77th Session of the International Labour Conference

Welcome remarks by Michel Hansenne, 8th ILO Director General, on the occasion of Nelson Mandela's visit to the ILO

Statement | Geneva, Switzerland | 08 June 1990
Michel Hansenne (8th ILO's Director-General and Nelson Mandela
(Original in French) It is a great honour and privilege, Sir, to be able to welcome you at the International Labour Conference. It is also unquestionably a tremendous pleasure for our Organisation and for its members, who have been working for some 30 years to secure the abolition of apartheid and to promote the equality of rights in South Africa.

These efforts have taken form in precise studies which, year after year, have analysed the pernicious effects of this abject discrimination on the workers in South Africa. These efforts have also been reflected in in-depth discussions of such problems in the constituent bodies of this Organisation - the Governing Body and the International Labour Conference - where, as you know, governments and workers' and employers' associations are represented. They resulted in the adoption of a declaration which has been revised several times and constitutes a real battle plan to do away with apartheid. We have the firm conviction today that the end of this discrimination is at hand. Rest assured, Sir, that we will continue to support all your efforts to build and develop a South Africa based on liberty, equality, and social justice.

We are welcoming here today a militant of liberty and human dignity. For 27 years he was kept away from his family, his friends and his movement; but during his years of detention he always remained close to those who, in his country and elsewhere, were working for the cause of fundamental human rights.

The presence of Mr. Mandela at the beginning of this session of our Conference is thus a unique source of inspiration for all the delegations which, yet again, will be called upon to deal with the problem of apartheid but will also discuss other difficulties in the practical application of the rights of men and women at work. Mr. Mandela's struggle is our struggle and he will certainly help us to win other, battles in favour of equality of rights and respect for work and workers.

During these years of detentions - and this is a paradox - he became a symbol of liberty and a figurehead of peace. What world public opinion notices most is that in spite of his suffering and hardships, he is not bent on taking his revenge at all, but anxious to build rather than to destroy ; the world is aware of his serenity and his desire to hold a dialogue.

The presence of Mr. Mandela in this room is the best proof of the appropriate and effective means upon which our institution is based. Social justice, tripartism and dialogue, and the desire to progress through discussion rather that confrontation; these constitute the cornerstone upon which the policy of the International Labour Organisation is built. These are the same principles that Mr. Mandela has been advocating and which today are helping his country move towards better days. The lifting of the state of emergency is in fact the latest sign of this. This confirms that the methods used by our institution are correct and are a great encouragement for us to continue our action for human rights and workers.