I don’t want to dwell on whether or not the delivery of ANC President Jacob Zuma’s speech on the occasion of the ANC’s centenary celebration was or wasn’t well delivered. I would rather delve on the contents of the speech.
Zuma began his January 8th statement marking the centenary of the founding of the ANC with a self-contradictory statement which is also controversial. He quoted the preamble of the Freedom Charter which states that “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white”. Zuma then said, “in 1913 the Land Act was enacted which dispossessed the Africans of their land”. He didn’t say “all who live in South Africa, black and white were dispossessed of their land”, he said the Africans were dispossessed of their land. How then does South Africa belong to all who live in it, black and white when South Africa was usurped from Africans? The founders of the PAC who were known as the Africanists said it in 1955 when the Freedom Charter reared its ugly head that it didn’t make sense because it was a betrayal of African Nationalism and of the material interests of the African people. They also demanded to know its author whose name was never revealed. In his book Young Mandela first published in 2010, David James Smith reveals that the Freedom Charter was written by a white Communist Party member, Rusty Bernstein. The Freedom Charter is also a repudiation of the African people’s anti-colonialist stance of “Africa for the Africans”.
Zuma also said the Freedom Charter was Professor ZK Matthews’ idea. It’s true that it was his idea which he raised at the regional ANC conference in August 1953 and later drafted a memo to define more clearly his ambition for a dream of freedom for all, a blueprint for a democratic, non-racial South Africa. However, the contraption that Bernstein wrote was not what Professor ZK Matthews envisaged. Zuma and many in the ANC who claim that the idea of the Freedom Charter was Professor ZK Matthews’ invariably fail to mention that he then took no further part in the exercise, never even saw the draft charter that was drawn up and did not attend the conference himself because he felt sidelined and excluded from the process that he had set in motion. The campaign fell into the hands of a National Action Council, which offended the Africanists by being neither exclusively African nor giving sufficient prominence to the ANC.
Bernstein didn’t think anyone ever actually read and agreed to the draft before it went to the press. Professor Matthews was not alone in never seeing the draft. The ANC President Chief Albert Luthuli was never shown a copy either because at the time he was banned and still in Groutville. Former ANC President Dr AB Xuma had written a letter which complained that the new leadership was forgetting its old values and was too quick to join with other races and that the ANC was losing its identity. That new ANC leadership suppressed Dr Xuma’s letter, reading only parts of it. That same leadership had difficulties adopting the Freedom Charter.