“Trade union struggles have been part of our fight for freedom and justice”- Mandela


Speech by President Nelson Mandela to a May Day rally

South African History Online 

Speech by President Nelson Mandela to a May Day rally

Kimberley, 1 May 1998

Comrade Chairperson;

Each year as we join millions across the world to celebrate the victories of
workers, our own Freedom Day is still fresh in our minds.

Today we meet in Kimberley to mark South African Workers’ Day just a year
since we also celebrated our freedom in the Northern Cape, in Upington.

The achievement of our rights as citizens and our rights as workers should
indeed be celebrated together. Our history has made them inseparable.

Trade union struggles have been part of our fight for freedom and justice.
Organised workers under the banner of Cosatu were a vital force in the final
years that dealt the death blow to apartheid. Together we won our greatest
victory, the election of a democratic government led by the ANC.

Sometimes it seems that we have come so far in these four short years that we
can forget what tremendous things have been achieved.

The basic amenities of a dignified life that were denied to the majority of
South Africans are now reaching millions, whether it be clean water;
electricity; health care; access to decent education; or housing.

Even though it is only the beginning of a task of many years, we are right to
celebrate the 1,000 electricity connections that have been made every day, on
average, since 1994, and the 1,000 people who have gained access to clean water.
We are proud that each week has brought two new clinics with access to
health-care for some 20,000 people; and that at the moment 1,000 houses are
being brought into construction or completed under the subsidy scheme every two
and a half days.

If by working together we have been able to do that in our first few years of
freedom, when we had to establish new government structures, and develop new
policies that put people first, then we should face the challenges of the future
with confidence.

Thanks to democracy organised workers can now make vital inputs into laws of
the country.

New laws have opened the way for improvements in working conditions, in
health and safety in the work-pace and in wages. No longer do we have a
government that sees farm workers as not deserving of the same rights as others.
No longer will the use of child labour be allowed.


In striving for our goals we must dispel the idea that change can come from
government alone, while our people wait passively for delivery.

As we were our own liberators, so too must we change our own lives for the

However good our new laws may be on paper, they must be implemented and
enforced before they bring benefits to workers and others. However good the
policies of the government are, nothing will come of them without the active
participation of each and every one of us.

COSATU unions have worked hand in hand with communities and local government
to develop the areas in which we live; to build community policing forums as
part of the anti-crime campaign and to help bring an end to violence against
women and children.

We count on organised workers to strengthen the offensive against crime and
corruption in the work-place, including the criminal justice system and civil
service. With your help we can weed out ghost workers and ghost pensioners and
end the theft and wastage of public resources.

One of the most urgent and critical challenges facing our country is the
creation of more jobs. We have turned our economy from years of stagnation to
sustained growth. But not enough new jobs are being created.

Here in Kimberley the Big Hole stands as a monument to the contributions
which workers have made to our country’s economic development. But it also
reminds us of the challenges of diversifying our economy and creating new jobs.

The Jobs Summit will give government, business and labour the chance together
to find a path to sustainable job creation. This crucial initiative will succeed
only if all sectors make a contribution. As preparations for the Summit are
being finalised, government is looking at how it can further enhance
job-creation. Organised business and labour will also need to ensure that in
what they bring to the process, long-term interests prevail over short-term

Organised workers are indispensable to our efforts to deracialise our
economy. Whatever the final details of the Employment Equity Bill it is based on
a fundamental principle. And that is, that we do need corrective action to put
right the historical wrongs caused by discrimination and prejudice against
Africans, Coloureds, Indians, women and the disabled. We know that we can count
on unions within our Alliance, as proud custodians of non-racialism, to ensure
that this instrument of affirmative action is never used to advance any one
group at the expense of others.

Workers and their trade unions are at the economic heart of our country. It
is you who mine the minerals and produce the exports that fuel our growth. It is
you who put the food on our tables and build the facilities that deliver the
services our people need.

Without your organised participation our efforts to become more productive
and competitive will not succeed. With employers and government, you can help
our country meet the challenge of reshaping our economy to make us a force to be
reckoned with in the world. With your help our country will be put on the road
to sustainable growth and job-creation.


For all these reasons, strong organisation of working people, and a strong
Alliance, is as important for the future of our country as it is for workers’
own interests.

Because government and the ANC have broader responsibilities, there will be
differences from time to time amongst Alliance partners. What counts though is
now we handle such differences when they do arise, and the commitment to seek
negotiated solutions.

Our Alliance has been the driving force on our path to freedom and a just
society. As long as it remains strong and united it will keep our country on the
path of change. Above all it will help to ensure that the needs of the poorest
and most vulnerable come first.

The foundation for a better life has been laid; and the building has begun.
Forward ever!

Issued by: Office of the President