I was once a racist
For almost two decades, Zelda La Grange had been a very committed personal assistant in the service a South African man. She chose to leave everything behind, sacrificing relationships with friends and relatives, to honour her loyalty to the legendary, anti-apartheid icon Nelson Mandela. The Telegraph reported on her revelation about the nineteen years of professional interaction with Mandela which nurtured their emotional attachment.
March 20 th, 2015
Professional life with Mandela
La Grange started working as typist at age 23. The young women’s hard work and skill were noticed and acknowledged which led to her appointment as Mandela’s personal assistant. At the time, her promotion blew the minds of many South Africans.
With the passing of time, she felt like part of Madiba’s family: “I started feeling like his granddaughter and he started feeling like my grandfather”.
More than a year after the death of the revered man of reconciliation, her sorrow has been softened but she still fondly remembers Mandela’s advice, storytelling and jokes.
According to La Grange, Nelson Mandela’s decision could have been a political move because at the time, it was unimaginable that he would reach out to a white secretary. But he wanted to show the world that each South African can have a bright future and destiny. For her, his message was clear: “We’re one people”. An interesting fact is that La Grange didn’t support Mandela’s political party. She said she could not swallow the fact that black people could be freed. She said she was “basically” a racist back then.
La Grange says she’s thankful for Madiba’s teaching which brought about a new point of view for her. She learned to turn the page by deeply pondering the history of the country. Her paradigm shift took eight months before she finally overcame racism. Reflecting on her past, La Grange said: “The way I view life in general has changed completely”. Even though her new paradigm has been controversial to some folks, La Grange feels that one will never be able to please everyone, no matter what you do in life.
Devotion and appreciation
Though unfavourable judgments passed from all sides, La Grange focused on trying to change the world. She played a crucial role in Mandela’s human rights campaign, giving up her personal life and committed herself fulltime to the job. Her job was not something that everyone could do. “It’s not only about [being a] PA: it’s about being a backbone to someone” she said.
She qualified Mandela as “the most unbelievable boss; very strict, disciplined and stubborn at the time but very fair”
La Grange is currently working as a motivational speaker and professional development class teacher. She wrote and published a book about her life as Mandela’s PA. Despite Madiba’s passing, she still remains in contact with her beloved Mr Mandela’s family.
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