MAY-DAY FOR MAY DAY.
By: Talent Buthelezi
Since 1994 South Africa has been celebrating the 1st of May as International Workers Day or May Day. The holiday is also celebrated in more than 80 countries across the world and honors the rights of workers.
I’m sure most of you question the significance of this day; well here is your answer. It all began in Haymarket Affair, Chicago, when police were trying to disband a large crowd of striking workers. As the unarmed workers were protesting, a bomb was thrown by an unidentified person at the police.
The police responded by firing live ammunition into the crowd. However it wasn’t until 1891 that the day was commemorated as a global holiday. Since then the day has been celebrated to emphasize fair working conditions and high working standards.
In South Africa during the apartheid regime, this day was often punctuated by violent marches. In 1986, five people were killed while seven were injured after a violent May Day strike.
According to an article published in the Citizen News, “Police dispersing stone-throwing crowds killed three men with shotgun fire. Two others were found dead with gunshot wounds.” Since then South Africans have been celebrating this day by engaging in peaceful marches honoring the people who lost their lives and by also promoting fairness towards workers as a key element of democracy.
Usually people commemorate this day by engaging in peaceful marches while others view the holiday as a day to sit back and relax. However this is not the case for Nontobeko Mbambo a domestic worker in Hillcrest. “My bosses have asked me to come during the holiday as they will be hosting lunch for their friends. I will get paid in the afternoon for the days’ work although I would have liked to relax with my family but unfortunately I really need the money,” she said.
Nokuthula Zwane, a nurse at KwaDabeka Clinic, stated that she will be working on this holiday and doesn’t mind working on such a day.
“I have a very demanding job and it requires me to work even on public holidays. No one can predict when a person will get hurt or is taken ill so as health care workers we must always be ready for such occurrences,” said Zwane.
On the other hand Thabile Mbeje (a social worker), along with many other South Africans will be taking a day off.
“I will spend Workers Day by relaxing at home and engaging in some “me-time”. However, I am very appreciative of this day and to know that the government supports workers and their grievances is very pleasing,” said Thabile Mbeje.
Workers Day is also a day off for students as no lectures occur during this day. Nompilo Magwaza, a student at the Durban University of Technology said, “I understand the significance of the day and our lecturers deserve a day off to recall what happened in the past and to make sure that their rights aren’t overlooked. After all, they are the ones shaping society and the future of the country. They truly deserve to be recognized.”
However, Noluthando Gcwensa, currently studying Marketing, stated that this shouldn’t be a holiday for school children as they are not workers.
“Scholars should be at school with their teachers learning. I understand that educators are workers but they should bear in mind that school kids aren’t workers. I don’t see why kids should stay at home,” said Gcwensa.
The legacy of this holiday continues to flourish as more people commememorate the holiday worldwide.