When will the Freedom Charter be realised in SA?

IT WAS not easy growing up on the Cape Flats, especially not in an area like Hanover Park, which was known for its gangsterism and unemployment. But I grew up in the area more than 40 years ago and the sad thing is that the situation does not seem to have improved.

When we were fighting against apartheid, we were inspired by the Freedom Charter, which promised that “there shall be houses, security and comfort”.

It is sometimes good to remind ourselves what was written in the Freedom Charter, which was adopted at Kliptown, Soweto, on June 26, 1955. This is what it said under the clause of “houses, security and comfort”:

“All people shall have the right to live where they choose, to be decently housed, and to bring up their families in comfort and security; unused housing space to be made available to the people; rent and prices shall be lowered, food plentiful and no one shall go hungry; a preventive health scheme shall be run by the state; free medical care and hospitalisation shall be provided for all, with special care for mothers and young children; slums shall be demolished, and new suburbs built where all have transport, roads, lighting, playing fields, crèches and social centres; the aged, the orphans, the disabled and the sick shall be cared for by the state; rest, leisure and recreation shall be the right of all; fenced locations and ghettoes shall be abolished, and laws which break up families shall be repealed.”

In the dark days of apartheid, we saw in our minds a picture of what the Freedom Charter envisaged. We were determined that a democratic South Africa would be one in which there would be no or little gangsterism, that the government would build decent houses and see to the other needs expressed in this, and the nine other clauses in the Freedom Charter.

It is sad that the situation in most cases is still the same as it was under apartheid, especially in the townships. Granted, there are black people who have benefited economically in democratic South Africa but most people are still waiting to reap the benefits of the not-so-new South Africa.

In places like Hanover Park, families are still being held hostage by gangsters who operate with impunity. For many young people, the only way to survive is by joining gangs who, at least, provide you with protection in certain areas.

Most of the young boys who grew up with me were wooed by gangs and some of them succumbed. In an environment where you are not likely to matriculate and, if you do, you are not likely to be able to afford to go to university (or you might not qualify to go), and you will struggle to find work, gangs provide a refuge against a multitude of problems.

Gangs often provide a home for young people who might not feel they belong in society. I know, because I flirted with being a gang member in my early teens. Fortunately for me, sanity prevailed and I concentrated on my studies.

I discovered in those days that, if you had a talent - such as being good at music or sport - the gangs would allow you the freedom to pursue your dreams. It also helped if you were better than average academically.

It is sad that things have not changed for the better in places like Hanover Park but it is even sadder that things do not look like improving any time soon.

It is not that government does not know the problems. The National Development Plan, which was launched five years ago this week, outlines in a very comprehensive manner the problems in our society and the goals we need to achieve to become a better place.

The NDP outcomes, for instance, talk about “sustainable human settlements and improved quality of life”, “improved quality of basic education”, “all people in South Africa are to feel safe” and “a long and healthy life for all South Africans”.

For people in Hanover Park and other townships on the Cape Flats, this means nothing. And it will continue to mean nothing as long as people do not feel safe in their houses and are unable to do anything to improve their living conditions due to a lack of job opportunities or chances to engage the economy in a meaningful way.

The government needs to focus beyond the narrow vision that it seems to have and engage poor communities in a discussion about how they can finally feel that they have a stake in our country. The Freedom Charter says, “that our country will never be prosperous or free until all our people live in brotherhood, enjoying equal rights and opportunities; that only a democratic state, based on the will of all the people, can secure to all their birthright without distinction of colour, race, sex or belief”.

More than 62 years after the adoption of the Freedom Charter and 23 years into our democracy, it would be important for politicians to remember these words.

(First published as a Thinking Allowed column in the Weekend Argus on Saturday, 16 September 2017)