Social – Big names out to support Zelda la Grange

2014-06-22 15:00

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Anyone expecting fallout and controversy at the launch of Zelda la Grange’s memoir, Good Morning, Mr Mandela, would have been disappointed.

It was a high-class, top-drawer affair at The Venue in Melrose Arch that drew the likes of Madiba’s longtime friends Ahmed Kathrada and Advocate George Bizos, along with a video message (in perfect Afrikaans) from Desmond Tutu, who expressed his regrets for not being able to attend as he was abroad.

While none of them had yet read the book, a large contingent of the Mandelas were there too, along with Graça Machel’s children, Josina and Malenga – without their mother though – and Walter and Albertina Sisulu’s daughter-in-law Sheila.

Mvezo chief Mandla Mandela began his keynote speech by saying how sure he was that his grandfather was looking down at La Grange’s book launch “with a big smile on his face”. This was in stark contrast to his aunt Makaziwe’s earlier threats of possible legal action against La Grange – to which sister Zindzi had responded by saying La Grange had every right to write the book. Zindzi was at the launch; Makaziwe was not.

Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana put some of this in context shortly before delivering his opening prayer when he said that the Mandela family tensions were partly a by-product of sacrifices Madiba had made – when he’d often been forced to choose country, work and legacy over family.

Mandla later took his turn to wait, quite cheerfully, in the very long line to get the stack of books he’d bought personally signed. He even asked La Grange to make out one of the books to his village.

La Grange had earlier sat on stage for her last of what had been a long day of many interviews.

Beeld editor Adriaan Basson – who’d put some of the more shocking revelations from her book on Beeld’s front page that morning – took a softer approach in his questioning. Off the agenda was the poor medical treatment Madiba reportedly had to endure. Instead, the conversation dwelt on Zelda’s life and her extraordinary transformation during her 19-year relationship with Madiba. There were many funny anecdotes, such as the time national intelligence agency operatives arrived to “sweep” Tuinhuis in Cape Town and the 25-year-old La Grange said: “No, it’s fine. We’ve got cleaners.”

She was quick to acknowledge that her relationship with Mandela began as her being the “token white boeremeisie in the presidential entourage” – before it became so much more.

When Basson tried to get her to talk about some of the tensions between her and some of the Mandelas, she responded with: “It’s a big family – a huge family. You can’t get along with everyone. I don’t even get along with everyone in my own family. It would be wrong to speak about ‘the Mandela family’. It’s just personalities, individuals.”

Most touching of all was the moment she introduced her “two sets of parents” – her white biological ones and the nanny who raised her, Jochabet, with husband Esau.

The CEO of publisher Penguin, Stephen Johnson, said there had been such a veil of secrecy around the book initially, so much so that the company referred to it only as “Project X”. To laughter, Johnson added La Grange told him she was happy with Penguin because “orange is her favourite colour”.

La Grange said she’d never taken notes during her time with Madiba and had gone through a few frantic months of writing to ensure she got as many of her memories down on paper “before I forgot everything”.

She read through her manuscript “17 times” before it went to print and quipped that she was now “quite sick of my own story”.

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