May Day & Freedom Charter

May Day in South Africa

May Day was celebrated for the first time in South Africa in 1904. However, it did not always express the unity of the working class but reflected divisions in that it was celebrated by the White sections of the working class. Workers demanded that May Day be declared a public holiday. In 1926 the SA government proposed that the first Monday of May should be a public holiday, and this was rejected by the workers and the government withdrew the proposal.

 In 1973 thousands of workers went on strike in Durban reawakening the militancy of the black labour movement. By the beginning of the 1980s, trade unions began organizing May Day rallies. Unity shown by the unions during May Day culminated in the launch of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) in December 1985. At this launch COSATU noted that May 1st is celebrated internationally as the workers day and 1986 is the 100th anniversary of May Day, and it committed itself to initiate and organize celebrations of May 1st every year.

In 1990 the government finally announced the recognition of May Day as a paid public holiday. This was after 86 years since the first May Day demonstrations started in South Africa

History of COSATU                                                     

The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU) was launched in December 1985 in Durban after four years of unity talks between unions opposed to apartheid and committed to a non-racial, non-sexist, and democratic South Africa. At its launch, COSATU represented 460 000 workers organized in 33 unions.

COSATU has grown rapidly since then despite severe state repression. Many of its offices have been demolished, many of its leaders arrested or killed and it has faced the wrath of both employers and the state. Nevertheless, by the end of 1990 COSATU represented over 1.2 million workers organized into 14 industrial unions and this makes it the largest union movement in South Africa’s history.

COSATU’s broad strategic objectives have always been:

To improve material conditions of its members and the working people as a whole.

To organize the unorganized workers into trade unions.

To ensure worker participation in the struggle against apartheid.


The Freedom Charter was adopted at the Congress of the People, Kliptown in Soweto, on 26
June 1955. It stated:

We, the People of South Africa, declare for all our country and the world to know:

That South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, and that no government can justly claim authority unless it is based on the will of all the people;

And therefore, we, the people of South Africa, black and white together equals, countrymen and brothers adopt this Freedom Charter;

The People Shall Share in the Country`s Wealth!

The mineral wealth beneath the soil, the Banks and monopoly industry shall be transferred to the ownership of the people as a whole;

All other industry and trade shall be controlled to assist the wellbeing of the people;

All people shall have equal rights to trade where they choose, to manufacture and to enter all trades, crafts and professions.

The People Shall Govern!

Every man and woman shall have the right to vote for and to stand as a candidate for all bodies which make laws;

The rights of the people shall be the same, regardless of race, colour or sex;

All bodies of minority rule, advisory boards, councils and authorities shall be replaced by democratic organs of self-government.

All National Groups Shall have Equal Rights!

All people shall have equal right to use their own languages, and to develop their own folk culture and customs;

The preaching and practice of national, race or colour discrimination and contempt shall be a punishable crime;

All apartheid laws and practices shall be set aside

All Shall Enjoy Equal Human Rights!

The law shall guarantee to all their right to speak, to organize, to meet together, to publish, to preach, to worship and to educate their children;

The privacy of the house from police raids shall be protected by law;

All shall be free to travel without restriction from countryside to town, from province to province, and from South Africa abroad;

Pass Laws, permits and all other laws restricting these freedoms shall be abolished.

The Land Shall be Shared Among Those Who Work It!

Restrictions of land ownership on a racial basis shall be ended, and all the land re-divided amongst those who work it to banish famine and land hunger;

Freedom of movement shall be guaranteed to all who work on the land;

All shall have the right to occupy land wherever they choose;

People shall not be robbed of their cattle and forced labour and farm prisons shall be abolished.

There Shall be Work and Security!;

Men and women of all races shall receive equal pay for equal work;

There shall be a forty-hour working week, a national minimum wage, paid annual leave, and sick leave for all workers, and maternity leave on full pay for all working mothers;

Miners, domestic workers, farmworkers, and civil servants shall have the same rights as all others who work; Child labour, compound labour, the tot system, and contract labour shall be abolished.

All Shall be Equal Before the Law!

No one shall be imprisoned, deported, or restricted without a fair trial;

No-one shall be condemned by the order of any Government official;

The courts shall be representative of all the people;

Imprisonment shall be only for serious crimes against the people, and shall aim at re-education, not vengeance;

All laws which discriminate on grounds of race, colour, or belief shall be repealed.

The Doors of Learning and Culture Shall be Opened!

Education shall be free, compulsory, universal, and equal for all children;

Higher education and technical training shall be opened to all through state allowances and scholarships awarded based on merit;

Adult illiteracy shall be ended by a mass state education plan; Teachers shall have all the rights of other citizens;

There Shall be Houses, Security, and Comfort!

All people shall have the right to live where they choose, be decently housed, and bring up their families in comfort and security;

Rent and prices shall be lowered, food plentiful and no one shall go hungry;

Free medical care and hospitalisation shall be provided for all, with special care for mothers and young children;

Slums shall be demolished, and new suburbs built where all have transport, roads, lighting, playing fields, creches, and social centres;

The aged, the orphans, the disabled, and the sick shall be cared for by the state.



The period preceding the launch of COSATU.

1960 –The ANC, SACP and PAC banned. SACTU exiled. Progressive unionism, in which COSATU undoubtedly had its origins, had been in existence for nearly 45 years.

1973 –Widespread strikes in Durban. MAWU, NUTW, IAS, IIE, SALB and TUACC emerge. Student uprisings and the banning of SASO and other organizations. The clampdown, while targeting the BC movement, is partly a response to re-emerging worker organization.

1979-80 –Formation of FOSATU and CUSA. SAAWU, AFCWU, WPGWU, CTMWA emerge.

1979 –Wiehann Commission report released.

1981 –August – First formal trade union unity talks, Langa, Cape Town.

1982 –5 February – Neil Aggett dies in detention.

April – Second round of unity talks, Wilgespruit.

July – Third unity talks summit, Port Elizabeth.

1983 –April – Athlone unity talks and the first feasibility committee meeting.

June – Launch of the United Democratic Front.


1984 –March – Johannesburg unity talks.

September – Vaal township uprisings.

September – SFAWU launches Simba chips boycott after dismissal of 450 workers, management soon reinstates the workers.

5/6 November – 800,000 workers support Transvaal regional stayaway called jointly by COSAS and unions. Student and union leaders detained.

1985 –21 March – Police open fire on marchers commemorating Sharpeville Day, in Langa township, Uitenhage. Twenty people die.

May – British multinational BTR-Sarmcol dismisses 900 striking workers, starting South Africa’s longest ever dispute.

July – State of emergency declared in the Eastern Cape and PWV.

August – COSAS banned.

June – Unity talks at Ipelegeng, Soweto, resolves to go ahead with the launch of the federation.

November/December – Congress of South African Trade Unions launched in the context of widespread township uprisings and intense repression.

December – COSATU general secretary Jay Naidoo meets SACTU and the ANC in Harare.

National Office Bearers of COSATU (NOBs)

The following National Office Bearers were elected at the 13th National Congress 2018

1.President: Zingiswa Losi

21st Dep. President: Michael Shingange

3. 2nd Dep President: Louisa Thipe

Losi is a trained soldier and served in the South African Defence Force doe three years. After resigning from the army, Losi was employed by Ford, a car manufacturer in Port Elizabeth in 2002 as an operator in the engine components and assemble division.

She later became a quality inspector. In the same year she became a NUMSA shop steward at the plant. Growing up in a family of activists prompted Losi to be politically aware at a young age. She cut her teeth in politics in COSAS while she was still at school. She also served in the ANC Youth League structures in the Eastern Cape.

COSATU 13th National Congress elected Comrade Shingange as the 1st Deputy President after he was elected at the NEHAWU Special National Congress in June 2014, and later elected as the first deputy president in 2017.

Comrade Shingange joined the union as a shop steward in 1995. In the same year, he was elected chairperson of the Goya Branch, a position he held until he was transferred to the Petersburg Branch of Public Health. From 1999-2001 Shingange served as secretary of the Groothoek Hospital Branch, he was then elected chairperson and served in this position until 2003. Later that year, Cde Shingange joined the Vanvelden Hospital where he was made the acting secretary, then chairperson. He served at this branch until 2006. In 2008, he was elected provincial deputy chairperson of Limpopo. In 2011 he served as the provincial chairperson, he was also a PEC member of the SACP between 2011 and 2012 during the rebuilding process.

Comrade Thipe was elected as COSATU 2nd Deputy President at the 13th National Congress in Midrand. She is a Shop steward at Pick ‘n Pay Wonderpark. In 1984 she was employed by Pick ‘n Pay and joined the Retail and Allied Workers Union (RAWU) as a rank and file member, and together with the Hotel And Restaurant Workers Union (HARWU).

In 1990 Cde Boitumelo was elected into the Executive Committee and later in the same year, she was elected as Chairperson of the Pretoria Local. In 1999, she was elected to the position of 1st Deputy President of SACCAWU, and allocated as a National of Bearer designated to oversee Gender and Education amongst other responsibilities. During this period she served in the Central Executive Committees of both SACCAWU and COSATU. 2013-2017 Cde Louisa became the Acting President when the then President could not continue serving as President.

4.General Secreatary: Bheki Ntshalintshali

5.Deputy General Secretary: Solly Phetoe

6.National Treasurer: Freda Oosthuysen

Born Veli Ntshalintshali, he was given the name “Bheki” by an official, when he first applied for identity documents. He was employed at Sasol 3 in Secunda, Mpumalanga. It was there that he was recruited to the Chemical Workers Industrial Union (CWIU), a FOSATU affiliate in 1981 as a member. Ntshalintshali was elected as a shop steward, chairperson of Sasol 3, and Deputy Chairperson of the SASOL Plants SASOL 2 and 3. In 1984 Ntshalintshali together with 6500 workers were dismissed by SASOL who was then a parastatal for participating in a political stay away on 5 & 6 November 1984, which was called by UDF in support of COSAS.

In 1986 Bheki was appointed by COSATU leadership to be the COSATU convener in the then Eastern Transvaal tasked to establish a COSATU Region. 2 years later the union appointed him to coordinate national companies in the glass and petroleum sectors. In 1994 Ntshalintshali was elected as the Deputy General Secretary of the CWIU. Bheki was recalled by the union to lead the merger between CWIU and PPWAWU which led to the formation of CEPPWAWU in 1999. In May 1999 he was recruited TO COSATU as its Organizing Secretary. In 2000 at the COSATU National Congress he was elected as the COSATU Deputy General Secretary.

Comrade Solly Phetoe started working at the Firestone Company in 1982 as a machine operator and joined MAWU [before NUMSA was established in 1987]. Phetoe participated in the process of merging MAWU and MICWU. As workers, they were united to fight against exploitation at the point of production. In NUMSA comrade Phetoe became a Shop steward and later was appointed as a full-time Shop steward in the tyre industry. And he served in various subcommittees such as the Public Relations Unit. And also became a national negotiator under NUMSA for the tyre and rubber sector.

Solly represented the federation in the South African Qualification Authority [SAQA] Standards Governing Body during the formation of the SETA’s where he led the campaign on skills revolution at the workplace. He has been leading the Brits COSATU Local as a chairperson for almost fifteen years and the Local became the most vibrant structure in that region. He has practiced the Back to Basics campaign at various levels of the federation. 2018 in the 13th National Congress, he was elected for the second time to the position of Deputy General Secretary of COSATU

Freda Oosthuysen entered trade unionism through church when she played a central role in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa. She was also one of those who joined the underground structures of a church to fight against apartheid. In 1976 Oosthuysen got a job at IL Bag in Parrow and given her political awareness as she could not continue to work due to uprisings that began in Soweto. She then joined the United Democratic Front (UDF) and dedicated all her time to do the organisation’s work.

In 1980 Oosthuysen got a job in one of the garment factories in Cape Town and she became a shop steward for the Garment Workers Union until 1989 when there was an amalgamation of unions to form SACTWU. After the amalgamation, she became the SACTWU’s branch secretary in Woodstock and rose through the ranks and she was elected the branch chairperson for the Salt River branch in Cape Town. At the SACTWU’s Congress in 2006 Oosthuysen was elected as the National Treasurer in the same year she was then elected as the National Chairperson for the National Clothing Bargaining Council.

The following National Office Bearers were elected at the 12th National Congress 2015.

5. Deputy General Secretary: Solly Phetoe

May day belongs to the workers of South Africa.


Workers in South Africa have been celebrating May Day for over 80 years, today on May Day we unite around our shared demands, like: A living wage for all! Job for all! Decent housing for all Today, Youth, unemployed, women, student and organisations join the Unions to celebrate May day. May day is the symbol of the leadership of the working class in our united struggle for democracy and freedom.

COSATU main focus on workers.

To priorities job creation and end of job loss

Demand a moratorium on retrenchment, with a restructuring to retain workers not retrench them.

Ensuring a nationally integrated education and training framework; and


COSATU an unshaken member of the alliance

COSATU has a record of 30 years of firm, unbroken and uncompromising service to the workers. They remain at the forefront of workers’ struggles. Their record of struggle speaks for itself and they have never been neutral. 

COSATU has never been on the side of the monopolies or with the transnational corporations. They have never been on the side of the bourgeoisie and imperialists. This federation has always remained on the side of the workers’ struggles for basic rights and total emancipation both in our country and beyond our borders.

Even from a pure working class and economic position, it is completely wrong to limit workers to factory-based issues. COSATU decided to participate in the political sphere. They are unshaken members of the Alliance because their struggles are political by themselves.