. (1993). Voices of Liberation: Albert Lutuli. HSRC Press. pp. 82–91. ISBN 0-7969-1356-0. 
  4. ^ a b Naomi Klein (2007), The Shock Doctrine, London: Penguin Group 
  5. ^ Nelson Mandela (1994), Long Walk to Freedom, New York: Little, Brown and Company 

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