Address by President Thabo Mbeki on the Occasion of the Celebration of Workers Day, Swellendam, Western Cape, 1 May 2006

Today is Workers Day. It is a day when workers should relax and enjoy themselves; and not spend too many hours in public meetings.
I am not going to be long so that we can go home and enjoy ourselves. And of course the other problem is that it is cold.

So all of us who have been sitting here on this platform have been shivering here because of this cold wind.

And then the master of ceremony was telling me that he is beginning to get hungry. So I don't want to be long.

I would like to say thank you very much to COSATU (Congress of South African Trade Unions) for making it possible for me to be here in Swellendam today. To be here in the Overberg and to spend a little bit of time with the workers of our country to celebrate an important day.

This year we are going to be commemorating a number of historic events. One of them is the centenary - the 100 years of the Bhambatha uprising in KwaZulu-Natal. And the second one is the commemoration of the beginning of the non-violent struggle led by Mahatma Ghandi which he called Satiagraha. The other is the 50th anniversary of the march of our women on the Union Buildings and the 30th anniversary of the Soweto uprising.

We have to commemorate these events and others. Also the 50th anniversary of the arrest of the treason trialists in 1956. We have to observe all these anniversaries because we cannot forget where we come from. We cannot forget that the reason that today we celebrate freedom and we are able to meet as we are meeting, we are able to celebrate May Day as a public holiday was because of the struggle that our people waged. I'm saying we cannot forget that, and therefore I do hope indeed that as we observe all these anniversaries this year, all of us will make every effort to participate in those commemorations.

But comrades, we fought so that we should get our freedom so that we should use that freedom to change the lives of our people for the better. This is the principal task that we face. This task that we talk about every day, the task of ensuring a better life for all our people.

So that here in the Overberg, we have to say that everything must surely be done to ensure that we attend to the conditions pertaining to farm workers. All of us, everybody has spoken about this, and it is indeed very important that we use all means possible to attend to the farm workers.

It is of course the responsibility of COSATU, of FAWU (Food and Allied Workers Union) in particular to attend to the matter of the organisation of those farm workers. But it is our responsibility surely as government to make sure that all of these laws that we have approved and that have been intended to protect the working class of our country; that those laws are observed also on our farms.

We have to make sure that we attend to this issue which continues to be a problem, the problem of the eviction of people from farms on which they have houses which they have occupied for a long time. That also is illegal and therefore we need to make sure that we take the necessary action to address problems of that kind.

I am saying we fought for our freedom so that amongst other things we can use that freedom to change the lives of our people for the better. As we meet here to celebrate May Day, we must say that a particular sector on which we have to focus in terms of changing the lives of our people for the better is indeed the agricultural workers.

We have to attend to these other things that all of us are talking about.

All of us agree that too many of our people are unemployed, that too many of our people need to get jobs. Now how are we going to achieve that? That means there must be new factories; it means there must be new mines, it means we must build new roads. It means we must extend our infrastructure in many ways. It means that government - the national government, the provincial governments, local governments - must also see what they do in order also to build this infrastructure that we need. I am saying that that is what has to happen so that we can create jobs.

We have to attend to a serious matter, an important matter which is part of our heritage from the past; the question of unskilled people. When I grew up, many people who worked on the roads used picks and shovels on the roads. Unskilled people travelled from where we lived to go and work in the mines.

The times have changed. Wherever you want to work these days, it is necessary that there must be some skill and some training. So that's one of the things we must do. We must attend to improving the skills and the education of all our people because the time to depend on unskilled labour in the economy has passed.

I am saying these are some of the things that we have to attend to in order to ensure that we use our freedom to improve the lives of all our people: to build new factories, to open new mines, to train our people, to build new infrastructure. It is only in that way that we will be able to get our economy to grow. It is only in that way that we will be able to make sure that we reduce levels of unemployment, it is only in that way that we will be able to reduce the levels of poverty.

I am saying these things to report to our workers what their government is doing.

The acting Premier just now talked about Accelerated and Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa (AsgiSA). That is the programme that the government has adopted which it is discussing with all sectors of our population including the trade union movement to say that we need to take these special measures to build new factories, to open new mines, to build roads, to train our people, to ensure that the economy expands, to make sure that more people get employed, to make sure that we reduce poverty.

We are determined to ensure that all of that happens and we will do everything possible to make sure that indeed we achieve those objectives.

We must also continue to attend to the other problems that continue to afflict our communities: to attend to the problem of people who continue to live in shacks, to make sure that we are able to speed up our housing programmes.

When we talk about farm workers who live on the farms, they are not only entitled to security of tenure, but they must also have access to water and sanitation - all of these other things which the rest of our people are entitled to. So we must continue with this programme that has got to do with housing, that has got to do with better infrastructure, with accessible clinics, with an infrastructure that is able to support development in the areas in which we live.

So I think that as we celebrate May Day; the best way to celebrate May Day is indeed to say, 'What is it that we must do, what is it that we can do to make sure that the lives of our people continue to improve all the time?' It is these things that I have spoken about that we have to do.

I think that one of the principal questions we have to ask ourselves as South Africans, each one of us, is 'What am I doing to contribute to the achievement of those results?'

You know before last night. I was watching the news and I saw a report which says that some people had broken into these new flats that they are building in Cape Town. People who apparently had been living in an area of shacks which got burnt and they decided to go and break into these flat to occupy them. And I saw somebody on the television news saying that was a good thing. It was a good thing that people could go and break into houses. And he said the damage had been R100 000. And I was watching that and I was saying 'But how can anybody say that it is a good thing to destroy the property of the people?. How can anybody say it is a good thing?' To take a brick or something, I don't know what they used, to go and break down doors, windows and this is the property of the masses of our people. It's the property of the workers of our country and somebody says that's a good thing.

It was a bad thing. It can never ever be a good thing that anybody destroys property that belongs to the people of South Africa; these same masses of our people that fought for our liberation. But I'm saying that we have to ask this question ourselves every day; wherever we are.

We are all saying down with unemployment and that is correct. We are all saying down with poverty. We are all saying down with homelessness. And all of that is correct.

The difficult thing is not to say down with all of those things. The difficult thing is to answer the question, 'What do I do to reduce poverty, to reduce unemployment, to reduce homelessness?' and I believe that's the challenge all of us face. This is a question that all of us must answer because indeed the future of South Africa is in all our hands. It is not just in the hands of the government. It's in the hands of COSATU, it's in the hands of the South African Communist Party (SACP), it's in the hands of the African National Congress (ANC), of the government, of all sectors of the population to answer this question: 'What do we do to change the lives of our people for the better?'

Thank you very much for giving us this time to come to Swellendam. Thank you very much therefore for giving me the opportunity to make the commitment to the people of Swellendam, of the Overberg, of the Western Cape and all our country that indeed our government continues to be very committed to the achievement of the goal of improving the lives of our people for the better and we'll continue with all of the elements of the work that has to go into that so that indeed when next year comes, we can say that life for the majority of our people is today better than it was yesterday.

Ndi a bulela.
Amandla.

Issued by: The Presidency
1 May 2006

Source: SAPA

Quick Links

Disclaimer | Contact Us | HomeLast Updated: 3 May, 2006 1:29 PM
This site is best viewed using 800 x 600 resolution with Internet Explorer 5.0, Netscape Communicator 4.5 or higher.
2003 Department of Foreign Affairs, Republic of South Africa