Bem Turok, dirigente histórico do mais antigo partido político da África e talvez de todo o planeta se considerarmos sua continuidade e a presença histórica do seu líder máximo, Nelson Mandela, nos envia um artigo que chama a atenção para a retomada a luta pelos recursos naturais na África do Sul. As grandes teses históricas da luta nacional democrática são revividas na atual conjuntura histórica. Diante da força destas teses veremos muita gente virando casaca por aí.
June Issue, NEW AGENDA, S A JOURNAL OF SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC POLICY No. 46
Editorial: The enduring challenge of the Freedom Charter
By Ben Turok
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 the 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.
After a lifetime of working in the ANC, I derive the most satisfaction from the fact that the economic clause of the Freedom Charter has survived since its adoption in 1955, especially as its clearly radical call runs against the grain of the prudent financial and economic policy insisted on by international agencies in 1994. It is remarkable that one ANC conference after another has endorsed the Charter’s economic clause. On no occasion has there been a call for its revision.
I have previously confessed to being the author of this clause as a result of an accident of history. The National Action Council of the Congress of the People had asked me to present the economic clause at the Congress of the People (COP) and, on the eve of the COP, all the speakers were invited to a meeting with the few leaders who were not banned. There we were presented with a draft of the Freedom Charter. I felt that the draft economic clause did not do justice to the views that had emerged at the dozens of public meetings we had held in the Western Cape. The submissions and demands we had heard had been forwarded to the organizer in Johannesburg for consideration in the draft Charter. I therefore proposed some amendments. With the support of Billy Nair from Durban, these were accepted by the meeting and endorsed at the COP the following day. It was thus that a rather precocious young cadre came to make history.
I have since been asked, on many occasions, what was in my mind and that of the meeting when we adopted this clause. Did we mean nationalisation? Or something else? I have generally replied that we meant to restore the country’s mineral wealth to the people as a whole. The banks and monopoly industry should similarly be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole. How this was to be done would be for later consideration, and it did not necessarily mean nationalisation. I have always emphasised that the clause was written in the understanding that colonialism had usurped the wealth of the country and that it should be transferred to the people so that it could be shared. This idea of “sharing” was central to the whole of the Charter.
However my explanation has not always been accepted – and, to be honest, it has not satisfied me fully either.
I have no written version of my speech at the COP, but a policeman who had been there and taken notes presented a garbled version in evidence at the Treason Trial in 1956. He was not very literate and had written in longhand in a small notebook, using several pens of different colours, while sitting precariously on a motorcycle. Defence lawyer Vernon Berrange tore his evidence to shreds in the preparatory examination.
A police report that recorded the event more fully was later discovered and this is how the economic clause was presented1:
Friends, the system of the gold mines is a curse, not a benefit for South Africa. With the gold mines has also come the colour oppression of South Africa, because how else can you get cheap labour if not by a colour bar?
You know that the owners of the big factories take an active part in South Africa. The whole system of the big factories and the gold mines are the enemies of the people.
The Freedom Charter says the ownership of the mines will be transferred to the ownership of the people… There will no longer be a compound boss. There will be a committee of workers to run the gold mines. We also say that, wherever there is a factory and where there are workers who are exploited, the workers will take over and run the factories. In other words, the ownership of the factories will come into the hands of the people.
Let the banks come back to the people. Let us have a people’s committee to run the banks.
My speech was followed by Billy Nair, who said:
I fully support this demand on behalf of the trade unions in Natal of which I am president. The factories, the lands, the industries and everything possible is owned by a small group of people who are the capitalists in this country. They skin the people. They live on the fat of the workers and make them work in exploitation. Everything that is owned by a small group of people must be owned by all the people.
There can be no doubt that we saw monopoly capital as the enemy and, in a sense, the source of apartheid oppression and exploitation. Our perspective was that its power had to be removed. There was no idea that it should be transferred to a group of black owners or that it could be adjusted or reformed.
The central idea was this: the wealth of the country had been expropriated by a minority and it had to be given back to the people as a whole. The means of doing so were not identified.
It must be added that several moderate leaders in the ANC at the time reacted negatively to the clause, alarmed that it was “communist” in some sense. It fell to people like Michael Harmel to explain that the clause was solely directed at monopoly interests that were historically colonial and white supremacist. It did not abolish ownership, nor did it exclude business in any sector. On the contrary, it opened industry and trade to all.
The concerns were thus put to rest and the clause survived. Incredibly, 57 years later, it is once again at the centre of debate.
1. T Karis and G Carter. From Protest to Challenge: A Documentary History of African Politics in South Africa, 1882–1964, Vol. 3: Challenge and Violence, 1953–1964, Stanford: Hoover Institution Press, pp 194–6
Meles Zenawi: Africa’s Potential
Antonio Pedro: Africa’s Mining Vision
Albie Sachs: Recollections
Kgalema Motlanthe: ANC Centenary
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