Congress of the People (1955)
The Congress of the People was a gathering held in Kliptown on 26 June 1955 to lay out the vision of the South African people. The Freedom Charter was drawn-up at the gathering; the charter became the manifesto of the African National Congress and a symbol of internal resistance against apartheid.
The Freedom Charter was the core statement of principles of the Congress Alliance, consisting of the African National Congress (ANC), the South African Indian Congress, the Coloured People's Congress, the South African Congress of Trade Unions (SACTU), and the Congress of Democrats.
A call was sent out to the people of South Africa by the Congress Alliance for proposals for the content of a freedom charter concerning issues such as land, industry, human rights, education and law.:677 Proposals were received in the form of local demands, in the form of new constitutions, as documents and scraps of papers and these proposals were then developed by a sub-committee into a draft document that could be debated at a future Congress of the People.:677 The draft proposal for the charter would be presented to each delegate when they arrived in Johannesburg for the Congress.:79 The delegates were elected from rural and urban areas after advertising for candidates who would be elected by their communities or organizations with funds raised locally to get their representatives to Johannesburg and where not possible, find delegates from their communities that were already present in the city.:79
The Congress of the People, consisting of around 3000 people, gathered in Kliptown outside Johannesburg on 26 June 1955 in a field surrounded by chicken-wire to give it a lawful claim of being a private gathering. The gathering was not prevented from assembling by the South African government. The delegates came from all parts of the country arriving in Johannesburg via car, bus, bicycle, by foot and horseback.:79 The majority of the people in the gathering where Black Africans, with hundreds of people of Indian descent and about a hundred whites. The object of the congress was to write a Freedom Charter representing the aspirations of the black and white South Africans. The aim was to have a lead speaker present each section of the proposed charter and open the section to general discussion and debate by the gathering.:677 This would not happen due to the intervention by the government and each section would be agreed to but not by general discussion.:677
The congress would conclude on 27 June, when the gathering was surrounded by the South African Police and broken up. They made several arrests, confiscated documents and photographed the delegates. The last aim of the Congress was to collect one million signatures by 26 June 1956 to acknowledge the creation of the Freedom Charter. A quota of signatures was decided upon with the following required from each province, Transvaal 450 000, Cape 350 000, Natal 150 000 and the Orange Free State 50 000. The delegates then returned home to report back to their communities or organizations to spread the adoption of the Freedom Charter.:80
By the end of 1955, 156 leading Congress Alliance activists were arrested and tried for treason and the Charter itself would be used as evidence and would eventually be declared illegal. These arrests would result in the 1956 Treason Trial.
- "The Freedom Charter (With a Note by Hilda Bernstein)". Third World Quarterly. 9 (2): 672–677. April 1987. JSTOR 3991903. doi:10.1080/01436598708419993. – via JSTOR (subscription required)
- Suttner, Raymond (1985). "The Freedom Charter: The People's Charter in the 1980s". Crime and Social Justice (24): 72–95. JSTOR 3991903. – via JSTOR (subscription required)
- "Congress of the People Held in South Africa". Africa Today. 2 (3): 10. July 1955. JSTOR 4183718. – via JSTOR (subscription required)
- "The Kliptown Conference". Africa Today. 2 (4): 6. September 1955. JSTOR 4183735. – via JSTOR (subscription required)