The Walter Sisulu Square
Walter Sisulu was a delegate at the 1955 Congress of the People, a major figure in the anti-apartheid struggle, deputy president of the ANC, underground activist and Rivonia treason trialist. Released from prison in 1989, he died in 2003, the year the R160-million Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication project was initiated. Its design was awarded to Architects StudioMAS. The population of Kliptown is between 38,000 and 45,000 (City of Johannesburg official web site). Kliptown is the oldest residential district of Soweto, and was first laid out in 1891 on land which formed part of Klipspruit farm. The farm was named after the Klipspruit (rocky stream) that runs nearby.
Kliptown and the Freedom Charter
In the dark days of early apartheid rule half a century ago, on 26 June 1955, over 3 000 representatives of resistance organisations made their way through police cordons to gather on a dusty square in Kliptown, Soweto, 40km south of Johannesburg.
This was the Congress of the People, who met to draw up the Freedom Charter, an alternative vision to the repressive policies of the apartheid state.
At the time, Nelson Mandela had to stay concealed to avoid the police. On the second day, the authorities broke up the gathering, but not before the charter was adopted as a guide document. It remains the cornerstone of African National Congress (ANC) policy to this day, and is seen by many as the foundation of South Africa’s 1996 Constitution.
That dusty field has now been declared a national heritage site, and on 26 June 2005 President Thabo Mbeki lit a flame of freedom in Kliptown to mark the opening of the Walter Sisulu Square of Dedication – and 50 years of the Freedom Charter.
By: Lucille Davie and Mary Alexander
Click here to view the charter.