Aligning the ideals of free software and free knowledge with the South African Freedom Charter

Bob Jolliffe


When Amartya Sen visited South Africa in 2004 he made the observation that Nelson Mandela’s long walk to freedom began on African soil. He implicitly recognised that we have in South Africa a long tradition of interpreting, articulating and striving for an ideal of freedom, which reflects the aspiration of the broad masses of our people. The clearest articulation of this struggle was the Freedom Charter, adopted by the congress of the people in Kliptown in 1955.
The free software movement (and related efforts in the fields of science and culture) draws upon a tradition of freedom rooted in an American libertarian tradition. In this short paper, I underline the importance of aligning efforts to promote free software and free culture with the rich existing tradition embodied in the South African Freedom Charter. Doing so may require a reinterpretation, re–imagining and even perhaps a re–vocabularising of the digital commons if it is to succeed as as a social, technical and political project in South Africa.

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