Nelson Mandela – The Man Behind the Myth

The writer is a Fiji Sun  columnist. He can be contacted at ajay@carvingdream.com     When you think of the Iconic Nelson Mandela and his astonishing mark on history we
03 Jul 2017 20:27
Nelson Mandela – The Man Behind the Myth
The late Nelson Mandela.

The writer is a Fiji Sun  columnist. He can be contacted at ajay@carvingdream.com



When you think of the Iconic Nelson Mandela and his astonishing mark on history we sometimes forget the people who surrounded him and also led from the front, behind there revered leader.


The trusted Zelda la Grange

One such person is Zelda la Grange who served Mandela for 19 years from 1994 until his passing in 2013.

Her role predominately was one of Private Secretary, but also as a friend, confidante and trusted member of his inner circle.

On my latest trip to South Africa I was scheduled to meet and interview Zelda, but because of the vast distances of this nation our scheduling just couldn’t fit, but I will certainly catch up with her on my next visit to the African continent.


Who was she?

Ms La Grange was born in apartheid South Africa in October 1970. After her secondary education, she completed a three-year National Diploma and started her career in 1992 at the Department of State Expenditure and in 1994 applied for a job in the office of the first Democratic Presidency.

In 1996, she was promoted to assistant private secretary of the President, and again promoted to Private Secretary to the Office of the President.

In 1999, President Mandela hand-picked her from his personal staff to remain in his services beyond retirement and to oversee all his private and public duties.

Growing up in the 1970s and 80s, Ms La Grange was a typical white racist teenager who didn’t know any better as she was bought up in the racially segregated system of South Africa.

She had a black woman called Jogabeth who looked after both her brother and herself for 13 years. From the time she was born Jogabeth cooked, cleaned, bathed and dressed them. She loved her but her nanny lived in a little dark and barren room at the back of the house with no electricity or water.

It was so bad that all it did have was a flushing toilet. Jogabeth only went home one weekend a month to visit her family.

What really aggravates Ms La Grange is the fact she never once questioned, why do we treat her so badly if she has looked after us so lovingly?

The good news for this story is that she managed to track down her old nanny, Jogabeth and both her and her husband came for coffee to her home.

She managed to meet Jogabeth’s own children and they were just like Zelda and her brother were, she brought them all up exactly the same.


Serving Nelson Mandela

In regards to serving Mandela it was a pleasure not a job for Zelda as she recalls throughout his 19 years how inspirational he was.

She remembers a time early into her post in Japan the other staff went sightseeing and shopping with Mandela’s blessing but Ms La Grange stayed in her hotel room all day just in case the President called for something.

She would work when he worked and sleep when he slept.

What Mandela did expect was loyalty, which Ms La Grange was happy to give him,  over time he came to rely on her more and more, until she became responsible for his complete diary, and many of the administrative and logistical details of his presidency, right down to the location of his slippers.

Once, on an overnight flight, he passed her seat on his way back from the toilets and stopped beside her. Not realising she was awake, he bent down on all fours  and slowly covered her feet with a blanket. These moments touched the innermost part of her heart.


‘Elizabeth’ and ‘Nelson’

Mandela was not always fully politically correct when visiting the Queen of England, Ms Zelda told him he couldn’t call the Queen of England Elizabeth, but Mandela said why not she calls me Nelson and totally ignored La grange.

He would say “Elizabeth, you’re looking beautiful” or “Elizabeth, you’ve lost weight” and the Queen would blush and smile, and say, “Hello, Nelson”.

There are so many stories to tell over her 19 years with Mandela, but what is for sure is the fact that Ms La Grange admits she has never ever met anyone as humble, loving and caring as a father figure  for her or for her whole nation.

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