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  • The struggle for South Africa’s liberation:success and failure1
  • John Saul (bio)

It is true that I’m from Canada and only arrived in Africa, in Tanzania to be specific, in 1965 at the age of 27. Nonetheless, it was in Africa that I grew up, at least politically: not, initially, in South Africa but in Tanzania where I taught for many years and in working with Mozambique’s FRELIMO in exile in Dar es Salaam; in visiting the liberated areas of a new Mozambique in Tete Province in 1972; and, later in teaching in a liberated Mozambique at the Universidade de Eduardo Mondlane.

Of course I visited South Africa throughout these years too, even once in the 1980s, doing so illegally (having been refused a visa), I’ve had books banned by the apartheid government, and I’ve taught here in Jo’burg, just down the road at Wits at the turn of the present century. But, in the 1960s and the 1970s, my ‘African education’ began not with the Freedom Charter but with Fanon, Cabral and Nyerere. We were aware of what the Freedom Charter had to say in 1955, needless to say, and honoured it. But in Dar es Salaam we were beginning to judge movements throughout the continent not by what they said in the heat of struggle but by what they actually did once they were in power. And we were looking for voices – Frantz Fanon, Amilcar Cabral and Julius Nyerere were three such voices – within the camp of liberation that could instruct us.

Let me also make a further specific introductory point if I may. Let me, in fact, pick up from where I left off my brief appearance at the South Africa Book Fair last weekend and, assuming that there’s not too much overlap of audience, even use the same entry point. It seems appropriate to do so in part because I have been instructed by my old friend David Moore to change my topic from the one I had proposed (that being entitled ‘The struggle for [End Page 31] southern African liberation: success or failure?’) to ‘South Africa’s Freedom Charter and its legacy: reflections on anti-colonial programmes, post-colonial practices, and possibilities for the future’ – in order to fit in with the broader topic of the 60th anniversary of the Freedom Charter already established as to the overall theme of the seminar series of which my presentation now makes a contribution.

I shall do so, albeit only in part. As you know the launch of the Freedom Charter occurred in June, 1955, and the anniversary occurred a month ago. But since I wasn’t here a month ago to sample the full range of opinion expressed, I felt free to harken back to an earlier occasion, precisely 30 years ago to be exact – to the moment of the 30th anniversary of the Freedom Charter and to a book of the time, one edited by Raymond Suttner and Jeremy Cronin, that marked that event. And in that book was a text by Steve Tshwete, a Robben Island graduate and an ANC National Executive Committee member who died in 2002. This important text, although it is little noted now, was entitled ‘Understanding the Charter clause by clause’ and it is one that can help me to bridge from the Charter to the present moment of possible recasting of the politics of a new South Africa. For Tshwete, speaking of the Freedom Charter, pointedly wrote:

This is a document of minimum and maximum demands – maximum for the progressive bourgeoisie ... and minimum for the working class [and the poor?]. In other words, the bourgeoisie would not strive for more than is contained in the Charter, while the working class will have sufficient cause to aspire beyond its demands.

What happens after the implementation of the people’s charter – whether there is a socialist democracy or not – will certainly depend on the strength of the working class itself in the class alliance that we call a people’s democracy.

If the working class is strong enough, then a transition to a working class democracy will be easily effected. At that...


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