Sello Hatang. Current CEO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation

Located in Johannesburg, the Nelson Mandela Foundation was established in 1999 after its namesake founder stepped down as South African president. Nelson Mandela made history by becoming the first South African president democratically elected in universal suffrage. His victory put an end to a racist regime that dominated the country for almost 50 years through Apartheid.

  The organization is the result of Mandela’s will, whose impetus was to tackle social problems that plague South Africa and other regions. The institution advocates the promotion of actions and dialogues favorable to the promotion of human rights, the encouragement of infrastructure, and the construction of ideas that contribute to help the most vulnerable populations conquer the means for a dignified life. Above all, the Foundation considers vital the mission of preserving the legacy of Nelson Mandela, keeping his memory and biography alive. 

To fulfill this task, the institution has created the Mandela Exhibition, a collection dedicated to the life and work of the founder. Circulating around the world, the exhibition goes beyond paying homage to “Madiba”. The art sample carries the message of a human being in his struggle for social justice and brings perhaps unknown details of the life of the first democratically elected South African president. In addition to the exhibition, a “Mandela Day” was created in 2009 with the help of the United Nations, set for July 18, the day the South African leader was born. In 2012, Richard Mabaso, CEO of the Ibumba Foundation, created in partnership with the Nelson Mandela Foundation the ” Trek4Mandela”, which consists of a hike to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain in Africa, located in Tanzania. The expedition has been held annually since its inception as a way to honor the legacy of Nelson Mandela. The goal is to reach the top on the official date of “Mandela Day”.

22 years after its inception, the institution collects great achievements and has expanded its field of activities on several work fronts. Sello Hatang, current chief executive of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, assumed the leadership of the institution in 2013. In a conversation with the Atlantico, he talked a little about South Africa, Mandela, and the expectation of the exhibition in Brazil.  

Atlântico- Could you share a bit about your trajectory and how you arrived at the Nelson Mandela Foundation?

Sello Hatang- My name is Sello Hatang and my journey starts with my work in the government as an archivist. I was the leader of the Human Rights Commission and I was also the Director of the South African Historical Archives (SAHA), where I supported the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in the archives sector. Some very interesting work was done there. Something that should be rescued in terms of national archives. I have been at the Foundation since 2009 and started here as head of the communications sector. I was appointed as CEO in 2013. One of the big things I was involved in most recently was the repatriation of Namibians who were in South Africa due to covid-19. 

Atlantic- Could you talk a little bit about what the Foundation has been doing?

Sello Hatang- Here we work on different fronts. We provide support for the construction of hospitals, clinics and other types of health facilities. We also work through dialogue. We have had conversations, for example, with former President Obama, and former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, who spoke here in different years for Mandela Day. Recently we found some parts of the country damaged by flooding. So as we speak here, the foundation and its partners are coalescing around plans to help the affected communities by providing homes, supplies, and other necessities. It’s similar to what we did when covid hit.  

Atlantic- Relative to covid-19, the pandemic hit emerging nations the hardest. How was that for the Foundation? 

Sello Hatang- We didn’t have a plan for that.  The covid came by surprise and the Nelson Mandela Foundation decided to help by donating food. We visited communities offering food supplies and organized ourselves to support at least 100,000 people.The project in question is called ” Each one, Feed one” and had an initial investment of ZAR 500,000 from the Nelson Mandela Foundation. 

The food aid was extremely important so that the most vulnerable regions could be given more strength to resist the pressure caused by the lockdown. Two years later, it became something broader. This project was changed from a food support project to a project that guarantees food security in a sustainable way. So now we are helping communities to be able to produce their own “food gardens” and be self-sufficient in food. We have also done some fundraising to provide masks and hand sanitizer.

Slogan of the campaign “Each One. Feed One” campaign promoted by the Nelson Mandela Foundation at the height of the pandemic

“The food aid was extremely important so that the most vulnerable regions could have more breath to withstand the pressure caused by the lockdown.”

Atlantic- What needs to be done for Africa to be able to develop economically and sustainably?

Sello Hatang- I think part of the solution is to make sure that governments move to action and not just talk the talk. That they actually do something for sustainable development. Here, as in Brazil, we need to start having the political willpower to do the hard work. To achieve sustainable development, we need to invest in education. Literacy is an important point that deserves focus. Also, if we deal with crime and corruption, we will be better off. Another point is to make sure that people understand that everyone’s development is not only about progress in the present, but also suffers the future of the generations yet to be born.

 So we must not only focus on you or me, but on our children’s children. What will they find when they are here? When they find Brazil in too much debt, when they find Brazil without adequate facilities and equipment to take care of its people? So development, to me, means people understanding that they can contribute to this development. But governments must also deal with crime, corruption, and other elements that prevent this progress from happening.  The last point is the contribution coming from companies. They could help with electricity, water, nutrition, sanitation, and other things that help people live with dignity. The private sector also needs to be aware of its part in the equation. 

“To achieve sustainable development, we need to invest in education. Literacy is an important point that deserves focus.”

Atlantic- So education is key to change?

Sello Hatang- Education is one part of the solution for Africa to develop. But it is not enough. In South Africa, for example, there are many people with vocational education and there are no jobs for those people. We still don’t have an economy that can adopt its own people and have more people in the labor market. So education alone is not enough. We need leaders who care, economies that open up opportunities, a democracy that cares and helps the development agenda of its people. 

Atlantic: 22 years after the Foundation came into existence and almost 10 years since Nelson Mandela’s departure, how do you see South Africa today? Are there remnants of apatheid?

Sello Hatang- Apartheid is over, but there is still a lot to be done to deal with its scars. Our education system is still left to neglect. We have done our best to lift especially the black population out of poverty, but there are still many in that situation. So I think there is still a lot to be done to deal with the effect of apartheid. Racism is another point. Many people have been taught to hate themselves because they have heard all their lives that they are inferior. And if we are going to address these challenges, we cannot deny the root of these problems. 

We must not just focus on me or you, but on our children’s children. What will they think when they are here?”

From left to right, slogan of the International Mandela Day established on July 18, 2009 and slogan of the Trek4Mandela project, founded in 2012

Atlantic- What are your expectations regarding the partnership with the Brazil Africa Institute in creating an exhibition on Nelson Mandela in Brazil?

Sello Hatang- To spread Nelson Mandela’s story and legacy throughout Brazil. To ensure that his time on Earth is remembered by many and does not die with him. We know that “Madiba” is deeply loved in Brazil, and the exhibition is a way to firm up his legacy and even show parts of his story that may be unknown. It is also an integral part of education. It ensures that people like Nelson Mandela are seen in classrooms. The partnership with the Brazil Africa Institute was essential for the realization of this project, which is sure to have a positive outcome for all parties involved. The Institute is a great ally of the African continent and I’m pretty sure that there will be good opportunities to future partnerships.

“Spread Nelson Mandela’s story and legacy throughout Brazil. Ensure that his passage on earth is remembered by many and does not die with him. “

Part of the 2018 Mandela Exhibition hosted at the Dragão do Mar Cultural Center. The event was attended by João Bosco Monte, president of the Brazil Africa Institute

Atlantic- What can we expect in the future regarding the Foundation? Could you talk about any upcoming or ongoing projects? 

Sello Hatang- We have two ongoing projects. One is the exhibition and the other one we are keeping our focus on climate change and racial equality. What do we need to do differently? What can we do to prevent humanity from causing its own destruction? How can we take better care of the natural resources granted by the planet? The other is focused on the Atlantic Fellows for Social and Economic Equity, a project that is being done in partnership with the United States with the aim of fighting racism, for example. And I believe that all these actions are ways to maintain Nelson Mandela’s legacy. Because it is a legacy that gives hope and enables people to dream of a better, more fraternal and united world. 

“It is a legacy that grants hope and enables people to dream of a better, more fraternal and united world. “