Documents on Democracy

Issue Date Fall 1990
Volume 1
Issue 4
Page Numbers 128-34
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South Africa

The “Freedom Charter,” which still remains the ANC’s basic statement of principles, was originally adopted by the multiracial Congress of the People on 26 June 1955. The complete text follows:

PREAMBLE. We, the people of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know:

That South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people;

That our people have been robbed of their birthright to land, liberty and peace by a form of government founded on injustice and inequality;

That our country will never be prosperous or free until all our people live in brotherhood, enjoying equal rights and opportunities;

That only a democratic state, based on the will of the people, can secure to all their birthright without distinction of colour, race, sex or belief;

And therefore, we, the people of South Africa, black and white, together-equals, countrymen and brothers-adopt this FREEDOM CHARTER. And we pledge ourselves to strive together, sparing nothing of our strength and courage, until the democratic changes here set out have been won.

THE PEOPLE SHALL GOVERN! Every man and woman shall have the right to vote for and stand as a candidate for all bodies which make laws.All the people shall be entitled to take part in the administration of the country.The rights of the people shall be the same regardless of race, colour or sex.All bodies of minority rule, advisory boards, councils and authorities shall be replaced by democratic organs of self-government. [End Page 128]

ALL NATIONAL GROUPS SHALL HAVE EQUAL RIGHTS! There shall be equal status in the bodies of state, in the courts and in the schools for all national groups and races;All national groups shall be protected by law against insults to their race and national pride;All people shall have equal rights to use their own language and to develop their own folk culture and customs;The preaching and practice of national, race or colour discrimination and contempt shall be a punishable crime;All apartheid laws and practices shall be set aside.

THE PEOPLE SHALL SHARE IN THE COUNTRY’S WEALTH! 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 industries 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.

THE LAND SHALL BE SHARED AMONG THOSE WHO WORK IT! Restriction of land ownership on a racial basis shall be ended, and all the land re-divided 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;Freedom of movement shall be guaranteed to all who work on the land;All shall have the right to occupy land wherever they choose;People shall not be robbed of their cattle, and forced labour and farm prisons shall be abolished.

ALL SHALL BE EQUAL BEFORE THE LAW! No one shall be imprisoned, deported or restricted without a fair trial;No one shall be condemned by the order of a Government official;The courts shall be representative of the people;Imprisonment shall be only for serious crimes against the people, and shall aim at re-education, not vengeance;The police force and army shall be open to all on an equal basis and shall be the helpers and protectors of the people;

All laws which discriminate on grounds of race, colour or belief shall be repealed.

ALL SHALL ENJOY EQUAL HUMAN RIGHTS! The law shall [End Page 129] guarantee to all their right to speak, to organise, to meet together, to publish, to preach, to worship and to educate their children;The privacy of the house from police raids shall be protected by law;All shall be free to travel without restriction from countryside to town, from province to province, and from South Africa abroad;Pass laws, permits and all other laws restricting these freedoms shall be abolished.

THERE SHALL BE WORK AND SECURITY! All who work shall be free to form trade unions, to elect their officers and to make wage agreements with their employers;The state shall recognise the right and duty of all to work, and to draw full unemployment benefits;Men and women of all races shall receive equal pay for equal work;There shall be a 40-hour working week, a national minimum wage, paid annual leave, and sick leave for all workers, and maternity leave on full pay for all working mothers;Miners, domestic workers, farm workers and civil servants shall have the same rights as all others who work;

Child labour, compound labour, the tot system and contract labour shall be abolished.

THE DOORS OF LEARNING AND OF CULTURE SHALL BE OPENED! The government shall discover, develop and encourage national talent for the enhancement of our cultural life;All the cultural treasures of mankind shall be open to all, by free exchange of books, ideas and contact with other lands;The aim of education shall be to teach the youth to love their people and their culture, to honour human brotherhood, liberty and peace;Education shall be free, compulsory, universal and equal for all children;Higher education and technical training shall be opened to all by means of state allowances and scholarships awarded on the basis of merit;

Adult illiteracy shall be ended by a mass state education plan;

Teachers shall have all the rights of other citizens;

The colour bar in cultural life, in sport and in education shall be abolished.

THERE SHALL BE HOUSES, SECURITY AND COMFORT! All people shall have the right to live where they choose, to be decently housed, and to bring up their families in comfort and security;Unused housing space is to be made available to the people;Rent and prices shall be lowered, food plentiful and no one shall go hungry; [End Page 130]A preventive health scheme shall be run by the state;Free medical care and hospitalisation shall be provided for all, with special care for mothers and young children;

Slums shall be demolished, and new suburbs built where all have transport, roads, lighting, playing fields, creches and social centres;

The aged, the orphans, the disabled and the sick shall be cared for by the state;

Rest, leisure and recreation shall be the right of all;

Fenced locations and ghettoes shall be abolished, and laws which break up families shall be repealed.

THERE SHALL BE PEACE AND FRIENDSHIP! South Africa shall be a fully independent state, which respects the rights and sovereignty of all nations;South Africa shall strive to maintain world peace and the settlement of all international disputes by negotiation-not war;Peace and friendship amongst all our people shall be secured by upholding the equal rights, opportunities and status of all;The people of the protectorates-Basutoland, Bechuanaland and Swaziland-shall be free to decide for themselves their own future;The right of all the peoples of Africa to independence and self-government shall be recognised, and shall be the basis of close cooperation.

Let all who love their freedom and their country now say, as we say here:


On 21 August 1989 the Organization of African Unity adopted the Harare Declaration, calling for negotiations to bring an end to the apartheid system in South Africa and urging Pretoria to create the necessary climate for such negotiations. On 14 December 1990, the Sixteenth Special Session of the United Nations adopted a resolution largely based on the Harare Declaration entitled “Declaration on Apartheid and its Destructive Consequences in Southern Africa.” Excerpts from the UN resolution follow:

  1. A conjuncture of circumstances exists, which, if there is a demonstrable readiness on the part of the South African regime to engage in negotiations genuinely and seriously, given the repeated expression of the majority of the people of South Africa of their longstanding preference to arrive at a political settlement, could create the possibility to end apartheid through negotiations. [End Page 131]
  2. We would therefore encourage the people of South Africa, as part of their legitimate struggle, to join together to negotiate an end to the apartheid system and agree on all the measures that are necessary to transform their country into a nonracial democracy. We support the position held by the majority of the people of South Africa that these objectives, and not the amendment or reform of the apartheid system, should be the goals of the negotiations.
  3. We are at one with the people of South Africa that the outcome of such a process should be a new constitutional order determined by them and based on the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We therefore hold the following fundamental principles to be of importance:
    1. South Africa shall become a united, nonracial and democratic State;
    2. All its people shall enjoy common equal citizenship and nationality, regardless of race, colour, sex or creed;
    3. All its people shall have the right to participate in the government and administration of the country on the basis of universal, equal suffrage, under a nonracial voters’ roll, and by secret ballot, in a united and nonfragmented South Africa;
    4. All shall have the right to form and join any political party of their choice, provided that this is not in furtherance of racism;
    5. All shall enjoy universally recognized human rights, freedoms and civil liberties, protected under an entrenched bill of rights;
    6. South Africa shall have a legal system that will guarantee equality of all before the law;
    7. South Africa shall have an independent and nonracial judiciary;
    8. There shall be created an economic order that will promote and advance the well-being of all South Africans;
    9. A democratic South Africa shall respect the rights, sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries and pursue a policy of peace, friendship and mutually beneficial cooperation with all peoples.
  4. We believe that acceptance of these fundamental principles could constitute the basis for an internationally acceptable solution that will enable South Africa to take its rightful place as an equal partner among the world community of nations.
  5. We believe that it is essential that the necessary climate be created for negotiations. There is an urgent need to respond positively to this universally acclaimed demand and thus create this climate.
  6. Accordingly, the present South African regime should, at the least:
    1. Release all political prisoners and detainees unconditionally and refrain from imposing any restrictions on them;
    2. Lift all bans and restrictions on all proscribed and restricted organizations and persons;
    3. Remove all troops from the townships; [End Page 132]
    4. End the state of emergency and repeal all legislation, such as the Internal Security Act, designed to circumscribe political activity;
    5. Cease all political trials and political executions.
  7. These measures would help create the necessary climate in which free political discussion can take place-an essential condition to ensure that the people themselves participate in the process of remaking their country.
  8. We are of the view that the parties concerned should, in the context of the necessary climate, negotiate the future of their country and its people in good faith and in an atmosphere which, by mutual agreement between the liberation movements and the South African regime, would be free of violence. The process could commence along the following guidelines:
    1. Agreement on the mechanism for the drawing up of a new constitution, based on, among others, the principles enunciated above, and the basis for its adoption;
    2. Agreement on the role to be played by the international community in ensuring a successful transition to a democratic order;
    3. Agreed transitional arrangements and modalities for the process of the drawing up and adoption of a new constitution, and for the transition to a democratic order, including the holding of elections . . . .

In May 1990 the government of South Africa and the African National Congress issued the Groote Schuur Minute, in which they agreed to establish joint communications in the spirit of “a common commitment towards the resolution of the existing climate of violence . . . as well as a commitment to stability and to a peaceful process of negotiations.” This initial agreement bore fruit in the landmark Pretoria Minute of 6 August 1990, key excerpts of which follow:

. . . 3. In the interest of moving as speedily as possible towards a negotiated peaceful political settlement and in the context of the agreements reached, the ANC announced that it was now suspending all armed actions with immediate effect. As a result of this, no further armed actions and related activities by the ANC and its military wing Umkhonto We Sizwe will take place. It was agreed that a working group will be established to resolve all outstanding questions arising out of this decision to report by 15 September 1990. Both sides once more committed themselves to do everything in their power to bring about a peaceful solution as quickly as possible.

4. Both delegates expressed serious concern about the general level of violence, intimidation and unrest in the country, especially in Natal. They agreed that in the context of the common search for peace and stability, it was vital that understanding should grow among all sections [End Page 133] of the South African population that problems can and should be solved through negotiations. Both parties committed themselves to undertake steps and measures to promote and expedite the normalization and stabilization of the situation in line with the spirit of mutual trust obtaining among the leaders involved.

5. With due cognizance of the interest, role and involvement of other parties the delegations consider it necessary that whatever additional mechanisms of communication are needed should be developed at local, regional and national levels. This should enable public grievances to be addressed peacefully and in good time, avoiding conflict.

6. The Government has undertaken to consider the lifting of the State of Emergency in Natal as early as possible in the light of positive consequences that should result from this accord.

7. In view of the new circumstances now emerging there will be an ongoing review of security legislation. The Government will give immediate consideration to repealing all provisions of the Internal Security Act that—

  1. refer to communism or the furthering thereof;
  2. provide for a consolidated list;
  3. provide for a prohibition on the publication of statements or writings of certain persons; and
  4. provide for an amount to be deposited before a newspaper may be registered.The Government will continue reviewing security legislation and its application in order to ensure free political activity and with the view to introducing amending legislation at the next session of Parliament. The Minister of Justice will issue a statement in this regard, inter alia calling for comments and proposals.

8. We are convinced that what we have agreed upon today can become a milestone on the road to true peace and prosperity for our country. In this view we do not pretend to be the only parties involved in the process of shaping the new South Africa. We know there are other parties committed to peaceful progress. All of us can henceforth walk that road in consultation and cooperation with each other. We call upon all those who have not yet committed themselves to peaceful negotiations to do so now.

9. Against this background, the way is now open to proceed towards negotiations on a new constitution. Exploratory talks in this regard will be held before the next meeting which will be held soon. [End Page 134]