Why do we celebrate Freedom Day in South Africa?
The 27th of April marks Freedom Day in South Africa. Freedom Day is a public holiday in South Africa and is the celebration and commemoration of the long struggle for democracy in the country.
Freedom Day is a day of respect and commemoration. Celebrated on the 27th of April each year, Freedom Day honours the anniversary of South Africa’s first non-racial election of 1994 and pays homage to the country’s liberation from Apartheid rule, where the minority exercised prejudice political power over the majority of the country.
The First Democratic Election of 1994
27 April 1994, the nation cast its vote in the first democratic election. For the first time, all races in the country were allowed to vote for a government of their choice. Nineteen political parties participated in the non-racial election, and 19.7 million people voted.
The African National Congress (ANC) won the election with 62.65% of the vote, and the party’s frontman, the revered Nelson Mandela became the first black president of the country on the 10th of May. Contrary to fears of political violence, the election took place in a festive and celebratory atmosphere.
1994 LOOKING BACK ON AN HISTORIC YEAR
From 7-10 September, 1 700 delegates met in Soweto for COSATU’s fifth National Congress.
The theme of the congress was ‘’Reconstruction for the working class of the power “.
Important resolutions were adopted which will guide the federation over the next few years. All the COSATU National Office Bearers were re-elected unopposed.
TRADE UNION UNITY
In April, the three federations COSATU, NACTU and FEDERAL met and agreed to work towards greater unity. Since then, very little has been achieved. COSATU believes that the best way to build unity is through unity in action.
COSATU made it clear that it is not interested in confederation- three or more federations under one umbrella. Some workers voted with their feet by crossing over to join COSATU or one of its affiliates.
The adoption of the Reconstruction and Development Programme (RDP) as the official of the GNU was a victory for COSATU. It was COSATU that spearhead the idea of the RDP.
COSATU congress resolved to fight for an RDP which will meet working class need. During the 1994 strikes, bosses accused workers of undermining the RDP. At COSATU’s congress, workers proved this is not the case and that the workers are prepared to make sacrifices to insure the implementation of the RDP.
THE PUBLIC SECTOR
The public sector came under the spotlight in 1994. COSATU led the call for an accountable and democratic public service which will serve the needs of all South Africans. Towards the end of the year, wage talks between the government and the public sector unions deadlocked. Teachers are also in dispute with the government over wages.
1994 SAW SOUTH AFRICA’S FIRST DEMOCRATIC ELECTIONS. THIS LAID THE BASIS FOR IMPORTANT ADVANCES FOR WORKERS, BUT NOT WITHOUT AN EFFORT
The strikes of 1994- which were marked by police action against workers showed that workers will not be satisfied with just the vote. They want to see real change in the economy and in the workplace. Too many employers still think it is “business as usual” in the new South Africa. The apartheid wage gap is still in place. COSATU also launched a campaign for economic and industrial democracy.
COSATU membership grew to 1.3 million in 1994, with a large growth in membership in the public sector. SASBO, the union for banking officials, decided to affiliate to COSATU. In August, farmworkers from across the country met to lay the foundations for a new farmworkers’ union under COSATU.
However, the merger of COSATU’s public sector unions was postponed. The new transport union is yet to be launched. Some affiliates suffered splits and internal tensions. Weaknesses in organisation reared their head in 1994. COSATU congress looked at ways of strengthening organisation on the ground.
The “back to basics” campaign means making sure that the federation remains rooted in its constituency and that policies at national level are informed by debates amongst the rank and file.
Inflation hit 10% in September 1994. Food prices continued to increase at a steep rate. The first budget of the Government of National Unity (GNU) brought some deportments for workers. VAT is still payable on some basic food stuff. Married women workers still pay higher Tax then other workers.
COSATU scored a major victory when the government gave in to demands that works should be able to claim back SITE tax where there had been overpayment. Towards the end of the year, the federation launched its campaign for a restructuring of the whole tax system.
The government announced that tariffs on imported goods will be lowered, in order to make our economy more competitive in the world market. This could destroy some sectors. COSATU rejected the wholesale dropping of tariffs and warned that tariffs reforms which is not negotiated will be vigorously resisted.
In April, South Africans voted in the first-ever democratic elections in our country. The ANC won a resounding victory. On 27 May, Comrade Mandela was sworn in as the President of South Africa.
COSATU played a large part in the ANC victory. The federation devoted substantial time and resource to the election campaign. This included putting forward COSATU leaders for national and regional election lists. Some 70-trade unionists were elected to office.
The COSATU Congress debated the future of the Tripartite Alliance. Congress decided to continue in the alliance, but to make sure that COSATU remains independent.