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Achmat Dangor: The nation loses a great and gentle soul

Achmat Dangor: The nation loses a great and gentle soul
Then Nelson Mandela Foundation CEO and 46664 board member, Achmat Dangor at a press conference about the global clothing brand to be launched by non-profit organisation 46664, held in Johannesburg, South Africa on 9 March 2011. (Photo by Gallo Images/Foto24/Bongiwe Gumede)

One of Achmat’s key attributes was his willingness to be a runner when needed and to step in and get his hands dirty whenever there was a possible blockage. He wasn’t one to send you off to face difficulties alone. He was right there with you.

Driving back home from Achmat Dangor’s funeral and seeing the sunset reminded me of the great soul whose life had just come to an end. The news of Achmat’s passing had broken me. I tried doing one last chore at home for the weekend, but couldn’t complete it. To his family and friends, please receive my deepest condolences. Your loss is our loss too. It is the nation’s loss of a dedicated and extremely talented man.

Achmat was very special to me. It is true to say that this has been one of the saddest and heaviest days of my professional life. He saw something in me that I didn’t see in myself. I guess that’s what a mentor does. When he took me to one of my first, biggest meetings in this context at Luthuli House back in 2009, I protested. I’m young! I’m new! Surely there are colleagues more deserving of the honour. Of course, deep down I also didn’t want to go as it was going to be a difficult meeting with the ANC. All he said, in a very gentle Achmat way, was: “I want you to come with me.” That was the end of discussion. From that point onwards, Achmat took me along to all his important engagements. 


Achmat Dangor with former President, Nelson Mandela at the Nelson Mandela Foundation where he greets, Mpho Mathibela, one of the girls at the foundation whose wish was to meet him on her 21st birthday.

Fast-forward a few years later when he was about to retire. When his position was advertised, he came to me and said: “Apply.” Again, in a very firm but gentle voice. I thought about it for many days. It worried me! I was still young. Yes, with a bit of experience, but not at that level. I was very green at this level of engagement. He still insisted on me applying, even after hearing all my excuses. He and other colleagues guided me through the process. As they say, the rest is history. 

Today, I look back at one of the last events that Achmat attended at the Nelson Mandela Foundation. At the time, he was not feeling well and yet he showed up. I asked him why he insisted on coming even though he wasn’t well. His answer floored me. He said, and I’m paraphrasing:

“I’m here because I don’t want you to fail.” It then dawned on me that Achmat was always there, even though he refused to speak or to give me any tips, unless absolutely necessary, because he didn’t want to rule from the grave. 

Then CEO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Achmat Dangor, at the official launch of ‘Mandela Mondays’ 2011 held at Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton, Johannesburg, South Africa on 23 May 2011 .(Photo by Gallo Images/Foto24/Felix Dlangamandla)

One of Achmat’s key attributes was his willingness to be a runner when needed and to step in and get his hands dirty whenever there was a possible blockage. He wasn’t one to send you off to face difficulties alone. He was right there with you. One such example was when we were in New York City for the last 46664 concert, which coincidentally also marked the launch of the first Nelson Mandela Day.

At some point during the day, Zelda (La Grange) called, indicating that there was a problem at Grand Central, where the main fundraising event was to take place later that evening. I informed Achmat, who then ran with me to Grand Central. We literally had to run as we couldn’t get a cab. His many years at the United Nations kicked in and he sorted the problem out. This trait I inherited, to the irritation of some of my colleagues. Now you know, blame it on Achmat!

To Achmat I would say, I will always try my best never to fail in everything that I touch. Mistakes, I will make, learn from them and keep at it.

Robala ka kagiso morwa Dangor. Ntwa o e lwele! You will always be missed. DM/MC

Sello Hatang is CEO of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

 

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