It is befitting for me to open this historic occasion of the 12th Oral History Association of South Africa’s Annual National Oral History, with an excerpt from the National Development Plan, which states:
“We are connected by the sounds we hear, the sights we see, the scents we smell, the objects we touch, the food we eat, the liquids we drink, the thoughts we think,the emotions we feel, the dreams we imagine.
We are a web of relationships, fashioned in a web of histories, the stories of our lives inescapably shaped by stories of others.
We love sharing our stories in our schools, places of worship, libraries, in the variety of media whatever they may be. We are inevitably and intimately implicated in one another”.
This year’s theme is “Freedom Charter, Memories, and Other (Un) Freedoms”.
In 1955, the people of South Africa came together in order to formulate the document whose existence we celebrate this year. We have had a number of public lectures, open debates, numerous newspaper articles and a reenactment called Time Travel in Kliptown, all on the theme of the Freedom Charter.
Today we begin a three-day marathon on researched papers on the same theme. I hope attention will be given to what events led to the memorable gathering that united our people on the focus of Freedom.
To take a stroll with you down memory lane, I want to begin at the Native Land Act of 1913 which followed the unity of the English colonies and the Boer Republics in 1910. That Act, more than any other oppressive legislation is known to have woken up especially the indigenous people to realize how vulnerable their livelihood was made. Subsequent legislations on land deprivation further strengthened the determination of our people to resist.
Even in the face of the Nationalist Party’s coming into power in 1948 to build the Afrikaner nation at the expense of other race groups our peoples’ determination grew.
The discriminatory laws increased so much that the black people were not sure when they were not guilty of anything. Some of you will remember the struggle song that proclaims that in fact it was the blackness that carries guilt, Cala lami ubumnyama.
Controlled movement of blacks was manifested in Pass Laws, anti- vagrancy laws, anti- loitering, segregated parks, segregated beaches, segregated busses and trains, segregated love affairs and marriages, segregated locations, segregated schools and universities, segregated hospitals, segregated sport etc.
There was so much obsessions with segregation that there were special toilets for people coming from Europe. When we look back we see how sad a situation it was that adult men and women saw that as normal.
Like a tiger that never awaits its chance to jump free even at its tamest moment, the oppressed majority build up strength and awaited the right time, the Kairos moment, as the Greeks say.
The foolishness of Apartheid instead of succeeding in compartmentalizing the people, it brought them together as Blacks, Coloureds, Indians and Whites. Together they formed resistance groups which defied the racial laws.
Together they formed volunteer groups to gather the feelings of people and their expressions of freedoms they demanded.
I shall read the following quotation as it gives the sound of a sixty year old document,
“Let the voice of all people be heard and let the demands of all people for the things that will make us free be recorded. Let the demands be gathered together in a great Charter of Freedom”.
In 1955 the volunteers and the delegates from villages, towns and cities came together in Kliptown and gathered on what is today called the Walter Sisulu Square. The demands were formed into ten clauses of demands.
The shouts of Afrika, Mayibuye reverberated through the South of Johannesburg as the people were encapsulated by the spirit of oneness.
The Freedom Charter reflects the demands of the people who are scholars, farmers, miners, workers in general, men and women irrespective of creed, colour or race. It promotes equality and majority rule. It is a document of peace and not division.
I am forever happy when I see that among us there are learners directly involved in this conference. I commend the efforts of OHASA for ensuring that oral history cascades down to schools so that we have active citizens of the future who will not be ignorant of the sacrifices made by our forbearers in the liberation struggle.
Learners, I want you to note that learning does not only happen in a classroom. Education transcends the four walls and a chalk board. When the Freedom Charter demands that doors of learning and culture be opened to all, it refers to all forms of learning and cultural expressions. It is therefore incumbent to all youths of this country, even the adults, to make use of this opportunity of learning as much as they can and contribute to the development of this nation.
The lessons we can learn from the Freedom Charter are innumerable. We have three days to deliberate, debate, enquire and even disagree.
However, I want today to share the one lesson that the Freedom Charter has taught me.
Although it is not obvious in the ten demands, it is very obvious to all people familiar with the work of the Department of Arts and Culture. That lesson is of Social Cohesion.
The activities of the Defiance Campaign and the gathering of demands for the formulation of the Freedom Charter were clearly grounded on social cohesion. There is no way, ladies and gentlemen that such initiatives could be taken if there was no social cohesion. Men and women volunteered to visit each house and attend each meeting to record the demands to take to Soweto. People travelled long distances by all means available to be at kliptown.
In the absence of hotels for black people the locals took them into their homes and fed them.
Focused on their need for freedom, the people worked together, they did things together as a prototype of what we are today struggling to achieve.
As I conclude, I wish to thank the outgoing members of the executive committee for the dedication they have shown in keeping focus on oral history. When this project was started during the then department of Arts, Culture and Technology, the purpose was to give space to the previously muted stories and experiences of our people.
Looking at the themes you have covered over the last eleven years, one can see that you have not lost the mandate.
The various conferences have addressed among others, issues of violence, trauma, memory, culture, land, archives, classroom learning, methodologies, etc.
I wish the incoming committee when it is elected during this annual national conference, to take OHASA and oral history to another level. Continue to include learners of all provinces to participate.
Go out and deliberately invite those learners from other races to do research and tell their stories. Let them share their clan names and cultural experiences. When you achieve that we shall have moved a step ahead in nation building and social cohesion.
Going back to the Freedom Charter, allow me to close with the final words of our leaders of 1955,
LET ALL WHO LOVE THEIR PEOPLE AND THEIR COUNTRY NOW SAYHERE: THESE FREEDOMS WE WILL FIGHT FOR, SIDE BY SIDE, THROUGHOUT OUR LIVES, UNTIL WE HAVE WON OUR LIBERTY.
These words should ring in our ears throughout the duration of the gathering.
As leaders, we are expected to lead by example, as such, I will conclude by reciting my totem:
“Sadiki muloi wa ṅombe,
A no lowa dzi mafuloni,
A sa lowi dzi madangani.
Kholomo u runga na nzadze,
U runga na matholehadzi.
Sadiki wa tshidzini tsha Ramaleba Magugumela,
Mposi wa misevhe,
Vhatuka vha tshi ana vha ri Madi nga vhasidzana,
Vhaṅwe vha tshilima magovha.
Muzungu a no kubva Sena.”
I hereby declare this conference officially open.
I thank you.