What are the basic principles of the ANC?

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The African National Congress is one of the oldest political movements in Africa. Founded in 1912, it now approaches its 100th anniversary.

It initially was a movement for the liberation of Black Africans from colonism by Britain and later by a special type of internal colonisation by White people within the country.
It operated in parallel to other liberation organisations which were non-racial, like the South African Communist Party and racially constituted organisations like the Congress of Democrats (White), South African Coloured Peoples Organisation and the South African Indian Congress (Indian Asians).

The primary statement of the goals of the African National Congress is a document drawn up in 1955, known as the Freedom Charter. This famous document was the culmination of a two year process of organisation and consultation among oppressed people throughout the country. At the end of the process representatives from all regions gathered as the "Congress of The People" at Kliptown in the then Transvaal. They drew up a list of demands which has formed the basis of the programme of action of the ANC for the last 53 years.

The major headings of the Freedom Charter are:
  • Preamble.
  • The People shall Govern.
  • All national groups shall have equal rights.
  • The people shall share in the country's wealth.
  • The land shall be shared among those who work it.
  • All shall be equal before the law.
  • All shall enjoy human rights.
  • There shall be work and security.
  • The doors of learning and culture shall be opened.
  • There shall be houses, security and comfort.
  • There shall be peace and friendship.

Under each heading are a number of more detailed demands.

The Preamble is worth quoting here.

We, the people of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know:
  • That South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people;
  • That our people have been robbed of their birthright to land, liberty and peace by a form of government founded on injustice and inequality;
  • 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 the people, can secure for all their birthright without distinction of colour, race, sex or belief;
  • And therefore, we the people of South Africa, black and white, together equals, countrymen and brothers adopt this Freedom Charter. And pledge ourselves to strive together, sparing nothing of our strength and courage, until the democratic changes here set out have been won.

Much of the spirit of the Freedom Charter was later adopted by the American Civil Rights Movement.

The Freedom Charter has come under criticism from African Nationalists, Black Consciousness activists and various factions of Marxists for its essentially liberal politically centrist views, and for some years it was out of favour as a guiding document. The title 'Charterist' was even seen as perjorative.

However, the collapse of communism and the marginalisation of the Black Consciousness movement as racist resulted in the re-emergence of the Freedom Charter.

The Constitution of the Republic of South Africa, drawn up as part of the democratisation of the country, is closely compatible with the ideals of the Charter. The constitution guides the ANC as government, and the Freedom Charter guides the ANC as a political movement.

The Charter is too broad for use as a working policy document and it has significant omissions relating to important issues like freedom of speech and foreign policy, so actual detailed policy of the party is decided by delegates attending National Congresses of the party, the most recent of which was held in Polokwane in 2007.

The Charter and all later policy documents of the party are to be found on their website www.anc.org.za
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