From naive girl who didn’t know who Man­dela was to PA:

The Herald (South Africa) - - FRONT PAGE - Kathryn Kim­ber­ley [email protected]­me­

ZELDA la Grange was a naive Afrikaans girl with her hair in a “bolla” when she first met the late pres­i­dent Nel­son Man­dela. But the tools he pro­vided her with dur­ing the 19 years as his sec­re­tary and per­sonal as­sis­tant turned her into an en­light­en­ing pub­lic speaker and a best-sell­ing au­thor.

La Grange re­cently re­leased her me­moirs Good Morn­ing, Mr Man­dela, a book which ruf­fled feath­ers among Madiba’s sur­viv­ing fam­ily mem­bers. How­ever, her re­la­tion­ship with Madiba’s widow, Graca Machel, re­mained in­tact.

“I saw Graca two weeks ago. She re­spects my ob­ser­va­tions and sto­ries,” La Grange said yes­ter­day.

She was in Port El­iz­a­beth to speak at a fundrais­ing break­fast for Nel­son Man­dela Met­ro­pol­i­tan Univer­sity’s Bur­sary Legacy Cam­paign. About 112 peo­ple at­tended the event. La Grange’s sense of hu­mour and love for the world icon had the au­di­ence hang­ing on her ev­ery word.

“Peo­ple ask me if I feel like the white to­ken and I say, ‘Wouldn’t you like to be Madiba’s white to­ken’?”

The two most im­por­tant tools Man­dela pro­vided her with were re­spect and dis­ci­pline.

La Grange was born in Boks­burg in Gaut­eng in 1970. At first she was em­bar­rassed about her place of birth and used to tell peo­ple she was from Pre­to­ria – that was un­til Os­car-win­ner Char­l­ize Theron emerged from out of the wood­work.

She said grow­ing up in a con­ser­va­tive Afrikaans fam­ily, she never ques­tioned apartheid and was happy with the way things were run in South Africa.

“I was swimming in the pool at my fa­ther’s house when he came out­side and said, ‘That ter­ror­ist has been re­leased from prison’.

“He be­came very up­set with me when I didn’t know who Man­dela was.”

Some time later, after ap­ply­ing for a job in the Pres­i­dent’s Of­fice, this same per­son she was brought up to fear stood in front of her.

“He shook my hand and I could see the kind­ness and sin­cer­ity in his eyes. Then he spoke Afrikaans to me and he im­me­di­ately de­stroyed my de­fences.

“He asked about my fam­ily and I just started cry­ing. He told me I was over­re­act­ing.”

Her life changed in 1995, when Man­dela called her into his of­fice and told her to sit down.

“I thought I had re­vealed a state se­cret or some­thing. But then he asked me to go to Ja­pan with him and I thought, ‘How in- ap­pro­pri­ate’. The only re­ply I could think of was, ‘Sorry, I don’t have any money to go to Ja­pan.’ He just laughed.

“It is only my ded­i­ca­tion and loy­alty that set me apart. Madiba could shape me into any­thing. He would take my hand and push my lim­its.

“He didn’t only free blacks in South Africa, he freed whites by teach­ing us his ways.”

La Grange said she mostly missed his smile and the way he used to joke about other peo­ple in Afrikaans when they trav­elled abroad.

Her fa­ther, who once feared his re­lease back into so­ci­ety, en­joyed meals with Madiba – even though La Grange reg­u­larly kicked her dad un­der the ta­ble when he said some­thing in­ap­pro­pri­ate – and even planted the trees at Madiba’s homestead in Qunu.

“I took a photo and joked with my fa­ther that times had changed. He was now work­ing in a black man’s gar­den.”

But La Grange, who can tell many sto­ries about the fa­ther of the na­tion, knows very lit­tle about Madiba’s last days as she, like many of his friends, was not al­lowed to visit him.


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