In 1999, Nelson Mandela commissioned Buyi Sishuba and Ethel Arends on a three month-long temporary correspondent job in Nelson Mandela’s post-presidential office, helping with administrative work – particularly, reading and responding to the innumerable letters of request and adoration Nelson Mandela received from all over the world. Joe Ditabo was, at the time, called on to be a general driver for the institution.
Instead, the call turned into a memorable, twenty year-long service for the Foundation’s Records Management Specialist, Ethel Arends, and the Personal Assistant to the Chief Executive, Buyi Sishuba, as well as the Foundation’s Facilities Supervisor, Joe Ditabo.
The Foundation celebrates its 20th anniversary this year. As we look back at the past two decades of continuing Madiba’s work, what has mattered most are the hands, minds and hearts that have driven the work forward. People are our greatest source of capital, and the Foundation is conscious of the immeasurable treasures that have been Ethel Arends, Buyi Sishuba and Joe Ditabo whom have been with the Foundation since its inception.
“When Madiba was in the office, he would share stories with us and that made us feel so special and at ease in his presence. He was able to relate to everybody and he just never gave up, and that is the most valuable lesson I learnt from him,” reflects Ethel on her time at the Foundation.
Buyi often recalls truly special moments at the Foundation with Madiba: “We use to have family Christmas. We would invite our loved-ones, share gifts and Madiba would go around greeting everyone. We felt so special.”
Speaking of his twenty-year journey and the lessons he learned from Madiba, Joe says he respects time in a way he wouldn’t have had he not worked for the late icon. “He was very punctual, and was not happy with people who do not respect time, every second mattered to him.”
They all agree that some of their highlights of the past twenty years come from meeting interesting people, world leaders, sports and television stars that have walked through the doors of the Foundation. Most importantly, the many initiatives the Foundation has undertaken to change the lives of the most vulnerable.
“We are honoured to have the kind of calibre of the team which has seen the Foundation develop over the years and have stayed the course. In this instance, Buyi, Ethel and Joe have demonstrated that they have changed from being employees to being partners to the legacy. Through their efforts, they are helping to build an institution that is fit enough to fulfil the dream,” shared the Chief Executive of the Foundation, Sello Hatang.
The work that Nelson Mandela started is far from finished. It is the reason Madiba established his post-presidential office in 1999, and established a home for the Nelson Mandela Foundation in 2006. There is hope that with the devotion and commitment exemplified by Ethel Arends, Buyi Sishuba and Joe Ditaba, the work of Nelson Mandela may find hope for fruition.