Remembering Nelson Mandela (1918-2013)

5 December 2013

"Today, a country, a continent and the entire world are united in grief as we mourn the passing of Nelson Mandela, a truly exceptional human being. Personally, and on behalf of the International LabourOrganization, I extend my heartfelt condolences to his family and my deepest sympathies to the people and the Government of South Africa.

We have lost a champion of freedom, of tolerance and of dialogue. With grace, humility and dignity he towered above us all in his pursuit of peace and social justice. The world has been enriched by his passion, his commitment, his perseverance, his integrity and, above all, his humanity."
Despite the thickness of the prison walls, all of us in Robben Island and other jails could hear your voices demanding our release very clearly. We drew inspiration from this. (...) We thank you that you did not tire in your struggle. We thank you for your sense of humanity and your commitment to justice which drove you to reject the very idea that we should be imprisoned and that our people should be in bondage."

Nelson Mandela's address to the International Labour Conference - 8 June 1990


Jailed for 27 years, Nelson Mandela, leader of the movement to end South African apartheid, is released on February 11, 1990. On 8 June 1990, in one of his first visits to an international organization following his release from prison, he paid tribute to the ILO for its struggle against apartheid.
  • It is fitting that the world is commemorating Nelson Mandela's life on Human Rights Day. Let us honour his memory and his legacy by respecting fundamental rights and advancing social justice."

    Guy Ryder, 10th ILO Director-General
  • We will always be inspired by his wisdom and his grace, the humility and truth, the words and the deeds of President Nelson Mandela.”

    Juan Somavia, 9th ILO Director-General - 15 June 2007
  • During these years of detentions he became a symbol of liberty and a figurehead of peace. (...) 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."

    Michel Hansenne, 8th ILO Director-General - 8 June 1990
  • "The world lost a great, courageous, wise and historic leader. Let us be grateful and inspired by his devotion to the fight against discrimination and exploitation, his struggle for justice and equity. His life is a call for our commitment. "

    Luc Cortebeeck, Workers' Vice-chair of the ILO's Governing Body
  • Nelson Mandela’s impact will continue to influence the work of employers not only in South Africa, but the world over (...) His understanding of the need for national integration as well as his conviction that reconciliation is the rightful path constitutes a clear guideline towards the strengthening of social dialogue throughout the world"

    Daniel Funes de Rioja, Employers' Vice-chair of the ILO's Governing Body

Watch Mandela's addresses at the ILO

  1. June 1990

    Video highlights of Nelson Mandela's visit to the 77th International Labour Conference

  2. June 2007

    Nelson Mandela's acceptance address on receiving the Decent Work Research Prize