“The Freedom Charter Is Not A Revolutionary Document, It Is Not An Anti-colonialist Document, And It Is A Useless Document”

By Sam Ditshego


The article by Dr Lehlohonolo Kennedy Mahlatsi and Xolani Tseletsele published under the headline, “The Freedom Charter is not a document of the communists but the Congress of the People” has reference. It is extremely difficult to respond to bunkum but I’ll try.

I am not going to repeat most of the inanities and fatuous claims these two communists have made because they use words too loosely such as in their opening paragraph. They are communists but they seem not to understand what a revolution is; they do not know what an ideological decline is, nor opportunistic trend and invented theories. They claim if invented theories are not corrected they will end up being taken as the truth [and] “It is for this reason that we are responding to Sam Ditshego”. One wonders which invented theories they are referring to. In the article they responded to, I mentioned that Robert Sobukwe said that Peter Raboroko wrote an excellent rebuttal to the Freedom Charter and quoted about two paragraphs. I propose to post the entire treatise which I think Dr Mahlatsi and Tseletsele did not bother to peruse.  http://disa.ukzn.ac.za/asapr605

Concerning the second paragraph, these communists wrote, “Ditshego averred that the Freedom Charter was drafted by the white Communists, notably Cdes Joe Slovo and Rusty Bernstein. He further averred that the former Soviet Union and the Communist Party have infiltrated the ANC”.

Dr Mahlatsi and Tseletsele cannot even read properly. I didn’t say “the Freedom Charter was drafted by white Communists, notably Joe Slovo and Rusty Bernstein”. I quoted what Sobukwe said. I am not gainsaying Sobukwe’s statement that the Freedom Charter was drafted by Slovo and his circle as the following quote indicates the way I wrote it in the article to which they responded, “We knew that the Freedom Charter wasn’t actually drafted at the Congress of the People. It had been drafted by ‘Slovo and his circle.’ People just arrived there and found the thing already printed up”. Sobukwe didn’t say “the Freedom Charter was drafted by white Communists and that’s not what I wrote. Dr Mahlatsi and Tseletsele embellished the statement perhaps for sensationalism. Moreover, they quoted it wrongly. I also didn’t write that the Soviet Union infiltrated the ANC, I wrote that the SACP and COD infiltrated the ANC.

This is what I wrote, “Sobukwe and the PAC believed that the Freedom Charter was drafted by Joe Slovo and his circle. It has now emerged that Rusty Bernstein of the SACP and COD single-handedly drafted the Freedom Charter”. The information that Rusty Bernstein wrote the Freedom Charter comes from David James Smith’s well researched book Young Mandela which I reviewed for the Sowetan in 2010. If Dr Mahlatsi and Tseletsele had read the book they probably wouldn’t have written the gobbledygook they wrote in paragraph 10 that “a small group of ANC elements split away, complaining that the ANC had fallen under white influence, and set up their own organisation – the Pan Africanist Congress – as a purely racial organisation allegedly ‘free’ from white influence. As a formal organisational group, the PAC was created in November 1958 after a group of hooligans had failed to break up the ANC conference which was being held in Orlando under the chairpersonship of Cde Oliver Tambo”.

Your correspondents have scant regard for the truth and facts.  Let me debunk their myths.

Let’s examine the facts on the ANC-PAC “split”. The PAC is not a splinter party. The ANC had two documents after its founding – African Claims of the early 1940s and the Programme of Action of 1949 that every member of the ANC at the time they were drafted accepted. In 1955, some members of the ANC, who wanted to smuggle in the Freedom Charter through the back door, came to be known as the Charterists. Other members of the ANC, who were known as the Africanists, objected to this.

A contestation between the groups ensued and ended in an ANC elective conference in 1958, when the Africanists were physically prevented from taking part in elections through thuggery. The late Oliver Tambo admitted he hired thugs to prevent the Africanists from taking part in the elective conference. Who were the real hooligans? The elections went ahead without those who wanted to rescue the ANC from adulteration and political prostitution. Those who hired thugs continued with the election where the Freedom Charter was adopted and incorporated into the Constitution.

This was a completely new organisation. The real ANC members were prevented from participating in the elections and left with the traditions of the ANC to form the PAC. Your correspondents referred to a conference of imposters, characterised by thuggery and intrigue. The ANC of 1912 was not formed the same way as the ANC of 1957/58. Thuggery and intrigue were foreign to the 1912 ANC.

The Africanists wrote a letter to the immediate past president of the ANC, Dr AB Xuma who wrote to that illegitimate ANC elective conference in which he pointed out that the ANC was being taken over by foreigners. He was on the side of the Africanists but the illegitimate conference didn’t read the entire letter choosing instead to read parts of it. Mahlatsi and Ntselentsele are ignorant of this fact. Albert Luthuli and his Deputy Dr Conco knew nothing about the Freedom Charter.

The PAC was a revolutionary organisation and any suggestion to the contrary cannot be borne out by the facts. In the nine months that it was in existence before its proscription in April 1960, the PAC of Sobukwe not only shook the apartheid government to its very foundations but the entire Western world. The 1960 anti-pass campaign collapsed the South African economy, which was bailed out by US companies and banks.

Mahlatsi and Tseletsele wrote that the PAC was a purely racial group but Sobukwe and the PAC gave us the word “non-racialism. Yet they contradict themselves that Patrick Duncan was a member of the PAC. They claim Duncan was attracted to the PAC by its “violent anti-Communist statements” not its non-racial policies. The PAC is an anti-white supremacist organisations and that is clearly spelt out in its founding documents and Robert Sobukwe’s speeches. It is neither an anti-white nor anti-Communist organisation. Some SACP and ANC members should desist from ascribing labels to the PAC that do not form part of its policies. But if they want to malign the PAC when they know the facts, then there is nothing the PAC can do.

It is preposterous that your correspondents insinuated that when the ANC-led alliance with the COD, SAIC and SACPC formed a common front of struggle against Verwoerd’s fascist policies, the Africanists split away as if they were against the alliance fighting against Verwoerd’s fascist policies. However, we know that the apartheid government feared Sobukwe and the PAC more than any political party that has ever existed in South Africa. For example, in 1962, the apartheid government instituted the Snyman Commission of Inquiry into the PAC and POQO, its erstwhile military wing and the forerunners of Apla. About a hundred cadres were hanged in the 1960s at Pretoria Central Prison. There was no such commission of inquiry into the ANC, Umkhonto we Sizwe and the SACP. Considering this and many other PAC and POQO contributions and successes, how can Mahlatsi and Tseletsele even suggest that the PAC was reactionary?

The idea of a freedom charter came from Professor ZK Matthews but what he had in mind is totally different from the contraption that Bernstein wrote. Consequently, Professor Matthews withdrew and no longer took part in the writing of the Freedom Charter and didn’t even attend that Congress of the People.

When the Freedom Charter reared its head, Sobukwe, Zeph Mothopeng, AP Mda, Raboroko and many others were still members of the ANC. Why did they oppose it and why did they question its origin if it was drafted at the Congress of the People. They felt it was a damp squib compared to the 1940 Programme of Action which they considered a bang.

I don’t know what Mahlatsi and Tseletsele saw that made them believe I am espousing an anti-Communist hysteria and that I am a spokesperson of the anti-Communist propaganda that has always been part of the imperialist agenda. I doubt if they are familiar with my writings. It is clear that they just write what comes to their minds.

Who in their right mind can believe the drivel that “since its inception the PAC had been characterised by an insatiable desire to wreck and betray the revolutionary struggle of the oppressed people in our country” and that “their activities had always been aimed not at destroying the oppressive apartheid machinery but at crippling and thwarting the revolutionary programme of ANC as enshrined in the Freedom Charter”? This sounds like the nonsense that Nelson Mandela wrote in his Long Walk to Freedom when he said that the PAC was more interested in eclipsing the ANC than to fight for liberation. What load of crap!

Mandela knew quite well that in his 1962 tour of Africa and Britain, African leaders recognised Sobukwe and the PAC for their radical and uncompromising African Nationalism and Pan Africanism that he told Dr Yusuf Dadoo in London that the ANC will have to adopt the PAC’s stance to earn the support of African leaders and Dr Dadoo became cross with Mandela for speaking in support of the PAC’s radical stance.

Mahlatsi and Tseletsele claim I base my argument on the teachings of rowdy, ill-discipline and politically unscrupulous leaders. They suck their thumbs throughout their factually incorrect rejoinder because they don’t know whose teachings influenced me the same way I don’t know who influences their erroneous thinking, it might be the thugs who prevented the Africanists from taking part in the 1958 ANC elective conference who know?. What’s wrong if Potlako Leballo offered himself as a leader of a truly revolutionary left and anti-imperialist force? Nana Mahomo didn’t present the PAC as a bastion against communist influence but against whites in the SACP who wanted to lead our struggle for liberation. The PAC never “swung from the most virulent racialism against whites and Indians to allowing representatives of both to occupy leading and dominant positions in their apparatus”. Mahlatsi and Tseletsele should go and read Sobukwe’s inaugural address and learn soberly what he said about white supremacy and the Indian merchant class.

Mahlatsi and Tseletsele mentioned the national democratic revolution. The ANC’s interpretation of a national democratic revolution is different from what the real NDR is. This is how I differed with their interpretation of an NDR https://www.iol.co.za/sundayindependent/dispatch/the-ndr-must-accommodate-the-aspirations-of-all-groups-in-sa-13585251

The freedom charter is not a revolutionary document, it is not an anti-colonialist document, and it is a useless document.

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