The relevance of the Freedom Charter in present-day South Africa

Posted on April 30, 2015

The Freedom Charter, which was adopted in 1955, was ahead of its time. At the time of its adoption, it was intended to address immediate concerns in society, such as the challenges created by the apartheid system, but many aspects of the document remain relevant to this day. The Freedom Charter continues to inspire us when things go right but may also help to point us in the right direction when things do not go as they should. In view of the fact that it inspired the development of the South African Constitution, the Freedom Charter and the principles that it espouses will remain a key document in South Africa for generations to come.

The main points that the Freedom Charter addresses are the following: the right of people to govern themselves; equality of all races; sharing in the country’s wealth; access to land by all; equality before the law; equal human rights; the right to work; education for all; housing for all; and peaceful co-existence with other countries. All these principles are topical issues in present-day South Africa. Considering the fundamental changes of the last two decades, one could say that some of the issues addressed in the Freedom Charter have to a very large extent been achieved. However, much still remains to be done and certain aspects of the Freedom Charter are still works in progress. Their achievement is often hindered by poverty, lack of education and, sometimes, mind sets that fail to acknowledge or accept the fundamental changes that have taken place in South African since 1994.

Aspects of the Freedom Charter such as housing for all, education for all, and equal human rights for all can only be realised on a progressive basis, and for this reason many people in South Africa are yet to attain these rights. Even though a foundation has been laid for the realisation of these rights, much still needs to be done. The realisation of many of the rights promoted in the Freedom Charter is dependent on access to resources, with the result that well-to-do members of society find it easier to attain them than poorer members of society. Therefore, for the majority of South Africans the Freedom Charter remains a living document because it speaks to challenges that they are yet to achieve.

While the government is expected to deliver many of the rights set out in the Freedom Charter, individuals should accept equal responsibility for the full achievement of their rights. Individual endeavour is very important. The role of the government is to put in place measures that do not restrain but rather encourage individual endeavour and to help create opportunities that individuals can exploit. That means that increasingly people should not look to the government as a messiah but rather as a catalyst that enables them to achieve their rights as set out in the Freedom Charter. Surely the ability of individuals to set out and achieve their goals is also part of the freedom envisaged in the Freedom Charter. Ultimately the Freedom Charter will make sense to all South Africans if individual endeavour and government intervention are seen as equally important. The struggle for the achievement of the rights set out in the Freedom Charter continues.

- Author Department of University Relations

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