On the first of May, Cyril Ramaphosa, the president of the African National Congress (ANC), addressed a May Day rally organized by the Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu) in Bethlehem, Free State. The aim of the event was to bring together workers across the country to celebrate their contributions to society and to raise awareness of the issues that affect their lives. While tensions in the labor market threatened to disrupt the event, both Cosatu and the ANC had hoped for a peaceful address from Ramaphosa. May Day events were held across the country, with unions raising concerns about working conditions and social inequality.
Challenges facing the workers: In his address, Ramaphosa emphasized the importance of working together as an alliance to address challenges such as poverty, unemployment, and inequality. These are persistent problems that continue to affect South Africa’s workers, especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite progress made in recent years, many workers remain vulnerable to exploitation, low wages, and precarious employment.
Trade unions in the country have been vocal in their criticism of the government’s handling of the economy, arguing that it has failed to address the root causes of poverty and inequality. The metal workers union Numsa, for instance, blames the ANC government for creating the most unequal society in the world. Numsa’s spokesperson, Phakamile Hlubi-Majola, argued that the last two decades of ANC rule have resulted in “fake freedom” for workers, as the only ones who are free are the rich, while the working class is getting poorer and poorer.
Similar sentiments were echoed by other trade unions, such as the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu), which called for workers to unite against capitalist exploitation, poverty wages, and growing inequality. Nehawu’s spokesperson, Lwazi Nkolonzi, recognized the deepening crisis of capitalism, which has resulted in a global crisis of unemployment, high levels of inequality, and extreme poverty.
May Day events: May Day events were held in various parts of the country, with different trade unions commemorating the occasion in their unique ways. In the Eastern Cape, for instance, proceedings started slowly, with ANC national chairperson Gwede Mantashe arriving at an empty hall for Cosatu’s event in East London. This was a clear indication of the challenges facing the ANC and the trade unions in the country. The event eventually picked up, with Mantashe delivering the keynote address.
In KwaZulu-Natal, trade union Saftu held its main event in Durban, paying homage to workers who stood up for their rights. Saftu commemorated the different strikes that had taken place since January, starting with nightwatchmen who were on strike for wage increases, followed by Corobrik tile workers in Durban. The commemoration of these strikes highlighted the challenges facing workers in the country, especially in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
May Day in South Africa was marked by various events held across the country, with different unions raising concerns about the state of the labor market, poverty, inequality, and unemployment. The address by ANC President Cyril Ramaphosa at the Cosatu rally in the Free State went ahead without disruption, and he urged for continued cooperation between the alliance partners to achieve the ideals of the national democratic revolution.
While some unions blamed the ANC government for creating the most unequal society in the world, others called for unity among workers to fight against capitalist exploitation, poverty wages, and growing inequality. As the country continues to grapple with these issues, it remains to be seen how the government and various stakeholders will work together to address the challenges facing the labor market and the broader society.