They were all there the second time around on Kliptown square: the president and his deputy, cabinet ministers, diplomats, officials, Albertina Sisulu, Adelaide Tambo, and of course, Nelson Mandela and several dozen veterans who were there with him 50 years ago.
And several thousand ordinary citizens. To commemorate the drafting of the Freedom Charter, in a new square that will be the catalyst to the rejuvenation of the desperately rundown and poor Kliptown of 2005.
“All of us are very pleased and greatly inspired that today we have among us some of the patriots who mobilised the people to contribute to the drafting of the Freedom Charter, and otherwise helped to organise the Congress of the People," said President Thabo Mbeki. "To these veteran volunteers, we say thank you for everything you did, which gave us the founding document of our democratic order.
”We pledge to you that we will continue to do everything in our power to ensure the realisation of the vision projected by the Freedom Charter, which has now found expression in our national Constitution.”
At times during the speeches the crowds could not contain their singing – they had to be asked to be quiet.
Among the dignitaries the same joyous spirit existed – cabinet ministers, with tags labelling them VVIPs - joked with one another and others with tags denoting “Important Person”, or VIPs. Some occasionally got up and danced to the music while waiting for the president and others to arrive. Some even caught up on their weekend’s reading, while sitting in the front row.
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and ex-deputy president Jacob Zuma arrived to a stir from the crowd. Mandela arrived with his legendary smile, to much smiling and cheering, and Sisulu arrived in a wheelchair, together with Tambo, smiling and waving to the crowds.
The day started at 9am with live music, but the serious business of speech-making started at 11.30am, under a bright, blue sky.
Tambo, who was present as a young nurse of 26 at the 1955 meeting, said: “We are standing on holy ground. Never before in the history of South Africa has there been such a gathering of the people [as in 1955]. Many, too many, have given their lives to the struggle. Some never made it back, their contributions are largely unknown. The struggle for the liberation of our country was long and costly.”
She described the day 50 years ago as bright and sunny – “the sun had warmed the earth”. She arrived at 9am and by 11am the field was packed.
She concluded: “Verwoerd must be turning in his grave to see how much the Bantu have achieved.” The crowd cheered.
Anand Sharma, director of information of the Indian Congress Party (Mahatma Gandhi’s party), who had travelled from India, said: “I greet you on behalf of the global anti-apartheid movement. It was an honour to support that struggle.This is an occasion to reflect and remember, to salute the heroes of yesteryear, to ensure that all present here can breathe that freedom.”
Freedom in our life time
Sharma said that four words of conviction rang in his ear: “Freedom in our life time.”
To help achieve that freedom, he said he was very proud that the Indian government and people had imposed sanctions on South Africa, as a protest against apartheid.
He made special mention of Archbishop Trevor Huddleston, who, in the 12 years he lived in Johannesburg, worked energetically in protest against the injustices of apartheid.
Sharma concluded: “Your struggle was a triumph of the people of Africa. Eleven years is not enough to undo centuries of denial. We convey to you our good wishes in succeeding with your vision.”
Freedom Charter a national heritage
Executive Mayor of Johannesburg, Amos Masondo, said: “The Freedom Charter is a national heritage. It belongs to you and me. It belongs to those who came before us and those who will come after us.”
Gauteng Premier Mbhazima Shilowa started his speech by singing, taken up readily by the crowd. He said: “Today’s celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Charter is also a celebration of the generation of the 1950s who defied apartheid oppression and injustices and dared to speak of freedom. We are indeed privileged to have with us today as our special guests, representatives of this generation.”
Shilowa reminded the assembled guests that the contribution made by Walter Sisulu to the struggle was inestimable.
He talked about the overdue renewal of Kliptown. ”Today’s gathering at the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication is the realisation of a dream in another sense as well. As far back as 2001 we conceptualised the Kliptown urban renewal programme as a living monument to the Freedom Charter and to the memory of Tata Walter Sisulu.
“We did not set out to create a monument that people can stand in awe of. We set out to create a monument that would do justice to the Kliptown heritage site where the Freedom Charter was adopted, honour Tata Sisulu and many of our freedom fighters and which would contribute to improving the lives and living conditions of the people of Kliptown and the surrounding areas in a meaningful and lasting manner.”
Kliptown Development Project
The Kliptown Development Project envisages tarred streets, restored houses with electricity and sewerage, new houses, open park space, an informal trader market and sports facilities.
Shilowa announced that a new museum was to open in the new buildings on either side of the square, undergoing finishing touches. The museum is to be called The People Shall Govern Museum, and will trace the history of the charter.
The museum will be housed in one of the two new buildings that encase the square, in a R110-million project. The buildings will allow space for 500 hawkers in small stalls, and will contain offices, banks, formal retail space, a tourism office, restaurants, an art gallery and the community hall.
The renewal programme also involves the preservation of historical buildings in Kliptown, such as the houses of activists Charlotte Maxeke and Stanley Lollan, and exile artist Gerard Sekoto.
Mbeki brought the struggle forward to 2005: “We have been engaged in this struggle [from poverty and disease] for 11 years now, starting from the very first day of the victory of the democratic revolution in 1994. Today, speaking in Kliptown, at this historic home of the Congress of the People that now bears the illustrious name of Walter Sisulu, I would like to repeat what millions of our people said as we fought to defeat the apartheid regime – the struggle continues, and victory is certain.”
Mbeki moved behind the podium to the conical-shaped, tall tower, the Freedom Charter Monument, and lit a flame that will burn continuously.
Singing legend Miriam Makeba stepped on to the podium, and the crowd settled into an afternoon of music and celebration.
Back at the Nasrec Conference Centre, where a spread had been laid out for the veterans, 81-year-old Shadrack Nkonyane said: “Last time we were fighting for freedom, now we’ve got it.”