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South Africa observes International Workers’ Day on 1 May as a public holiday.


The purpose of the day is to honour the contribution of working-class men and women across the world. Workers’ Day, also known as May Day, originated during the historical struggles of workers and their trade unions for solidarity between working people, and in their struggles to achieve fair employment standards.


The 100th anniversary of May Day was commemorated on 1 May 1986. The South African labour federation Congress of South African Trade Unions (Cosatu), was formed in December 1985. Cosatu demanded that May Day be recognised as a public holiday and renamed as Workers’ Day. The call for a stay-away was heeded by approximately 1,5 million workers, joined by thousands of school pupils, students, taxi drivers, hawkers, shopkeepers, domestic workers, self-employed and unemployed people. Rallies were held across the country, with the majority in the Pretoria-Witwatersrand-Vereeniging area, today known as Gauteng. Rallies were held in all the major cities, even though many of these were banned in advance by the Apartheid Government.

The media acknowledged that the majority of South Africa’s workers had unilaterally declared the day a public holiday, and gradually large companies began to observe 1 May as a paid holiday. Following the first democratic elections in South Africa in 1994, 1 May was declared an official national public holiday.

This year Workers’ Day and month will be celebrated during a very difficult time, especially for workers. We are just coming out of a month- long level 5 lockdown and many people have lost and still will lose their jobs. So today, on Workers’ Day, we pay tribute to all the workers of South Africa, especially to our frontline workers who provided essential services and kept us safe during the period of lockdown – our doctors, nurses and other medical staff, members of the Police Services and the SA National Defence Force, as well as workers who provided other essential services, for example our farmers and farm workers, supermarket and chemist staff, staff of security companies and all other workers who provided essential services during this time. We honour and salute you, our unsung heroes – the workers of South Africa!