Laudatio: Manfred Weiss

Marius Olivier,

Honorary Professor at Nelson Mandela University; Extraordinary Professor at Northwest University

13 dicembre 2022


It was in 1993 that I first met Manfred personally. I decided to visit him at the university where he held a chair in labour and civil law, i.e., the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt, Germany. The request was a simple yet important one: namely whether he could provide me with a facility to work and guidance in respect of a comparative topic in labour law I intended to work on. It was important to approach him since by that time his commitment to the development of South African labour law and to labour lawyers in South Africa was already well known, and -appreciated. A year later, as a Von Humboldt fellow, I had the privilege to experience first hand his dedicated approach to the study and role of labour law, and critical engagement with labour law reform. This he did, and shared with me, despite his battle with, at that stage, a severe illness he had contracted. 

What has always impressed me, as is the case with many other scholars and students who have come to know Manfred’s approach to the understanding of the place, role and function of labour law, is his insistence on going beyond the mere scientific analysis of labour law as is, and to interrogate the very tenets, doctrines and purposes, as well as institutions, of labour law. For him it is important to investigate, and instil, a deep appreciation of the driving forces, the key actors and the underlying but also desired rationale of labour law both as a normative complex and in its concrete application. All so often in his academic writings and scientific discourses with colleagues at conferences and colloquia he makes it clear that labour law does not operate in a vacuum and in abstract, but that it is deeply influenced by embedded social, political and economic perceptions, perspectives and objectives and, usually, entrenched stakeholder interests. Even so, and perhaps because of such an informed and critical analytical approach, there is, according to him, need to let labour law fulfil reformist objectives including, where necessary, the reform of labour law itself.

In fact, Manfred’s unwavering commitment to social justice objectives has perhaps been one of his most profound contributions to labour law scholarship and discourse. His work has also impacted the role of labour law in steering individual and in particular collective labour relations, and in securing justice for the most vulnerable in society, including workers. This is evident from his deep appreciation of a fundamental rights-based approach to the organisation of employment and labour relations – reflected in his admiration of among others the South African constitutional rights emphasis and his support for and advocacy of the ILO normative framework, and the important reformist impact of international labour law standards. Yet, his support of the ILO framework is not devoid of criticism, where critique is indeed required. In his contributions he has, at times, expressed concern about the inherent deficiencies in the ILO normative and institutional framework, in particular the limited relevance of traditional ILO norms for the developing world context, inadequate ILO supervisory mechanisms, and challenges posed by the ILO representative model. 

In addition, he has often lamented a silo approach to labour law, and the failure to appreciate the broader social law context which labour law is bound to interact with. Practically speaking, so he often insists, a compartmental approach to labour law and social security is of little value to the very workers – and employers – affected by both disciplines.

All of this points not only to his critical engagement with labour law, but a deep commitment to the reform of labour law itself, to achieve overarching objectives, which include addressing the plight of, and serving the interests of those affected by the application of labour law. 


When turning to the recognition of Manfred’s scholarly engagement, we should note his most impressive scholarly productivity: 

  • Until 2017, he has authored or co-edited, singly or in concert, 32 books 
  • From 1972-2019, he has authored or co-authored 266 professional periodical publications (in German and English, but also in French, Italian, Spanish and even Polish)

Worldwide recognition of his contribution to the development of labour law, scientifically and otherwise has been readily forthcoming:

  • He has been a visiting professor in residence at numerous higher education institutions all over the world.
  • He has been awarded honorary doctorates and has been serving as honorary or extraordinary professor at several universities, including a number of South African universities. In fact, currently, in South Africa, he holds such positions at Northwest-University, University of Cape Town, University of Stellenbosch and University of Western Cape.
  • Manfred has been a member of the editorial or scientific advisory boards of ten journals.
  • In addition to his engagement with German professional labour law institutions, in recognition of his critical role at the level of international organisations engaging with labour law and social security; in particular, we should mention his involvement in spearheading the annual commemorative conferences in honour of the great Italian labour law scholar, Maro Biagi and serving as president of what is now known as the International Labour and Employment Relations Association (ILERA), from 2000-2003.
  • Furthermore, three Festschrifts in his honour have been contributed to by many labour law colleagues from all over the world.
  • Also, in 2015, LLRN (the Labour Law Research Network) awarded Manfred with the Award for Life Achievement in Labour Law.
  • Finally, Manfred is also a fellow of the World Academy of Art and Science (WAAS).

Beyond peer recognition, Government recognition of his professional involvement and contribution has also been forthcoming– both formally and informally. Two examples may suffice: 

  • He has twice been a recipient of the Bundesverdienstkreuz, awarded by the German Federal government.
  • Also, after his involvement in the drafting of the new Labour Relations Act of 1995, he was sent a copy of Nelson Mandela’s autobiography, Long Road to Freedom, personally signed by the ex-President himself.

But perhaps it is most instructive for us, meeting at this austere occasion, to reflect for a moment what colleagues themselves are saying in appreciation of Manfred’s role and influence. 

  • At a recent similar event held in honour of Manfred in Frankfurt, Germany, Professor Matthew Finkin of the University of Illinois, delivered the celebration address. In this he essentially reflected the appreciation held by so many colleagues around the world, including in this country, when he remarked: “A naked statistical survey cannot capture the animating spirit behind Manfred’s thought, the reasons why the participants in professional congresses so anticipate, are so attentive to and energised by his remarks.” 
  • Or, as Professor Silvana Sciarra, Professor of European Labour and Social Law and Judge at the Constitutional Court of Italy remarked in Soziales Recht: “the immense contribution offered by Manfred Weiss … is the best example of the combination of legal scholarship with the practice of social dialogue.”
  • Closer to home, we can do no better than to record the deep appreciation expressed by so many South African labour law scholars and practitioners in the chapter contributions to the Liber Amicorum in honour of Manfred, the dedication of which this occasion is all about. For us, the editors, i.e., Nicola Smit, Evance Kalula and me, it was heartening and encouraging to witness the overwhelmingly positive response to our invitation to participate in the Liber Amicorum – no less than 23 chapters and a similar number of authors from South Africa resulted from this invitation. As we heard today, and as indicated by several authors, including Clive Thompson, Johann Maree, Charles Nupen and Halton Cheadle, Manfred has contributed significantly to the drafting of the Labour Relations Act, in particular in relation to the suggested workplace forum system, and the innovative chapter on dispute resolution, which gave rise to the CCMA and Labour Courts as formidable key institutions. Other authors have commented on Manfred’s role and influence in the following terms, and here we only give a few examples: 
    • Halton Cheadle in his short tribute to Manfred (chapter 23) refers to the profound effect that he has had on generations of labour lawyers and South African labour law. 
    • Nicola Smit is quoted in Esther van Kerken’s overview chapter on Manfred, as describing Manfred as a reasoner and hard worker with an unbelievable knowledge of international and comparative legal systems.
    • Christopher Alberty, Brian Burkett and Jeffrey Sack, in their chapter on “Enforceable resolution in transnational workplace disputes” (Chapter 4), comment as follows, on the basis of a comparative enquiry:  “The approach long recommended by Manfred Weiss for greater enforcement of labour rights in the context of global trade appears to be steadily gaining ground. … Manfred’s contribution to these developments has been substantial. His has been a persistent voice for effective enforcement. Slowly but surely, his vision is being realised.”
    • In his chapter (Chapter 8) on interrogating the question whether fundamental assumptions of the Labour Relations Act have been swept asunder, Dennis Davis concluded on this somewhat sombre note, as follows: “The problem of subordination of workers and thus the hollowing out of the content of industrial citizenship that triggered the work of Kahn-Freund and Sinzheimer, and which tradition was faithfully continued by Professor Weiss, is as important, if not more so, in the contemporary economy, than was the case in the pre-Second World War period.”
    • In chapter 11 on the regulation of platform workers, Stefan van Eck concludes: “The brilliance of Weiss as a much-admired labour law scholar does not lie in him suggesting that he has all the answers. He is realistic about the challenges regarding the regulation of platform workers and he engages in the discourse with a holistic perspective.” 
    • Finally, Evance Kalula, in his chapter concerning the case for engaged scholarship in labour law and social protection (chapter 21), refers to Manfred’s “remarkable inspiration”, and continues: “Manfred Weiss has been and continues to be a remarkable scholar in the field of labour and social law; what is significant and most inspiring is the undoubted engaged way he has undertaken his work, as his involvement in South African and Zambian labour law reform readily confirms.”


For many years, Manfred has been serving as consultant to the International Labour Organisation (ILO). This includes his continuous collaboration and missions, e.g., in Zambia (1983 and 1985), Sri Lanka (1984), Sudan (1987), Trinidad (1988), Hungary (1991), South Korea (1991), Poland (1991), Bulgaria (1992 and 2006), South Africa (1994) and Romania (2004). Since 1986 he has been a consultant to the Commission of the EU. 

Of particular significance to us as South African labour lawyers, is the pivotal role that Manfred played in the drafting of the Labour Relations Act of 1995. In the concluding chapter of the Liber Amicorum (chapter 23), Halton Cheadle credits Manfred and other international experts for “two decisive shifts in the thinking of the LRA drafting team: the centrality of dispute resolution and workplace-based structures to complement sectoral bargaining, the preferred level of collective bargaining” – already alluded to earlier in this talk. I can personally testify to the significant time and effort Manfred invested to explain to South African labour relations stakeholders the value of a worker co-determination regime alongside the traditional collective bargaining structure, including a dedicated stakeholder workshop organised for this purpose in Frankfurt in 1995. However, South African trade unions failed to accept the invitation to assist with the operationalisation of the LRA chapter on workplace forums. Charles Nupen nevertheless submits in chapter 22 of the Liber Amicorum: “… in a move that indicates how prescient was Professor Weiss’ focus on the features of co-determination at that workshop [i.e., a workshop held 26 years earlier in Johannesburg], very recently the Minister of Trade and Industry introduced proposals at NEDLAC regarding worker representation on the boards of South African companies and heightened degrees of worker participation in the workplace. A fitting testament to the contribution he has made to labour law and labour relations in South Africa.”


We now turn our attention briefly to Manfred’s contribution to teaching and capacity-building. His ability to instill knowledge and understanding, but also to inspire students and colleagues alike, has been widely reported. All so often, during my many visits to Germany, I met with former students of Manfred who spoke with deep admiration of his enduring involvement in furthering their academic qualifications, their professional careers and their personal well-being. Some of them, including Bernd Waas and Achim Seifert, have proceeded to become well-respected international labour lawyers in their own right. Others have become practitioners and judges, including of the German Federal Constitutional Court.

As Evance Kalula would suggest in this contribution to the Liber Amicorum: “I have always regarded Manfred Weiss and the late Professor Sir Bob Hepple as the best supervisors I never had, but was more fortunate to have had as mentors.”

In the overview chapter of the Liber Amicorum, it is indicated that Manfred particularly made an extraordinary contribution to the teaching and development of South African students enrolled at different universities. This was in particular evident from his engagement for several years with the extension of the LLM in the Labour Law programme of the then Rand Afrikaans University (now University of Johannesburg), to the then Vista University, the then University of the North-West, and the University of Zululand. This was done in collaboration with the German Academic Exchange Agency (DAAD), facilitated by Manfred, and paved the way to invite other German academic colleagues based at different German universities and research institutions, to join the collaboration. On the basis of this collaboration several German labour law and social security scholars taught at these institutions. Under this programme of collaboration, several LLM and LLD students from these universities were invited annually to undertake research for short periods at the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, Germany and other German institutions. Upon their return, participating students time and again expressed their appreciation for the assistance that they had received from Manfred and his colleagues, and reported a broadening of their horizons on life and legal studies. Their reports about their experiences had an immensely positive impact on other students. The benefit that participating students derived from this programme, speaks from their subsequent personal lives and careers as practising lawyers and in other fields. So, for example, Dube Tshidi started working at the (then) Financial Services Board at a junior level and worked his way to becoming CEO; Lethokwa George Mpedi started at RAU as researcher and worked his way to becoming Dean of the Faculty of Law at the University of Johannesburg where he currently holds the position of Vice-Chancellor: Academic. Lethokwa writes that, at a professional level, Manfred was one of the chief architects of his development: Manfred’s networks enabled him to do research at various leading German institutions and make contact with great individuals who influenced his career and perspective on life. The Manfred touch is also visible when George writes that he grew from his interaction with Manfred and his family, who welcomed him like a long lost son and introduced him to German arts and culture, cuisine, history and literature – and that Manfred and his family have a special place in the hearts of the Mpedi family, his son referring to Manfred and Monique as his German grandparents. 

It needs to be pointed out that, following Manfred’s involvement with the above programme, several other South African universities and other institutions operating in the labour law domain too have been inviting Manfred to assist in lecturing. He has regularly been involved in public lectures in South Africa as well, at times also in training South African judges. As indicated earlier, his outstanding contribution to the teaching and development of labour law in South Africa has been acknowledged by several South African higher education institutions.


An appreciation of Manfred Weiss would be incomplete if we do not also reflect on Manfred, the man, the human being, the person. In my view, the greatness of a highly effective scholar does not appear merely from their exceptional professional achievements and service, but also from how they conduct themselves in relating to others. 

To me personally, the concern Manfred has for others is one of his most outstanding if not touching characteristics. Over many years I have witnessed his personal care for and involvement with suffering colleagues and also family members. This is true of dear colleagues who eventually passed on, including Sir Bob Hepple from the UK, formerly South Africa, and Professor Luis Valdez of Lima, Peru, the then President of what is now known as ILERA. It also includes our own dear Professor Evance Kalula, at a time of serious health concerns prior to Evance’s successful heart transplant. Most remarkably, subsequent to the passing away of labour law colleagues who also became friends of him and Monique, they would continue reaching out to the surviving spouse and children of departed colleagues. In fact, as alluded to earlier, Manfred took the initiative to enlist the assistance of several other European labour law colleagues and friends to facilitate the holding of annual commemorative labour law conferences in Modena, Italy, in honour of Marco Biagi, with an emphasis on innovation in labour law, employment relations and social security, and also closely involving Marina Biagi, the wife of the late Marco Biagi. 

Manfred and Monique always make time to meet with colleagues personally and in less formal circumstances. Many of us fondly remember the many meals we have had with Manfred and Monique Weiss, the hospitality we experience when visiting their family home in No 12, Lerchesbergring, Frankfurt, and coming to know Manfred not only as scholar and friend, but also as wine connoisseur, food expert, soccer match referee, political commentator and somebody who celebrates life in its fullness. 

Of course, in honouring Manfred and his contributions, we also express our deep appreciation to his wife and life-long companion, Monique. She has always supported Manfred in his many activities, and as the mother of their two daughters. Accompanying Manfred on most of his visits to South Africa, she has endeared herself to all of us. Hospitality, care and concern for others have been hallmarks not only of Manfred, but also and in particular Monique.


At a time that others would retreat in retirement, with Manfred we have seen almost the opposite – despite his 82 years of age, he unabatedly continues travelling the globe and gracing conferences, symposia and colloquia, teaching at the many universities and programmes he has an involvement with, and investing time and effort in supporting colleagues, in particular younger colleagues. 

As the three of us, the editors, mention in the introductory chapter of the Liber Amicorum, to pay homage to a person with the international stature and exceptional expertise of Professor Manfred Weiss, and his considerable contribution to labour law globally, and particularly in the South African and SADC contexts, is no easy task. It is with this in mind that we, the editors, decided to invite South African scholars and colleagues, who over the years have collaborated with Manfred, to contribute to this publication, at the occasion of his 80th birthday, which already took place in 2020. We could think of no better way to honour a person who has left such an impression on all of us and to express our deepest appreciation of Manfred Weiss and the incredible contribution he has made to labour law development and reform, discourse, teaching and student development in South Africa, with similar impact in some other SADC countries. We would like to echo the assessment by Marius van Staden, then of the University of Johannesburg but now of the University of Witwatersrand, in his review of the Liber Amicorum, which appeared in the Comparative Labor Law and Policy Journal, describing the Liber Amicorum as a “… befitting tribute to a global giant of labour and social law from South African academics and judges”. 

With this in mind, colleagues and friends, and paying honour also to Monique for her amazing supportive role and endearing demeanour, let us rise and thank and congratulate Manfred, together with Monique, at this special occasion.

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