Address by President Nelson Mandela at May Day rally, Umtata

1 May 1997

Comrade Chairperson:

Today, as we meet in Umtata, we join millions across the world to celebrate May Day. Workers everywhere are remembering their struggles and their victories and mobilising for a better future. Amongst their achievements is our freedom, which they helped us win.

It is only a few days since we celebrated Freedom Day. That was the day in which our human dignity was restored. The day on which we took our destiny into our own hands and declared that we were ready to govern ourselves.

When South Africans went to the polls that day to vote for freedom and a better life, the majority put their trust in the ANC. They mandated their first democratic government to build our society anew in order to improve the quality of life of all South Africans, especially the poor. That is the goal of the Reconstruction and Development Programme, developed by the Alliance, and it remains our goal to this day.

In celebrating May Day, as workers and citizens, it is right that we should take stock of how far, as a movement in government, we have fulfilled our mandate.

When we came to power, many communities particularly in rural areas, had no water, electricity, houses, jobs and social security. Health was not accessible to most of our people. The country knew no respect for workers rights and basic conditions of employment. Our economy had been in decline or stagnant for many years. We were a nation divided against one another. Parts of our country were embroiled in violence.

As we meet today, we have as a nation made progress on all these fronts. We can all take pride in the fact that already the lives of millions have begun to change.

For them, there is no longer a need to walk kilometres for water or share wells with animals. For them electricity is no longer something that passed by their homes over pylons, but a source of light and energy for warmth and cooking. Free health care for pregnant women and young children and access to primary health care have transformed people's lives. Or children can now learn at school because their stomachs are no longer gnawing with hunger. Political violence is a thing of the past everywhere except a few areas in KwaZulu/Natal.

We celebrate these achievements knowing that we have only made a start in addressing the immense needs of our people. The legacy of a history of colonialism and apartheid will not be undone immediately. It will take time to complete the task and to reach all those in need. This process may not have reached you as an individual yet, or come to your community. But the foundation has been laid.

Our first three years of freedom have demonstrated that our goals are achievable. Above all, South Africans have shown that by joining hands across all sectors of society and working together, even the most difficult problem can be overcome. And they have shown that South Africa's workers are a powerful and creative force for transformation.

As we proceed with our programmes of action, government counts on the active participation of organised workers, in NEDLAC; in partnership with government; and in the work-place.


One of the greatest achievements of our young democracy is to ensure that the rights and interests of workers are protected as never before. Our new constitution consolidates the gains of years of struggle by organised workers.

New laws and policies are restoring the dignity of workers. They are creating a framework for substantial improvements in working conditions. The Labour Relations Act has brought a major advance in workers' interests and now the Basic Conditions of Employment Bill proposes further significant improvements. That is why the National Executive Committee of the ANC has endorsed the principles underpinning that Bill.

Many of you, we know, are unhappy with aspect of the Bill. These are issues to be dealt with in the Alliance, in negotiations in Nedlac and through the parliamentary process. But we are sure that there is consensus in the whole of the Alliance that the major aspects of the bill advance the interests of workers, especially the least unorganised and most vulnerable sectors of the work-force.

The economy is on a path to sustained growth. But we need to speed up that growth, to create the jobs and the resources that will improve the quality of life. That is the objective of the government's strategy for growth, employment and redistribution.

The challenge we face as an Alliance, as workers, and as a nation is to keep the economy on that path. The signs are that we are on track. But in one respect there is an urgent need for further action. I want to take this opportunity to call on workers to join hands with us to help ensure that growth in the economy translates into more employment. This call applies especially to the business community who should approach investments taking into account the need to create jobs.

Employed workers share responsibility with government and employers to develop programmes for employment creation. That is why we have accepted the proposal of the Labour Market Commission to convene a job summit. The value of its work will be strengthened by the extent to which the Alliance can develop a common approach.

The same principles of consultation and negotiation amongst parties seeking common objectives will ensure that the public sector is restructured in a way that best promotes our shared objectives, including employment. Any restructuring, whether of parastatals or the civil service, will be done within the National Framework Agreement and the agreement reached in the Central Bargaining Chamber.

But we must renew the civil service, in order to improve on delivery of basic services to our people. Amongst other things, this will be promoted by a civil service that is more representative of our country's population, particularly at middle and senior management level.

For all these things, we require the contribution of workers.

Friends and compatriots;

Each of our provinces has its own challenges and problems. Up to the elections of 1994, the mismanagement and neglect of this area by the apartheid government and its bantustan surrogates left one of the worst legacies of poverty. Overcoming it will require a range of measures.

The infrastructure development programme for the Eastern Cape is being accelerated as a result of the work of the Presidential Project team that was especially established for that purpose.

Amongst the major development initiatives that are taking shape to tap the enormous potential of our regions, is the Wild Coast initiative. It promises to unlock great opportunities for tourism and forestry. In approaching this project, government is committed to fully consulting all interested communities and ensuring that they benefit.

Tackling the poverty that apartheid created is also one of the keys to bringing an end to the violent crime that has afflicted Tsolo, Qumbu and Mqanduli. The Provincial Government is working on special development projects to improve socio-economic conditions in these areas.

In the meanwhile, we cannot allow a few individuals to hold our freedom to ransom. Joint police-army operations have stabilised the areas significantly. We are pleased to note the recent seizure of weapons by the security forces, with the help of communities. As members of the Alliance in these areas we must find ways of helping the police apprehend the criminal elements. Only the active involvement of communities will guarantee the success of our crime-prevention strategies.

The key to solving our problems is unity - as nation and as an alliance - and strong organisation. There is no reason why we should have weak ANC branches in an area where COSATU is strong, or weak COSATU structures where the ANC is strong. As members of an Alliance it is our duty to strengthen one another.

From time to time - and the last few weeks have been no exception - there is speculation about the state of the Alliance and its future.

The fact of the matter is that we are organisations in alliance because we share goals and especially an agenda for reconstruction and development. Precisely because we are also independent organisations, differences do arise over how to achieve our shared goals, and they are dealt with in open and frank debate.

What makes us an alliance is how we resolve our differences. That is why the recent summit mandated leading comrades from the ANC, COSATU and SACP to jointly prepare a position on the Alliance's approach to transformation.

It is also in the nature of an Alliance that when we do resolve differences we may have to adopt positions that some of us do not fully agree with. And it is in the nature of government that government, with its broader mandate, may be obliged to take decisions which do not suit each member of the Alliance - as there will be times when COSATU embarks on an action that the ANC does not fully agree with.

But we are convinced that these are matters of tactics about how we achieve our common goals. Differences of this kind are natural from time to time and they should not detract from the fact of our common strategic objectives, to build a better life for all.


A strong and active Alliance, from national level to grassroots, will advance reconstruction and development and help banish poverty from our land. That is why the leadership of the Alliance will soon be visiting regions in order to mobilise for rebuilding our country.

We are confident that we will find our people ready to strengthen the alliance forged in struggle and make it a force for building anew.

In our first three years of democracy, the foundation for a better life has been laid. The call now is: Forward ever!

Issued by: Office of the President

Source: South African Government Information Website