Twenty-eight female guards were unfairly dismissed by a security company because the client‚ Metrora.
ANC treasurer Mathews Phosa has warned the party's national executive committee that it risks losing touch with the masses.
Phosa was speaking at a VIP breakfast inside the Drakenstein Prison yesterday, where the 20th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's release from jail was being celebrated.
"The ANC cannot afford to lose touch with the masses. People on the ground are not experiencing Batho Pele. It does not matter who you are, you are a servant of the people," Phosa told cabinet ministers and tripartite alliance leaders.
"We have taken the baton from Mandela and we must live up to his legacy of service delivery to our people," Phosa said.
More than 8000 people later flooded into a small field in the prison, next to the gate where Mandela took his first steps to freedom 20 years ago. Mandela was unable to attend, and Winnie Madikizela-Mandela was a no-show.
President Jacob Zuma was also unexpectedly replaced by his deputy, Kgalema Motlanthe, who delivered an uninspiring speech.
"We should always remember that the steps that Mandela took were not the beginning but a milestone in a long journey of our struggle.
"We must always remember that it is the people themselves who will change this country for the better," Motlanthe said.
But the crowds were wowed by the ANC Youth League's Julius Malema and Cosatu general secretary Zwelinzima Vavi, whose speeches were greeted with loud cheers.
Malema called on Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula to stamp out alleged racism in the Drakenstein Prison.
"The management does not respect black workers here. There is a deep-rooted racism in this prison," he said.
Earlier in the day Malema had warned NEC members and cabinet ministers who were opposed to nationalisation of the mines, saying that Mandela himself had called for nationalisation after his release.
"Madiba understood what the Freedom Charter means. We don't want the permission of any individual to live up to the expectations of the 1944 generation. Mandela said freedom in our lifetime, we want to declare 'economic freedom in our lifetime'," Malema said.
SACP leader Blade Nzimande told the rally that Mandela was "a friend of the communists".
"Our revolution has brought political freedom but not economic power," Nzimande said.
Vavi described the high rate of unemployment among the youth as a "disaster" and a "ticking bomb waiting to explode".
He cautioned against "hyenas" in the ruling party, who he said want to pursue self-enrichment at the expense of the majority.
"When you open the windows for fresh air you also end up letting in the flies.
"When you make progress there are always hyenas standing on one side. The challenge is not to allow these few hyenas to turn the country into a culture of bling, self-enrichment and into the politics of dog eat dog," he said.
ANC member and tycoon Cyril Ramaphosa said though the economy was not growing as quickly as the ANC wanted, this was a "challenge" facing every government in the world.
He paid tribute to the ANC for "giving birth" to Mandela.
"The ANC is like a cat. If you throw it out of a high building it will roll around but it always lands on its feet," Ramaphosa said.