77th Internationational Labour Conference (ILC)

Remarks by the President of the 77th Session of the International Labour Conference, on the occasion of Mr. Nelson Mandela's visit

By Mr. Jorge Alberto Triaca, the representative of Argentina to the ILO, elected President of the 77th Session of the International Labour Conference.

Statement | Geneva, Switzerland | 08 June 1990
Mandela, while listening to you, I had the clear impression that I was living a privileged moment of my life. The clarity of your thinking, the sincerity of your dedication to a just cause, the sacrifice of your whole lifetime to fighting for the freedom of all those of your race, move us deeply.

You have been introduced to the Conference by the Director-General of the ILO in very full terms. You have implanted to us the essence of your philosophy. It is incumbent upon me as President of the Conference to thank you and bid you farewell, but I should not like to do so without referring, if you will so allow me, to certain aspects of your life which have particularly impressed me.

A periodical with a world-wide circulation recently reported an anecdote you had told about your first real contact with the Whites. One day, you said, you were dictating something to a White secretary, when a client came in who was also White. Visibly embarrassed, your secretary, to show that she was not your employee, took two pennies out of her purse and said to you: "Nelson, please go out and buy me some shampoo." That was when you became aware of your status as a member of an unjustly segregated race. Your rebellion against that injustice has made you exceptionally well qualified to speak for your brothers in misfortune and bear witness to their distress.

To this, you have devoted your life, of which that anecdote is merely a tiny fragment; your thinking is more powerful still. In your book entitled No easy walk to freedom, you said that you would not leave South Africa, nor surrender; that freedom could only be won through privation, sacrifice and militant action; that the struggle was your life and that you would continue struggling until the end of your days.

What inspiring words these are; what a splendid lesson in selfless devotion you have taught us in paying with 27 years' imprisonment for your faithfulness and unswerving adherence to an ideal of justice and freedom. I can pay this tribute to you with the sincerity and understanding of someone who has himself been put in prison, though for a much shorter time, because of his commitment to the humanitarian ideals proclaimed in the Preamble to the ILO Constitution.

Mr. Nelson Mandela, on behalf of this distinguished assembly, I express our deep gratitude to you for honouring us with your presence. I shall not say "Goodbye" but "See you soon", when, in your country, men are no longer Black or White but brothers who are equal and free.