News / Africa

Mandela Secretary's Memoirs Cause Stir in S. Africa

  • Nelson Mandela smiles for photographers at his home in Johannesburg September 22, 2005.
  • Nelson Mandela and his then wife, Winnie, salute well-wishers as he leaves Victor Verster prison on Feb. 11, 1990.
  • This undated photograph shows Nelson Mandela and his former wife, Winnie.
  • South African State President Frederik Willem de Klerk and Deputy President of the African National Congress Nelson Mandela prior to talks, Cape Town, May 2, 1990.
  • Nelson Mandela, is seen as he gives the black power salute to 120,000 ANC supporters in Soweto's Soccer City stadium, Feb. 13, 1990.
  • Then-African National Congress President Nelson Mandela salutes the crowd in Galeshewe Stadium near Kimberley, South Africa, Feb. 25, 1994.
  • Nelson Mandela and Britain's Queen Elizabeth II ride in a carriage outside Buckingham Palace on the first day of a state visit to Britain, July 9, 1996.
  • President Nelson Mandela and Britain's Prince Charles shake hands alongside members of the Spice Girls, Nov. 1, 1997.
  • Former U.S President Bill Clinton and former South African President Nelson Mandela speak during a Gala night in Westminster Hall, London, July 2, 2003.
  • Oscar winning South African actress Charlize Theron weeps at her meeting with former South African President Nelson Mandela at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Houghton, March 11,2004.
  • Nelson Mandela and his wife, Graca Machel, wave to the audience during a Live 8 concert in Johannesburg, July 2, 2005.
  • Nelson Mandela jokes with youngsters as they celebrate his 89th birthday at the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund in Johannesburg, July 24, 2007.
  • Former South African president Nelson Mandela, center, followed by his grandson Mandla Mandela, rear right, arrives at the ceremony in Mvezo, South Africa, April 16, 2007.
  • Nelson Mandela waves to the media as he arrives outside 10 Downing Street, London, August 28, 2007.
  • Nelson Mandela waves as he arrives to attend the 2010 World Cup football final Netherlands vs. Spain on July 11, 2010 at Soccer City stadium in Soweto.
  • Nelson Mandela poses for a photograph after receiving a torch to celebrate the African National Congress' centenary in his home village Qunu, May 30, 2012.
Nelson Mandela

In her memoir, “Good Morning, Mr. Mandela,” Zelda la Grange, who worked for the late Nelson Mandela for nearly two decades, writes about her journey serving the man she called “Khulu” - the Xhoso word for grandfather. 

La Grange, who served as the first black South African president's secretary, gatekeeper and close confidante takes readers from her awkward start to what she says became a bitter end within his inner circle during the final months of his life.
 
La Grange grew up in South Africa -- a white Afrikaner who supported the segregation of the races under apartheid.  “We were, I suppose, racists,” she writes.
 

FILE - Former South African President, Nelson Mandela (L), is accompanied by his secretary Zelda Le Grange.FILE - Former South African President, Nelson Mandela (L), is accompanied by his secretary Zelda Le Grange.
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FILE - Former South African President, Nelson Mandela (L), is accompanied by his secretary Zelda Le Grange.
FILE - Former South African President, Nelson Mandela (L), is accompanied by his secretary Zelda Le Grange.

“I was a young Afrikaner girl whose views and mindset were changed by the greatest statesman of our time," Le Grance says, explaining how she got over her childhood racism to love the man she was once told was a “terrorist."   

"Yet to me, he was more than my moral conscience.  I had learned to care for him, because he cared for me.  He shaped and changed my thinking because for him to employ a white Afrikaans-speaking young woman as his personal assistant was not only unprecedented, it was unheard of," she notes.
 
Melt Myburgh, the Afrikaans Commissioning Editor for Penguin South Africa, which published the book says the book sends a very important message in terms of Afrikaners and their place in the new South Africa.
 
"I think for many conservative Afrikaans speakers, or even white English speakers in the country, the book reminds us that there is a place for everybody in South Africa and that is the way Nelson Mandela wanted it to be," Myburgh says.
 
The bulk of the book focuses on Mandela’s life after his presidential term ended in 1999.  La Grange paints an ugly picture of politics and family infighting.  Neither The Mandela Foundation nor the government have issued public statements but Myburgh says the book is not intended to be anything but one woman’s recollections.
 
“There are some issues that come out in the book that are quite contentious or proved to be contentious.  But it is an honest book about Zelda’s experience with Nelson Mandela," Myburgh says.
 
La Grange alleges that family power struggles and political interests compromised Nelson Mandela’s health as factions battled to control the former president's medical care.  

Nelson Mandela's former private assistant Zelda la Grange speaks at the launch of her book Nelson Mandela's former private assistant Zelda la Grange speaks at the launch of her book "Good Morning, Mr. Mandela" in Johannesburg, June 19, 2014.
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Nelson Mandela's former private assistant Zelda la Grange speaks at the launch of her book
Nelson Mandela's former private assistant Zelda la Grange speaks at the launch of her book "Good Morning, Mr. Mandela" in Johannesburg, June 19, 2014.

The memoir goes further with la Grange recalling how Mandela’s wife, Graca Machel, was “emotionally brutalized” by one of his daughters and later sidelined with regards to making decisions about Mandela.  In fact, la Grange says, Machel was forced to obtain a pass to attend Mandela’s memorial service due to hostility from some family members.

There were of course, better times.   In one exceprt, la Grange recounts a visit to London to see the Queen, whom Mandela always greeted as “Elizabeth.”
 
“I think he was one of the very few people who called her by her first name and she seemed to be amused by it," la Grange writes. "When he was questioned one day by Mrs. Machel and told that it was not proper to call the Queen by her first name, he responded: ‘But she calls me Nelson.’  On one occasion when he saw her he said, ‘Oh Elizabeth, you’ve lost weight!’  Not something everybody gets to tell the Queen of England.”

Some of the book’s other anecdotes include a dinner with late Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi, who was a staunch supporter of the African National Congress during the years of struggle against apartheid.

La Grange also recollects how Mandela referred to “this Bono chap” when referring to the U2 frontman.  On meeting Brad Pitt, Mandela asked the actor for his business card, failing that, he asked Pitt what he did for a living.
 
Zelda la Grange’s book may not be a literary masterpiece but critics say it does offer a unique perspective on the liberation hero at close range.  That alone, they say, makes the memoir stand out from the deluge of books on Mandela released since his death in December 2013.
 

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Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Monica from: Milwaukee, WI USA
July 10, 2014 9:16 AM
Great job Zelda la Grange, you present the side of Tata Madiba on an ordinary level that the average person will understand. You cannot be right or wrong because it is an account of your personal experience.

The immortal Mandela will continue to live in our hearts long after he has taken his eternal sleep. RIP Tata Madiba, I love you!

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