Worker's Day in South Africa

When is Workers' Day in South Africa?

Workers' Day in South Africa is on May 1, 2023. It falls on Monday.

How many days until Workers' Day in South Africa?

There are 342 Days left until Workers' Day in South Africa.

Is Workers' Day a public holiday in South Africa?

International Workers’ Day is a day designated to celebrate all working classes around the world, which is observed by many countries every May 1st. This holiday is also known as Workers’ Day, Labor Day, or May Day. In South Africa, the day was dubbed as Workers’ Day, and is observed on a fixed date, on May 1st every year.

Workers’ Day is a public holiday in South Africa which celebrates not just the working men and women of the country, but also honors the role played by the country’s trade unions and labor organizations in the fight against the Apartheid rule. Apartheid is a government system which segregates the South African society based on race.

Worker's Day Origin in South Africa

Most of the countries nowadays have adapted the celebration of the International Workers’ Day, including South Africa. The origin of Workers’ Day can be traced back in 1886 when the American workers have started a campaign in the United States, to reduce their working hours to an eight-hour workday. At that time, the workers are overworked, regular working hours range from 12 hours to 16 hours. Thus, thousands of workers have protested to have reduced to have better working conditions instead. The workers have started these protests, beginning on May 1st, 1886, yet such peaceful protests had turned violent few days later. This happened after an unidentified individual threw a bomb at the police officers who were trying to disperse the crowd. From a peaceful campaign, the event had turned into a riot. This incident occurred on May 4th, 1886, at the Haymarket Square in Chicago, Illinois, which was later labeled as the infamous Haymarket Affair/ Haymarket Riot. This occurrence has then become the basis why the 1st of May was chosen as the date of celebration for the International Workers’ Day.

For the South Africans, Workers’ Day has been unofficially observed in the country around the 1980s. According to the records, in 1986, the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), has called the attention of the government to institute May 1st to become an official holiday for the workers. Many organizations and movements (which are all against the Apartheid system) have joined this call. The same goes for many workers in the country, resulting to more than one and a half million of laborers and workers heeding this call and ended up not reporting to work on this day. When this happened, South Africa was still under the Apartheid system (1948-1994). The workers, especially those people of color, have been through so many struggles under the poor working conditions brought by the Apartheid policies. Thus, the trade and labor unions (and other labor movements) have helped in the battles of ensuring better employment standards for the working classes, and in overthrowing the Apartheid regime. So, when the Apartheid finally ended in 1994, i t was also the time when Workers’ Day was officially acknowledged to become a public holiday in South Africa.

Who declared Worker's Day as a public holiday in South Africa?

Under Nelson Mandela’s governance (who won the elections in 1994 and became the first black President in the country), Workers’ Day was instituted as a national holiday to be celebrated in the country every year. It was first observed the succeeding year, on the 1st of May 1995. Today, South Africa’s Workers’ Day is not only meant to celebrate all laborers and workers who made contributions to the country, but it also serves as a reminder to the public how important the role played by the nation’s trade unions and labor organizations are in ending the Apartheid regime.


Worker's Day Traditions in South Africa

In the former years in South Africa under the Apartheid system, the first of May is usually taken as the day for rallies or protests done by many workers, trade unions, and other organizations, asking the government for better working conditions. In contrast, the day’s celebration at present has become so much better in terms of everything.

Unwinding with Family and Friends

Currently, the observance of Workers’ Day varies according to how each South African family sees it. As a non-working day, many of the South Africans treat this holiday as one where they can spend a good day’s rest with the company of their loved ones. Some of them often spend the day visiting families or friends, especially those living in distant places, to reunite with them. Sometimes, this holiday falls on either Friday or Monday, which makes it better for the people since it would also create longer weekend for them. And with that, many South African families take advantage of the long break by going on a trip/vacation to any destination of their choice.

Braais

Although this holiday’s observance varies from family to family based on their own practices, there is one specific activity which is typically observed by the majority during the celebration of Workers’ Day. Barbecues or more commonly knowns as ‘Braais’ in the Afrikaans language (one of the languages in South Africa) is a common activity observed by many South African families on this day. Having a braai during a special occasion has always been part of the country’s traditions, and Workers’ Day, being one of those special holidays, is not an exception. Most of them, if not all, love to have some braais together with the people important to them. These braais are usually done outdoors, e.g. in the backyard, the poolside, or if the autumn weather allows it, some would even have it in the beaches. Like other people, South Africans also love to get together, be it with the whole family or with some friends. And Workers’ Day, which celebrates all workers in the country, is taken by many as one of the best days to gather and have a celebration.

These braais and other small feasts prepared make the day more special for the working members of the family such as parents, siblings, grandparents, aunts/uncles, etc. In South Africa, the most popular braaied or barbecued dishes include chicken, lamb, steaks, boerewors (which is a spicy all-meat sausage), sosaties (which is a skewered meat), and seafoods like snoek (which is a South African edible marine fish), and crayfish (which is a spiny lobsters). Some of these tasty braai dishes are served along with some ice-cold beer or wine, potato salad, fresh fruits, and other snacks during the holiday. For the South Africans, Workers’ Day has become the perfect day for one to show his/her gratitude to any family member who has been working hard to support the family’s needs.

Other activities

For several others, Workers’ Day is seen as just an extra day off where they can do some shopping, perform domestic chores, or just rest at home. Since there are also some tv programs which would air special shows or documentaries tackling about the importance of workers’ rights on this day, some other South Africans choose to spend the holiday watching these programs. The public are encouraged to watch these shows so they could also be more vigilant about their own rights as laborers/ workers. Currently, Workers’ Day is observed as a public holiday, thus, the country’s government offices, as well as schools and universities, are totally closed for the day. And while few business establishments remain open (e.g. convenience stores, shops, restaurants, etc.), majority of South Africa’s businesses would suspend operation and most of the employees are given a time off work.

Dates of Observance for Workers' Day
Year Date Day Holiday
2023 May 01 Monday Workers' Day
2024 May 01 Wednesday Workers' Day
2025 May 01 Thursday Workers' Day
2026 May 01 Friday Workers' Day
2027 May 01 Saturday Workers' Day
2028 May 01 Monday Workers' Day
Upcoming South Africa Holidays
Holiday Date
Youth Day June 16, 2022
Father's Day June 19, 2022
Nelson Mandela Day July 18, 2022