Disclaimer, this piece is written by a 20 something millennial
1 May is a South African public holiday known as Workers Day, as I sat down to write this post on the 3 lessons that Workers Day has taught me I found it difficult to articulate my thoughts into words. In the past I wrote about National Woman’s day and what it meant to me but this one is a bit different. The history of Workers’ Day goes back to the 1886 Haymarket Affair in Chicago, where police tried to disperse a large crowd of striking workers (they were protesting for a shorter work day of eight hours).
For South African’s we included the need to establish fair labour practices and employment standards. In our nation, the Communist Party, trade and labour unions were heavily entrenched in the fight against Apartheid. Thus, it was of little surprise that our democratic government chose to commemorate this day and its ideology after the fall of the oppressive regime.
I grew up in Cape Town, South Africa as part of the “Coloured” demographic, a term coined by the system of apartheid. On 27 April 1994, Freedom Day which is now a South African public holiday commemorates the first post-apartheid elections held on that day in 1994.
In 1994, I was in Sub B or renamed as Grade 2. The only memory of that time I have was, writing the year “1994” on a piece of newsprint paper in a green wax crayon. Furthermore, my childhood including my teens included Gatsby’s, attending a school that was not fortunate to have its own Hall, church, getting good marks and so forth. If anything thing, Workers Day taught me that:
- If we do not make an effort to ‘fight’ for something you forfeit your Human Rights
- If the cause is worthy enough and you have facts to back up it , people will listen
- Never give up because nothing worthwhile comes easy
While this International Public Holiday does not quite receive all the fuss it rightly deserves, it serves as a stark reminder to Governments of the power of the working class. (To commemorate the day, some of the museums in Cape Town are closed on Workers’ Day/May Day).