The Congress of South African Trade Unions joins millions of South Africans to commemorate the 65th Anniversary of the Freedom Charter. The Freedom Charter is an important historical document that contains the basic minimum set of demands to be achieved in the struggle. Even today, it remains the most inspiring document that embodies our shared perspective of this country’s future and also represents the ANC-led democratic movement’s ideological and theoretical essence and posture.
About 65 years since its adoption, the scorecard on the attainment of these set of demands since the democratic breakthrough looks gloomy and depressing. On this day, we need to critically reflect on some of the main reasons that have contributed to this failure to achieve some of these minimum demands, and use this moment to formulate our responses to these challenges.
The ANC-led democratic movement has over many decades been galvanised by and united around a shared perspective of the Freedom Charter to overcome interconnected race, gender, and class oppression in our society. After the demise of the Apartheid regime, this shared perspective has been ignored and challenged by factions within the ANC, commonly who have since worked hard to gradually side-line and abandon the Freedom Charter.
The socioeconomic policies that have been implemented since 1994 have established and entrenched a Neoliberal regime of accumulation - that, in turn, has further shifted the balance of power in favour of capital. This has seen capital and the small but dominant black and white elite benefit, whilst the broader sections of the working class and the rural poor have been on the receiving end of such policies; as manifested by mass retrenchments, casualisation, the commodification of basic municipal services, growing unemployment and deepening inequalities and poverty.
The Federation remains convinced that this historically and shared perspective of the Freedom Charter remains correct and must be defended and promoted by all of us. The current trajectory of policy formulation as represented by the recent Supplementary Budget delivered by Minister Tito Mboweni helps restore and consolidate the inherited Apartheid development path and may eventually lead to the defeat of the NDR.
It is our task as the working class to ensure that the ANC’s commitment to a perspective of the Freedom Charter finds expression in its socioeconomic policies and those of its government. But without strong working-class organisations and ideological independence and clarity; the Freedom Charter demands will never be attained, and the working class will continue to tail behind the capitalist class and find itself at the bottom end of the economic pyramid.
The recent Supplementary Budget represents a slide back to Neoliberal macroeconomic policies as epitomised by the abandonment of the perspective of a capable developmental state, which is supposed to be the overarching thrust of the role of the state in terms of NDP. This takes place just as the ANC committed its government in terms of the 2019 manifesto to “renewing a capable and developmental state” and reasserting that “we are building a capable developmental state”
Whilst in itself the developmental state would remain within the bounds of a capitalist economic system, the working class must continue to campaign for a “progressive developmental state” based on the demands and claims of the Freedom Charter.
The other obstacle to the attainment of the goals of the Freedom Charter is the tendency by the few powerful, right-wing, and often racist groupings to resist any talk of the Amendment of the Constitution of this country. These groupings that are well funded are using the Constitution to defend their inherited apartheid privileges and remain hell-bent on frustrating and sabotaging the radical transformation of our society using the courts and other democratic institutions.
COSATU remains ready to defend the democratic Constitution of our country, with its pillars of the separation of powers, rule of law and democratic majority rule. But we are also of the view that the Constitution must serve the people and not the other way round; if there are legitimate grounds for a Constitutional review in order to better the lives of the poor, the federation will support it.
In this regard, it is our responsibility as all progressive forces to unite and mobilise other democratic forces that have historically fought for our democracy against these forces that seek to maintain the Apartheid privileges and socioeconomic inequalities.
On the 65th Anniversary of the Freedom Charter, we recommit ourselves to ceaselessly push for a shift from the Neoliberal policy paradigm and overcoming the entrenched Apartheid legacy, in particular, the glaring racialised, gendered inequalities and the uneven distribution of resources and development opportunities.
We shall tirelessly campaign for active state-led interventions in the economy in response to the Covid-19 inspired economic crisis.
This should include keeping key industries in strategic sectors under state control, the introduction of other collective forms of ownership such as cooperatives, large-scale expropriation and broad-based redistribution of agricultural land, and an introduction of comprehensive social security and social wage. We also want to see interventions and measures to discipline capital around pricing, investments, environment, labour-market issues, etc.
A strong participatory democracy – including the active participation of working-class communities and organised mass formations in the formulation and implementation of policies at different scales of governance and decision-making remains key if the objectives of the Freedom Charter are to be attained.
Our capable Freedom Charter inspired state should sit uncomfortably with the current rate of exploitation taking place around the world, like the lynching of black people in the US and the eviction of Palestinians by the Apartheid regime in Israel. We, therefore, need to uncompromisingly maintain our anti-imperialist stance – asserting the country’s sovereignty and national self-determination on all policy matters including the socioeconomic and foreign policies based on solidarity, mutual benefit, peace and friendship among the peoples of the world.
The Freedom Charter lives!
Issued by COSATU