A loving portrait of Nelson Mandela (1918-2013) by a devoted assistant.
For 18 years, la Grange worked for Nelson Mandela, rising from typist to private secretary and finally to manager and spokesperson for his office. In this debut memoir, she recounts her stressful, demanding career as one of Mandela’s closest aides. It was an unlikely position for a white South African who was raised to hate and fear black people. “No person is born a racist,” she writes. “You become a racist by influences around you. And I had become a racist by the time I was thirteen years old.” Mandela, though, transformed her: He was a man, she attests, of unimpeachable integrity, humanity and kindness. Seeking no honors for himself, he worked tirelessly on issues of health, freedom and peace. In his 70s when she joined his staff, he treated her like a cherished granddaughter; she called him Khulu, or grandfather. The author chronicles Mandela’s whirlwind travels to raise funds for his three foundations and to fulfill countless invitations. He had become, the author writes, “the savior of everything and everybody.” In the course of those travels, la Grange met world leaders (the Clintons get special praise), movie stars (she was thrilled to meet Hugh Grant) and celebrity activists (Bono, for one, was much respected by Mandela). Part of her job was to protect Mandela from an onslaught of people requesting his help and from the relentless media. Although she writes that this is “not a tell-all book,” nor “a book of great political insights,” the author does expose vicious conflicts within Mandela’s family. Some relatives resented her and ordered her to stay out of Mandela’s personal life, but she could not help but run to his side when he called for his “Zeldina.”
In this warm tribute, la Grange testifies to Mandela’s charm and charisma and the profound changes he effected in her own life.