The Freedom Charter and Nationalisation: Historical Context

The Freedom Charter was written when nationalisation was such a popular concept that it was not espoused only by the “left”. It was commonplace in nominally “capitalist” countries, practised by the apartheid regime and its predecessors, and endorsed by most recognised intellectuals. It was widely regarded as the only way to generate sufficient capital for large-scale projects. The word “privatise” did not even exist because there was no need for it for another three decades. Marginalised “classical liberal” intellectuals propagated “denationalisation” in obscure and largely ignored texts.

In other words, failure to use the word at a time when it was a part of popular culture and the prevailing policy of most countries, was probably deliberate. An established thesis at the time was that it was avoided in order to accommodate the wide range of philosophies and ideologies within the “broad church” of the anti-apartheid movement. The ANC went to great lengths then and throughout its existence to be the natural home for all opponents of apartheid. Its leadership actively sought support and membership of advocates of non-racial capitalism. Oliver Tambo occasionally said the ANC was for “capitalism”. He, like many other ANC representatives, denied the apartheid regime’s allegation that the ANC was communist or socialist.

Author: Leon Louw is the Executive Director of the Free Market Foundation. The above is an excerpt from the chapter, Analysis of the ANC Youth League’s Nationalisation Proposals, which he wrote for the recently published FMF book, Nationalisation.

FMF Policy Bulletin/ 12 April 2011

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