Programme Director,

The Seboni and Madikizela-Mandela families of our late leaders,

Leadership of COSATU and SACTWU, the ANC, SACP, SANCO and the Leagues,


It is fitting that we have gathered here today in Matlosana, not far from where comrade Violet met her tragic passing in Ventersdorp in 2009.

We are pleased a tradition has started today of paying tribute to our fallen heroines.  This is a moment to remember their values, to reflect on how far we have come in honouring their sacrifices and to rededicate ourselves to continuing their struggles. 

This commemoration must not end within this hall today but continue as we return to our workplaces to recruit workers to join the Southern African Clothing and Textile Workers’ Union (SACTWU) and other Affiliates, to our communities like Soweto where Violet grew up and Winnie’s struggles captured the nation’s imagination, to Parliament where we seek to elevate their demands into the laws of the Republic.

Violet succeeded where few women before her had.  She not only rose to become a shop steward and regional chair but also a national leader of SACTWU and a Deputy President of the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU).  Her leadership was recognised internationally.

Hers was not an easy journey growing up during the darkest days of apartheid and one who’s scars were felt across society and within her own family where she was raised by her grandmother.

Despite all of the challenges she faced, she persevered and was recognised.  Had she not been taken from us at such a young age, we are confident that today she would still be leading working class struggles.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, the mother of the nation, needs no introduction. Her struggles need little reminder.  Again, this was a young woman from eMbizana in the deep rural Eastern Cape, who moved to Johannesburg, became a social worker and against the most insurmountable odds, helped carry the liberation struggle on her shoulders when Madiba was imprisoned for life.

No amount of harassment or brutality or banishment or detention or torture could deter her.  When others would have surrendered, lost hope, walked away, Winnie stood her ground.  Her defiance was recognised across the world and inspired countless generations in the darkest of times.  Her spirit broke the apartheid regime despite having the most powerful security forces in the continent.

Winnie and Violet were from different generations, but they symbolised the painful adversities that countless African and Black women faced over many decades.  They reflect the fighting spirit that liberated South Africa and laid the foundation for the constitutional non-racial and non-sexist democracy that we have today.

Much has been said about these two giants.  Whilst we correctly celebrate them, we must reflect on how far we have come and how far we must still journey.

We have come far from March 21, 1960, where 69 peaceful protesters were massacred to the signing of the Constitution of the democratic Republic by President Nelson Mandela in Sharpeville in 1996.

Not only do we celebrate our Constitution and the democratic fabric it provides for the nation, but also the progressive socio-economic mandate it imposes upon the state, including addressing the wrongs of the past and the inequalities of today.

We will be holding our 7th democratic elections in 7 weeks.  We have built an enviable record of holding free and fair elections, that nations in the West can learn much from.

In 1994, the nation had only seen one women Minister in the apartheid government, in charge of health.  Today, we will accept nothing less than a Cabinet and Provincial Executive Councils being less than 50% women, including holding portfolios traditionally viewed as off limits for women.

Our laws are interrogated from a gender rights perspective with many laws put in place to uplift and empower women and overcome the shackles of racism and inequality.  It has become the norm that Parliament is led by women.

We have moved far from the days when the state spent little in Black communities.  Today 60% of the Budget is spent investing in working class communities.

Whilst we have come far, the scars of colonialism, apartheid and capitalism remain deep.

Our challenges are daunting from a 41% unemployment rate to one of the most unequal societies in the world.  We are emerging from a devasting decade of state capture and corruption, including the damage it did to Eskom, Transnet, and many other organs of state.

Yet we must recognise and build upon the progress.  Unemployment has fallen by 5% of the past year.  Millions of young people have been integrated into the Presidential Employment Stimulus to help them earn a salary and gain the experience they need to find permanent employment.

It is no small feat that whilst we are seeking to slash unemployment, 27 million people are receiving social grants, including the SRD Grant, from the state as part of the commitment to leave no one behind.

Today surely Mama Winnie would be pleased that young children can go to school for free, be fed and millions be assisted to enter tertiary education. 

Parliament passed the National Health Insurance Bill in December laying the foundation for universal healthcare.

At the heart of the ANC’s 2024 elections manifesto is the commitment to place industrialisation and local procurement at the heart of the state’s economic policies, a matter that Violet’s Affiliate, SACTWU, has fought valiantly for over many years.

Mama Winnie and Violet, championed equal rights for women, even when this was not fully understood even within the liberation movement.

Today it is against the Employment Equity Act to discriminate on the basis of gender.  Companies seeking to do business with the state must have a compliance certificate from the Department of Employment and Labour confirming that they are in good standing with the Employment Equity and the National Minimum Wage Acts.

The Minimum Wage, championed by SACTWU and COSATU, and led by the ANC in Parliament, in particular by President Cyril Ramaphosa, has raised the wages of six million workers, in particular women on farms, in our homes, at our restaurants, in our shops.

The Compensation of Occupational Injuries and Diseases Act was amended in 2022 to afford protection to 900 000 domestic workers and extend cover for all women workers exposed to gender-based violence and sexual harassment at the workplace.

Parliament amended our laws in 2017 to increase cover for maternity leave to include still born births and third trimester miscarriages and increase payments to new mothers.

COSATU helped ensure that paid paternity, parental and adoption leave was put into into law in 2018.

Whilst we celebrate these victories in the struggle for women’s rights, we are pained by the horrific levels of violence that our mothers, wives, sisters, aunts, daughters, the elderly, persons with disabilities face in our homes, communities, schools and work.

In January 2022, the President signed legislation overhauling our criminal laws, increasing protection for women and other vulnerable persons, tightening the bail and sentencing provisions for persons involved in GBV, empowering and compelling the SAPS and other persons in authority to deal with GBV incidents and banning the employment of persons guilty of GBV from positions of authority.

These are progressive and powerful weapons, yet if we do not collectively act as government, employers, labour, schools, churches and communities, to ensure their enforcement, then they will remain little more than nice English words. 

We have come far, but we dare not be complacent.  The struggle is far from over.

Violet was dedicated to organising and building the trade union movement, to ensure that workers were aware of their rights, united, able to engage in collective bargaining, improve the working conditions of workers and the living conditions of the working class.

She was clear that this compelled us to work towards the vision of Elijah Barayi, of one industry, one union, one country, one federation.  She understood that the African National Congress and the Alliance remained the most effective vehicle for advancing the interests of the workers and the working class.

She would want to see, hear and feel each one of us here today in working to organize workers, build strong Affiliates and a vibrant Federation.

She would expect us to be working flat out to ensure that on Workers’ Day not only Athlone Stadium but stadiums in all 9 provinces will be filled on the 1st of May as we celebrate our victories and recommit ourselves for May 29th.

Mama Winnie, was unashamed in her loyalty to the ANC.  Unlike others, there was no doubting that her blood was black, green and gold.  She was ANC until the end.  Whether times were good or tough, whether she was deployed or not, she was ANC.

She knew that it is only the ANC that could unite and uplift South Africa.  She would want to hear today about our campaigns of going farm to homes, factories to shopping centres, schools to clinics to convince our people to vote for the ANC.

She would us not only want to persuade voters to come out in their numbers to ensure a decisive victory for the ANC on May 29th but also for us to feel the hopes of the young girl in Cofimvaba, the poverty of the farm worker in Ventersdorp, the frustrations of the domestic worker in Potchefstroom, the dangers faced by the Police Officer in Alex.

Both Violet and Winnie would be clear.  Ours is to leave from here today, inspired by their journeys, pounding the streets engaging workers and ordinary people, mobilising to ensure voters come out in their numbers on May 29th and most importantly holding government, led by the African National Congress, accountable for improving the lives of all South Africans, Black and White, women and men, young and old, urban and rural.

We have 7 weeks left, we don’t have time to spare.  Let us go and do the work Winnie and Violet set for us.

Thank you.