Address by ANC Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa at Freedom Charter Forum, 29 September 2015, Pietermaritzburg City Hall

Comrades and compatriots,

It is an honour and a privilege to participate in this Freedom Charter Forum organised by the ANC Youth League.

I wish to commend the Youth League for placing the Freedom Charter at the centre of its programme.

In many ways, the Freedom Charter was a product of the political revival brought about by the formation of the ANC Youth League.

The League has returned to the source. Under its newly-elected national leadership, it is getting back to the basics.

Now that its 25th National Congress has concluded, we must invest all our energies to ensure that the Youth League succeeds in its programmes and in mobilising youth to achieve the vision of the Freedom Charter.

We look to the ANC Youth League to lead society in fostering social inclusion, engendering social cohesion and promoting nation building.

We wish to thank the Youth League and its alliance partners for embarking on a dialogue process aimed at achieving the unity of purpose of the Progressive Youth Alliance.

A united Youth Alliance means a united and more capable ANC.

Within the Youth League, members are already engaged in robust internal and public debate on what will keep the Youth League relevant and purposeful.

Writing in the Sunday Independent this past Sunday, Comrade Gugu Ndima, a member of the Youth League, poses the question:

"What does it mean to be a member of the ANC Youth League? Has it been reduced to a voice or mechanism to allocate patronage in the ruling party and the state? Has it become a private battalion to be used in battles of the ANC and are members of the youth league sacrificed at the altar of factionalism?"

For her, "the Youth League must be at the forefront of policy discourse, and frank, uncomfortable truths about the state of young people and even the mother body."

As we prepare ourselves for the upcoming NGC, we know that the Youth League will not only offer penetrating critiques of our policies, but will also offer viable alternatives and propose feasible strategies to ensure that we speedily achieve a truly prosperous non-racial, non-sexist, democratic society.

Comrades and compatriots,

From its formation, the African National Congress has provided leadership at all critical moments in our country's history.

As the Union of South Africa was established to the exclusion of the majority of our people, African leaders came together to form the South African Native National Congress.

As the Second World War drew to a close and the Atlantic Charter adopted by the Allies appeared to point the way to a new world order, the ANC produced the Africans' Claims in South Africa.

In keeping with this tradition, Professor ZK Matthews proposed that a Congress of the People be convened to draw up a Freedom Charter.

The Congress Alliance took up this proposal with enthusiasm.

The first planning meeting of the Congress Alliance in March 1954 was held not far from here, at uThongathi, under the leadership of Chief Albert Luthuli.

The Congress Alliance called on all South Africans to speak of freedom. It called on them to draw up their demands for "the things that will make us free".

As Madiba recounted, these demands "came on serviettes, on paper torn from exercise books, on scraps of foolscap, on the back of our own leaflets."

From across the country, people responded in their numbers, leading to the adoption of the Freedom Charter in Kliptown on 26 June 1955.

The Congress of the People was the biggest single gathering of representatives of the people in South Africa, with about 300 delegates coming from Natal.

The Youth League in this province must be inspired by the Freedom Charter activists like the late Harry Gwala, Archie Gumede, Moses Mabhida, Dorothy Nyembe, William Khanyile, Billy Nair, S.B. Mungal, Dr Motala, Chief Mini and many others.

The Freedom Charter campaign had a profound effect on the Congress movement and its organisational structures and capability.

It cemented the non-racial character of the movement, both in terms of its content and its composition.

It enabled the Congress movement to expand its organisational reach beyond the urban areas, transforming it in a fully-fledged national movement.

As Ismail Vadi notes in his 1995 history of the Freedom Charter:

"The campaign for the Congress of the People and the Freedom Charter introduced within the liberation movement a degree of ideological uniformity and cohesion that did not exist previously."

The Freedom Charter provided a clear and concise set of policies, aims and objectives and principles.

It served as a vision of a post-apartheid South Africa, which was to be used as a mobilising and organising weapon in the struggle for democracy.

It called for a fundamental restructuring of all aspects of South African society.

Today, 60 years later, we celebrate the Freedom Charter not as an historical artifact, but as an enduring vision of a free and democratic society that continues to inspire and guide our struggle.

It was the late Oliver Tambo who said:

"The Freedom Charter was not just another political document, the Congress of the People was not just another conference. The Freedom Charter is the sum total of our aspirations, but more: it is the road to the new life."

Comrades and friends,

We have travelled far down this road.

We have established a democratic state based on the will of the people.

Apartheid laws and practices have been set aside.

Our Constitution recognises the equal rights of all.

Yet we know that we still have much further to travel down the road to the new life.

We are still confronted by poverty and hunger, inequality and unemployment.

We have yet to give full effect to the demand of the Freedom Charter that "The People Shall Share in the Country's Wealth".

This demand in the Freedom Charter has been a consistent thread that runs through the policies and programmes of the ANC, defining its tactics and guiding its actions.

In the Strategy and Tactics document adopted at the Morogoro Conference in 1969, the ANC said:

"Our drive towards national emancipation is therefore in a very real way bound up with economic emancipation... Our people are deprived of their due in the country's wealth; their skills have been suppressed and poverty and starvation has been their life experience. The correction of these centuries-old economic injustices lies at the very core of our national aspirations."

As we cement the political gains of the last two decades, the task of economic transformation has gained in prominence.

At the ANC's 53rd National Conference in Mangaung in 2002, we spoke about a second phase of our transition, which should have at its core "a concerted drive to eradicate poverty and to reduce inequality".

This imperative is central also to the priorities outlined in the National Development Plan and the outcomes contained in government's Medium-Term Strategic Framework.

Comrades and friends,

As we grapple with this momentous task, we need to turn to the Freedom Charter for guidance and perspective.

When the Congress of the People declared that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, it made the bold claim that all South Africans have a right to an equal share of the country's natural resources.

They must share in ownership of, and access to, the means of production.

They must all have a fair share of national income and public resources.

The Freedom Charter envisages a mixed economy with both public and private ownership.

It envisages a developmental state that plays a leading role in ensuring economic access to those previously denied economic opportunity.

It envisages a state with sufficient legal authority and economic means to ensure decent working conditions and to take steps to improve the lives of the poor and marginalised.

It envisages a national democratic society.

We must understand that Freedom Charter is not a set of policy instruments.

It is a vision of a new society, to which we must give effect.


In 1994, we inherited an economy that had severe structural flaws and that was floundering.

Economic growth had been slowing for more than a decade. Employment had been in decline.

Public debt had reached unsustainable levels. The budget deficit was growing.

Since then, we have managed to turn around an economy in decline and established a foundation for growth and development.

We have achieved and maintained macroeconomic stability.

We have managed public finances prudently, brought down public debt and reduced inflation.

From 1998 until the onset of the global financial crisis in 2008, South Africa had the longest recorded period of uninterrupted economic growth in its history.

In the first sixteen years of ANC government, the economy grew twice as fast as it had over the last 16 years of apartheid.

There has been an increase in fixed investment, by both the state and private sector.

We have undertaken unprecedented investment in social infrastructure and services, bringing houses, electricity, water and sanitation to millions of poor South Africans.

The middle class has grown as more black South Africans have been lifted out of poverty and gained access to new opportunities.

There has been a reduction in both absolute and relative poverty since 1994. This has largely been due to social grants, better access to education and health services, and increased economic participation.

And yet, our unemployment rate has remained stubbornly high.

While the number of jobs created has been increasing, the number of people looking for work has increased even faster.

More young people have been entering the labour market each year. More women are entering the workplace and urbanisation is bringing more people into the cash economy.

So, despite the progress made, we still have a long way to go.

Too many of our people still live in poverty.

Levels of inequality have remained among the highest in the world, with the richest 10% of households receiving over half the national income.

Household savings have been declining steadily since the 1990s. South African consumers are highly indebted.

There has been slow growth in those sectors of the economy - like manufacturing and agriculture - that provide the greatest opportunity for job creation and improved export earnings.

Although we have improved access to schools, universities and other educational institutions, our educational outcomes do not meet the requirements of a dynamic modern economy.

These economic indicators are important because they provide a measure of the extent to which we have been able to restore the wealth of our country to the people.

They also provide a sense of the constraints we must contend with and the opportunities we must exploit to advance this effort.


We must use the occasion of the 60th anniversary of the Freedom Charter to reflect on our gains and short-comings.

We must mobilise all South Africans not only to speak of freedom, but to work together to achieve that freedom.

If we are to realise the vision of the Freedom Charter, we need an unrelenting focus on the economy. It must be placed at the centre of all our efforts.

The National Development Plan maintains that we need to achieve over 5% annual GDP growth to reach our economic and social objectives. By 2030, our GDP per capita needs to have doubled.

To achieve this, the productive sectors of the economy - like manufacturing, agriculture and mining - need to account for a greater share of economic output and employment.

We need to add more value to the mineral resources we extract through greater beneficiation, reducing our dependence on the export of unprocessed commodities, boosting domestic manufacturing and creating jobs.

Through our industrial policy, we are implementing measures to reconfigure the economic landscape.

We are working to ensure a more efficient regulatory framework and lower the prices of key inputs like electricity, telecommunications, education and health.

We are innovating. We are working to improve productivity and become more competitive.

At the same time, we are working to ensure that growth is also inclusive.

The benefits of growth need to be more equitably shared.

That means we need to create jobs at a faster rate.

But we face a significant challenge.

Our economy does not have the skills to compete with countries with skills intensive industries, and our production costs are too high to be competitive in labour intensive sectors.

We therefore need to do two things at the same time.

Firstly, we need to create jobs for the millions of unemployed, many of which will be relatively low-skilled and low-paying.

Secondly, we need to move quickly to protect and expand access to decent jobs.

We have to promote and grow industries that are labour absorbing, such as mining, agriculture, construction, hospitality and small businesses.

We also have to grow the more advanced sectors of the economy, such as manufacturing, financial services, telecommunications and businesses services.

And critical to both of these - critical to the achievement of economic emancipation - is skills development.

We need a skills revolution.

We recall the clause of the Freedom Charter that was read out in Kliptown by the late, great Es'kia Mphahlele, that:

"The Doors of Learning and Culture Shall be Opened!"


"All the cultural treasures of mankind shall be open to all, by free exchange of books, ideas and contact with other lands;"

"The aim of education shall be to teach the youth to love their people and their culture, to honour human brotherhood, liberty and peace;"

Since 1994, the democratic government led by the ANC has significantly increased enrolment in schools, universities and colleges. More than 7 million learners attend no-fee schools today.

South Africa spends about 5% of its GDP on basic education. In the next few years, much of this will go to improving school infrastructure, ensuring all learners receive suitable learning materials, and improving teacher training.

Priority is being given to the expansion of Technical and Vocational Education and Training colleges, while improving their relevance, efficiency and quality.

The university education system will also continue to expand.

Enrolment is expected to grow from 950,000 students in 2012 to approximately 1.1 million students in 2019, and to 1.6 million students by 2030.

The amount disbursed annually by the National Student Financial Aid Scheme has grown by approximately 270% since 2008, and is expected to grow even further in the next few years.

This is where we look to the ANC Youth League for leadership.

The Youth League is with and among the students of this country. It strives tirelessly to advance their interests.

The Youth League is infused with the progressive politics of the liberation movement.

It is not swayed by reckless adventurism.

We look to the ANC Youth League to mobilise the masses of our youth to drive the expansion of educational opportunities, to broaden access through innovative financial support, and to improve the quality of our teaching and the value of our learning.

As we improve our educational outcomes, our immediate priority is to get unemployed people, particularly the youth, into jobs.

Public employment programmes can play an important role.

Over 5 million work opportunities have been created since the establishment of the Expanded Public Works Programme, and we are determined to meet our target of creating another 6 million during the term of this government.

Not only does this programme provide income for poor households. It also provides training and experience that can assist young people in making the transition to permanent employment.


The Freedom Charter provides a vision of an economy that is fundamentally different from what we inherited.

It calls for radical economic transformation.

It is our responsibility to effect this change.

As cadres of the broad democratic movement, as students and as progressive citizens, we need to use this 60th anniversary to reflect, think, organise, mobilise and conscientise.

We need to debate the Freedom Charter, in our institutions, in our clubs, in our media and in our communities.

Like the amavolontiya of the 1950s, we need to reach out to our people to discuss the Freedom Charter.

Like them, we need to be disciplined, we need to be earnest, we need listen to the people and work together to address their concerns.

The anniversary of the Freedom Charter gives us an opportunity to broaden and deepen the political consciousness of our nation.

In an article written on the occasion of the 30th Anniversary of the Freedom Charter, the revolutionary intellectual Mzala - a native of this province - said:

"We defend, fight and die for, the ideals enshrined in the Freedom Charter, not because it is an all-time document, but because it is a revolutionary guide to a life free of misery and oppression.

"It is the demands of the people that have yet to be won. These are the kind of ideals which most nations achieve, ideals for which men and women stubbornly and heroically resist torture in detention and gruelling lives in exile, ideals for which our martyred dead stood firm and unflinching to the last minute of their lives.

"Such ideals cannot be taken lightly."

So let all who love their people and their country now say:

"These freedoms we will fight for, side by side, throughout our lives, until we have won our liberty."

I thank you.