The Congress of the People and Freedom Charter: A People’s History

The Congress of the People – where the Freedom Charter was formally approved by several thousand delegates – was held over the weekend of 25–26 June 1955 in an open field in Kliptown, south of Johannesburg. It was a colourful and dramatic affair. For Ellen Lambert the CoP was seen as “the day of liberation like Martin Luther’s meeting where he gave the ‘I have a dream’ speech.

The official report of the National Action Council that coordinated the entire campaign stated that there were 2 844 delegates representing all the most important urban centres, with approximately 300 delegates from Natal, 250 from the Eastern and Western Cape, 50 from the OFS and the rest came from the Transvaal, mainly from Johannesburg.

The CoP opened under the chairmanship of Dr W Conco with a prayer by Reverend Gawe and a speech delivered on behalf of Chief Albert Luthuli, who could not attend because of his banning order. This was followed by the presentation of the Isitwalandwe – an honour of a bird feather conferred on distinguished sons of the Xhosa people – to Chief Albert Luthuli, Dr Yusuf Dadoo and Father Trevor Huddleston “in recognition of their work to build a better life in our country, founded upon democracy and equality”. After this each clause of the Freedom Charter was motivated by various speakers as listed below; limited discussion and comments were elicited from the delegates, and the clause was adopted by a show of hands:

Preamble of the Freedom Charter – Alfred Hutchinson

The People Shall Govern – NT Naicker

All National Groups Shall Have Equal Rights – Dr Letele

The People Shall Share in the Country’s Wealth – Ben Turok

The Land Shall Be Shared Amongst Those Who Work It – TE Tshunungwa

All Shall Be Equal before the Law – Dr A Sader

All Shall Enjoy Equal Human Rights – Sonya Bunting

There Shall Be Work and Security – Leslie Masina

The Doors of Learning and Culture Shall Be Opened – Es’kia Mphahlele


About the Author

Dr Ismail Vadi is a Member of the Executive Council for Roads and Transport in Gauteng. He currently serves on the Gauteng Provincial Executive Committee of the ANC and the Board of the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation. 

He was born in Kliptown in 1960, where the historic Congress of the People was held. He is a former school teacher and lecturer at the Faculty of Education, University of the Witwatersrand. He has had a varied political career. He was an activist in the Transvaal Indian Congress and the United Democratic Front. He was a founder member of the Progressive Teachers’ League and the South African Democratic Teachers’ Union. 

Parameters of Book:
Author: Ismail Vadi
ISBN: 9781928232124
E-book ISBN:  
Size (mm): 210x148mm
Pages: 192pp
Format: Paperback
Colour: Black and White
Rights: World
Language: English
Publication Date: July 2015
Availability In Stock