Mbeki praises freedom fighters

President Thabo Mbeki paid tribute on Sunday to the “mighty legions of the freedom fighters” who sacrificed their lives to free South Africans from apartheid.

“We pledge to you that we will continue to do everything within our power to ensure the realisation of the vision projected by the Freedom Charter, which has now found expression in our national Constitution,” Mbeki told about 20 000 people gathered in Kliptown, Soweto, to mark the document’s 50th anniversary.

“Central to that vision is the course on which the Freedom Charter set our country when it said ‘South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white’.”

Mbeki said it would take time to see the demands contained in the Freedom Charter become fully realised in the same way as it took a long time to achieve liberation in South Africa.

“We achieved our emancipation from white minority domination after a costly and protracted struggle. We have been engaged in the struggle (to improve people’s lives) for 11 years now, starting from the very first day of the victory of the democratic revolution in 1994.

“We have today (Sunday), at this historic gathering, restated the objectives and freedoms enunciated in the Freedom Charter, in order to make a commitment, as did the delegates who met here at the Congress of the People 50 years ago, that ‘these freedoms we will fight for, side by side ...’,” Mbeki said.

After his speech Mbeki lit an eternal flame and unveiled the design of the Freedom Charter National Monument.

“The flame will not go out even if it rains,” Mannie Dipico, Mbeki’s parliamentary councillor, told the crowd.

Gauteng premier Mbhazima Shilowa, who also addressed the crowd, praised the people who drew up the charter in 1955, some of whom were present at the celebration.

“It was your vision which inspired millions of South Africans,” he said.

“It was our ideals and aspirations which left us a lasting legacy of freedom and democracy.

“We owe you a great debt of gratitude for this legacy of the freedom charter. We say thank you,” said Shilowa, who was joined by dignitaries as he sang struggle songs before his speech.

The event was attended by African National Congress leaders and veterans from the struggle against apartheid, including former president Nelson Mandela, Albertina Sisulu, widow of Walter Sisulu after whom the venue was named, and Mandela’s ex-wife and former ANC Women’s league president Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

Former deputy president Jacob Zuma, whose smiling face was seen on four big screens mounted on walls facing the crowd, received a rapturous welcome.

He was accompanied by Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota and Kgalema Motlanthe, the general secretary of the ANC.
Zuma was seated not far from the newly appointed Deputy President Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka.

South African Communist Party leader Blade Nzimande was present, but of the opposition parties, only the Independent Democrats appeared to take part in the celebrations.

No representatives from the Inkatha Freedom Party, the African Christian Democratic Party, the Democratic Alliance or the United Christian Democratic Party had arrived by the time Mbeki had started his speech.

Some opposition parties had described the event as a waste of public money and an ANC rally.

“The UCDP (United Christian Democratic Party) maintains that the millions set aside for the occasion should have been used to improve the quality of life of the residents of Kliptown and other people in the country,” party spokesman, Sipho Mfundisi, said on Saturday.

At the event most of the crowd wore white T-shirts with the words of the Freedom Charter displayed on the back.

An extract from the document reads: “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white. No government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of the people.” - Sapa

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