Rent and prices shall be lowered

The Freedom Charter was adopted in 1955. It reflects the rejection of much of the status quo in South Africa and is the aggregate and synthesis of thousands of “freedom demands” from the population at that time. It is an inspirational document and reflects how bad things were for most South Africans at that time.

The problems became worse before they became better, but since the early 90s a large number of the principles have already been effected:

    Every man and woman shall have the right to vote for and to stand as a candidate for all bodies which make laws;

    All 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;

One point that decreases the current value of the Freedom Charter as a guide to out collective future is that it’s not all principles, but rather includes some practical changes:

All bodies of minority rule, advisory boards, councils and authorities shall be replaced by democratic organs of self-government .

Once we’ve done that, how useful is the statement? I would have hoped more for principles espousing the virtues of government and public organs considering all citizens of the country and being representative of the country. That would be still relevant in our imperfect current society.

Other aspects seem to have been forgotten by some political factions:

South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white

And some seem not be applied equally in all directions:

All national groups shall be protected by law against insults to their race and national pride;

Prisons, unfortunately, are fuller than ever and less rehabilitative than ever. At least political prisoners are no longer a feature:

Imprisonment shall be only for serious crimes against the people, and shall aim at re-education, not vengeance;

A more serious problem for me is the occasional naivete of some of the more hopefuly statements. This reflects the position in the 1950’s and how understanding on these issue has developed since then, the rise and utter failure of communism since then and arguably the complexity of understanding economics at a detailed level by broader segments of the population.

Rent and prices shall be lowered, food plentiful and no-one shall go hungry;

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 industry and trade shall be controlled to assist the wellbeing of the people;

“Rent and prices shall be lowered” – how will that be done again? How will that be achieved without reducing incentives to produce food? Who will own these properties on which rentals are limited? Who will build additional housing without adequate return?

It’s interesting that some factions that strongly support the Freedom Charter also want lower interest rates and higher inflation.

Nationalised banks and mines and “monopoly industry” – well now you know the origins of the debate around nationalisation. I’m not going to argue in this post about the merits or not of nationalisation (there is a debate there with advantages and disadvantages), but it’s clear that the communist views of the 50s have been brought into the second decade of the new millennium mostly untouched.

The Freedom Charter was a brilliant document and still offers guidance to our country, our fellow citizens and our government today; it is not the infallible, word-of-god roadmap to Utopia that some want it to be.  We must recognise its flaws and short-comings and the idealistic, unworkable statements of hope as input into the debate on economic and developmental policy, but not as the One True Way.