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Freedom Charter and the United Nations

Freedom Charter and the United Nations

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Published by Enuga S. Reddy
An article concerning United Nations support and publicity for the Freedom Charter of South Africa, by Enuga S. Reddy, former director of the UN Centre against Apartheid
An article concerning United Nations support and publicity for the Freedom Charter of South Africa, by Enuga S. Reddy, former director of the UN Centre against Apartheid

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Categories:Types, Research, History
Published by: Enuga S. Reddy on Jun 30, 2010
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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1May 1985
The South African “Freedom Charter" - whose thirtieth anniversary will be observed this year -was adopted at the “Congress of the People” held in Kliptown, near Johannesburg, on June 26,1955, perhaps the most representative multi-racial conference held in South Africa. The sponsorsof the Conference - the African National Congress of South Africa, the South African IndianCongress, the South African Coloured People’s Organisation and the Congress of Democrats -soon endorsed the Charter and accepted it as their policy document. In subsequent years, anumber of other organisations subscribed to the Charter.The Charter became a powerful force in uniting the people of all racial origins in a commonstruggle for the elimination of apartheid and the establishment of a non-racial democratic state.
It has also had great influence in the United Nations and the international community inpromoting understanding and appreciation of the struggle. The objectives enunciated by theUnited Nations in its declarations and resolutions on apartheid are in harmony with the FreedomCharter.
Origin of the Freedom Charter
The origin of the Freedom Charter may be traced to the Campaign of Defiance against UnjustLaws - a non-violent passive resistance campaign - launched by the African National Congressand the South African Indian Congress on June 26, 1952. Over 8,000 people courtedimprisonment by defying segregationist laws and regulations. A number of whites joined thecampaign to show their solidarity with the oppressed majority.The campaign was discontinued after the racist regime enacted draconian legislation against non-violent protest, resorted to whipping of volunteers and instigated violent incidents. But it had atremendous effect in mobilising the people. The membership of ANC surged to over 100,000 and
The racist regime immediately recognised its significance. It arrested 156 leaders of the four organisations andsubjected them to a lengthy treason trial from 1956 to 1961. All the accused were acquitted as the regime was unableto prove that they had engaged in a Communist conspiracy.
2its influence spread all over the country. The campaign also led to the consideration of apartheidby the United Nations General Assembly at the request of Asian-African States and to thedevelopment of organisations in Western countries in support of the struggle for freedom inSouth Africa.The ANC then faced the task of maintaining the momentum generated by the DefianceCampaign and developing new forms of struggle.At the annual conference of the Cape region of the ANC in August 1953, Professor Z.K.Matthews suggested the convening of a Congress of the People to draw up a Freedom Charter.He said:“I wonder whether the time has not come for the African National Congress to considerthe question of convening a national convention, a congress of the people, representingall the people of this country irrespective of race or colour, to draw up a Freedom Charterfor the democratic South Africa of the future”.The proposal was sent to the national conference of ANC in December and was approved by it.At the invitation of the ANC, the South African Indian Congress, the Coloured People’sOrganisation and the Congress of Democrats agreed to co-sponsor the Congress and joined aJoint Action Committee set up for preparatory work.At the request of Chief Albert Lutuli, President-General of ANC, Professor Matthews prepared amemorandum on the proposed Congress in which he said:“The main task of the Congress will be to draw up a ‘Freedom Charter' for all people andgroups in South Africa. From such a Congress ought to come a Declaration which willinspire all the peoples of South Africa with fresh hope for the future, which will turn theminds of the people away from the sterile and negative struggles of the past and thepresent to a positive programme of freedom in our lifetime. Such a Charter properlyconceived as a mirror of the future South African society can galvanise the people of South Africa into action and make them go over into the offensive against the reactionaryforces at work in this country, instead of being perpetually on the defensive, fightingrearguard actions all the time."While the proposal thus arose from the dynamics of the struggle in South Africa, perhapsconcern for mobilising support of world opinion also played some part.Professor Matthews had been teaching at the Union Theological Seminary in New York duringthe Defiance Campaign and had followed the discussion of apartheid in the United NationsGeneral Assembly. In December 1952
the Assembly set up a United Nations Commission on theRacial Situation in the Union of South Africa (UNCORS) to study the situation and report. Italso adopted a resolution, submitted by Nordic countries, declaring that in a multiracial societyharmony and respect for human rights and freedoms are best assured when patterns of legislation and practice were directed at ensuring equality before the law of all persons.
3In its first annual report of October 3, 1953
the Commission recommended to the GeneralAssembly:"The United Nations might suggest ways and means in which the Union might draw up anew policy: for example, a round table conference of members of different ethnic groupsof the Union, which would, in an effort toward conciliation, make proposals to theGovernment to facilitate the peaceful development of the racial situation in the Union of South Africa. The United Nations might offer its help to that conference by sending anumber of United Nations representatives, so that all parties might be sure that thePrinciples of the Charter would guide the debates."In a joint memorandum to UNCORS in 1954
the African National Congress of South Africa andthe South African Indian Congress referred to this recommendation and said:“In view of the intransigence of the Union Government it is almost impossible to expectsuch a recommendation receiving a favourable response from Dr. Malan's Government inthe foreseeable future."However, the African National Congress has taken initiative in the matter and togetherwith the South African Indian Congress, the South African Congress of Democrats andthe South African Coloured People's Organisation is proposing to convene a Congress of the People by not later than June 1955
“For the first time in the history of South Africa all racial groups are co-operating tobring about an assembly elected directly by the people throughout the country to frame aFreedom Charter embodying the demands and aspirations of all sections of the SouthAfrican population.”
The Commission noted this initiative with satisfaction.
It devoted a section of its report to theGeneral Assembly in 1955
to the Congress of the People, and reproduced the full text of the“Freedom Charter” unanimously adopted by the Congress.Two months before the Congress of the People, in April 1955
the Asian-African Conferencewas held in Bandung, Indonesia, and was attended by all independent States in the twocontinents. The conveners excluded the Union of South Africa from the list of invitees. Adelegation from South Africa, composed of Moses Kotane of ANC and Molvi Cachalia of theSouth African Indian Congress, attended the Conference as observers and met with many of theHeads of State or Government of Asia and Africa.
Second report of the United Nations Commission on the Racial Situation in the Union of SouthAfrica (A/2719), paragraph 203.
., paragraph 371.

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