Address by President Nelson Mandela at celebration of anniversary of May Day

1 May 1996

Master of Ceremonies,
Comrade Jacob Zuma,
Comrade John Gomomo

It gives me great pleasure to join you today in the celebrations of the anniversary of May Day.

It is a special honour for me to be part of you in Durban, not only to mark this day, but to come to the birth place of your giant Trade Union Federation, Cosatu, ten years ago.

May Day celebrations will always be emotive occasions, because while we celebrate the sacrifices of the working people to make the world a better place to live in, we are also reminded of our failure to eradicate poverty and deprivation and replace them with a more caring and humane society.

Cosatu has also decided to celebrate this day as a Family Day. The Government of National Unity recognises this innovative way of paying tribute to our workers who despite the initiatives we are taking to remove racial barriers and constraints on the shop-floor, continue to suffer from the ravages of a workplace whose ethic has been defined by centuries of racial division and exploitation.

We must pay particular tribute to the migrant workers who despite the enormous strains that labour system imposed on their lives and families, made such a selfless contribution to the development of our country.

The Government has just released a report of a commission of enquiry on safety in the mines. I am saddened by the still critical safety situation in the mines and other workplaces. The government and all other role players have a responsibility to address this situation without delay. As you mark this day as a Family Day, we send our greetings to those members and heads of families.

We are almost into the annual round of wage negotiations. During this period last year, a high degree of hysteria was generated about industrial peace which was, in the yes of some, fast disappearing. I wish to appeal to both labour and business to handle this period in a way that does not undermine the confidence which we are gradually winning from across the spectrum of public opinion, both in the country and abroad.

The Minister of Labour, Comrade Tito Mboweni has published Labour Relations Bill. The initial reaction has been overwhelming. I am once more delighted by the enthusiasm with which different labour organisations have received this Bill. I am also heartened by the constructive submissions which have been made by other sectors of South African society.

More than every before, the challenge facing you is to organise workers from the white community. Despite the long history of racism and apartheid, white workers remain exploited. The disquiet within the ranks of the police force are an indication of the extent to which the iron rule of the previous apartheid regime suppressed discontent.

In negotiations with public sector representatives, we have introduced a phased improvement in the wage conditions of the public service. We are determined that in the coming three years, we shall cover significant ground in closing the gap between lower and higher rank of the state employees. This we can do with your co-operation.

I have noted with interest the developing debates about the formation of one Trade Union Federation in the country. The development would go a long way in strengthening the voice of the workers and in promoting the much needed National Unity in all sectors of our society.

We have just completed our first year in government. A historic achievement abetted in no small part by your historic sacrifices over decades of struggle. I am confident that we have made a good start. We have launched several Presidential lead projects of the RDP. A legislative programme is underway to bring about major institutional reform and deepen our democracy. Other than the sporadic incidents of violence in KwaZulu-Natal, which are regrettable, the country is at peace with itself. We have created an environment that engenders investor confidence and amenable to economic growth.

The government programme is on course towards increasing visible change and delivery. Despite the initiatives that we announced in the course of the last twelve months, and some of which I have mentioned above, we have spent a greater part of our first year in office finalising our plans.

The responsibility is now on the shoulders of both government and the workers to steer the country towards greater stability and peace, building one Nation and promoting reconciliation, creating jobs and building more houses, schools and clinics. It would be a grave mistake for anyone to sit back and expect the government to wave a magic wand of delivery. We have to work together in the spirit of Masakhane.

While the workers and their organisations have a right to demand delivery from the government, it is equally their responsibility to ensure that there is delivery. As we nurture our new democracy, we must be careful not to disempower our people.

The Government, the representatives of the workers and business have established Nedlac as a forum to facilitate tri-partite Corporate between the three role players in the economy. Maximum use must be made of this forum so that the much needed economic growth can be attained.

Notes on KwaZulu-Natal in Zulu

May I conclude by urging all of you here to do your all, to enhance the registration campaign for the local government election. We have only 36 days left before the date of closure. The government has extended the registration deadline to send the message about the importance of local governance. Let every factory and mine be mobilised for the registration campaign and the local government elections.

As the Alliance we would like to see more direct participation of COSATU, at all levels of the election structures so that we can complete the democratisation of our country.

Source: South African Government Information Website