Nelson Mandela Foundation

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Nelson Mandela Foundation CEO Sello Hatang yesterday facilitated and spoke at the South African Human Rights Commission's 20 year anniversary conference on racism.

The two-day conference, held on 15 March 2016, aimed to provide a multi-speaker platform to critically evaluate the gains made and challenges faced by the commission over the last 20 years, reflecting on its role in promoting respect and the protection of human rights.

Here is Mr Hatang's speech in full: 

 Over the past few years the Nelson Mandela Foundation has engaged with people from all walks of life. We have spoken to the young and those who are old. Of different races and many languages. The born frees and the struggle stalwarts. We have spoken to multi-millionaires and those who live without water in their homes. We have spoken to everyone, from Zulu businessmen to Afrikaner domaniees. It is the nature of our work.  

Common throughout these discussions is that the vast majority of South Africans want to build a fair and equitable society for all. They all want to see a significant reduction in inequality, they all want to do an honest day’s work, they all want to see an end to racism. They also want the best for their children and all want to live a decent life. Where we differ however, is how to get there.

In how to get there, we have seen our people asking hard questions. We grapple with how to overcome poverty and inequality. Do we raise the minimum wage? Or will this lead to increased unemployment and suffering? How do we transform without destabilising? How do we address racism in the country without resorting to racialism? And how do we stop this racialism from turning into a blinding hate of ‘the other’?

In our discussions we have spoken to constitutionalists such as Leon Wessels, who professed a love of the Constitution and its every word, relating how each word was chosen carefully and deliberately. We have also heard of those who are angry, who believe that constitutional protections only protect the privileged and that we need to destroy and rebuild. 

What I do know is that we should be very careful of throwing away what we have built. What we built on was based on a ‘universal value system’. When we speak of universal value I’m reminded of a quote by Amartya Sen who argues:

For a value to be considered universal, must it have the consent of everyone? If that were indeed necessary, then the category of universal values might well be empty. I know of no value--not even motherhood to which no one has ever objected. I would argue that universal consent is not required for something to be a universal value. Rather, the claim of a universal value is that people anywhere may have reason to see it as valuable. When Mahatma Gandhi argued for the universal value of non-violence, he was not arguing that people everywhere already acted according to this value, but rather that they had good reason to see it as valuable.

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Photo by Debbie Yazbek

We have to realise that these universal values were not only forged in the South African struggle. The values that we see as imparted came from years of resistance to Feudalism, to colonialism, to oppression. They were shaped by the devastation of the World Wars and the genocides that were part of those wars. At the same time, we cannot just rest on providing basic human rights and our individual liberties we should heed the words of Madiba who stated:

The poverty that continues to stalk millions, the problems of education, housing, health, landlessness and lack of jobs that continue to afflict the majority of our citizens – all these are reminders that the mission of meaningful freedom, democracy and human rights is yet to be fulfilled.

The South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) was established with these universal values in mind 20 years ago. We have to congratulate all of those who have worked so tirelessly over the last 20 years to build the Commission into what it is today. The Commission has built a reputation of trust, impartiality and justice. When we look back a few months into the Penny Sparrow debacle and the cases that followed, the calls of many were to report it to the Human Rights Commission and despite the link to the state, there were very few who questioned the SAHRC. This illustrates the gravitas that the SAHRC has in the minds of ordinary South Africans.

Yet embedded in that debacle was the ever looming spectre of racism. Racism offends these universal values. It dehumanises the individual. It dehumanises the identity of a people. At the Foundation we unequivocally believe that racism is one of the critical fault lines in our society; capable of tearing the social fabric apart.

With this in mind, the Ahmed Kathrada Foundation and the Nelson Mandela Foundation along with 80 other organisations have formed the Anti-Racism Network of South Africa.

ARNSA’s mission is to foster a collective voice in South Africa to:

  • Facilitate and pioneer responses, both pro-active and reactive, to the presence of racist actions and ideas wherever they are
  • Expose the underlying causes and address the damage caused by racism and related forms of discrimination
  • Ensure that anti-racism strategies are mainstreamed across all sectors of South African life
  • Influence policy and decision making
  • Become a critical voice on issues of racism and related forms of discrimination where they emerge without fear or favour

The SAHRC is a key stakeholder in this endeavour as it is the commission that protects these rights. We therefore will seek a continued partnership with the HRC in ending this rampant racism in the country.

However, we are aware that you cannot respond to every incident. We need to destroy this culture of racism. One of our first activities is to build on anti-racism week. We have been using the pledge #TakeOnRacism to:

Learn about racism,

Talk about it,

Speak out against it, and

Act to stop it.

You can all sign up on 

I thank you for your time and again congratulate the SAHRC on the fine work they have been doing to protect our rights and liberties. We stand beside you as we seek to build a country of our dreams and of our forebears dreams. Those who sacrificed for us to be here. With clear understanding that we are doing so, for those who are yet to be born.