Zelda la Grange: I’ve been through worse in my life

2014-06-17 08:21

Nelson Mandela’s trusted personal assistant for 19 years, Zelda la Grange, has brushed off a barrage of criticism on social media following revelations from her book, which will be released later this week.

Her memoir, Good Morning, Mr Mandela, describes ugly family infighting, including the sidelining of Mandela’s wife, Graca Machel, in the months before his death, at the funeral and during the period of mourning.

La Grange’s online social media critics included prominent ANC figures such as Sports and Recreation Minister Fikile Mbalula, who tweeted: “It’s not even a year since we buried Madiba, Theres [sic] a book already? I no Madiba we’d differ with me [sic] but that’s my view?” He also tweeted: “A book by Zelda Le Grange [sic] about Madiba how convenient is this? I personally expected this it’s all about money.”

Transport Minister Dipuo Peters tagged La Grange in this tweet: “Read Hebrew 13:5 it says be careful of the love of money.”

Responding yesterday, La Grange said: “I have been through worse in my life and am not upset about any criticism. People will inherently focus on what is in their own minds and that is the basis to me of criticism.

“People are allowed their opinions even if they vastly differ from me. It is the beauty of our Constitution,” she said in an SMS reply.

“There is a beautiful story of metamorphosis apart from the unpleasant parts. That is the focus of the book,” said La Grange, who was nicknamed “Zeldina” by Mandela.

Her comments follow more than 24 hours of debate on social media after an interview and an extract from her book had been published in the Sunday Times.

It appeared at the same time that the Mandela family ended a six-month period of mourning for Mandela, who died on December 6 last year, aged 95.

La Grange detailed a number of incidents in which family infighting left Machel and other close friends of Mandela sidelined. When Mandela was too ill to speak, his family allowed strangers to visit him, while excluding lifelong friends.

She also said that Machel had to get accreditation for Mandela’s funeral.

“I don’t know of any person alive who has been treated with the amount of disrespect that people have shown towards Mrs Machel,” she was quoted as saying.

When contacted for comment yesterday, Mbalula said that he was “not on Twitter” as he was busy addressing people at a meeting.

Mandela’s daughter, Makaziwe Mandela, told the Sunday Times that La Grange would have to substantiate her claims against the family or she would be sued.

Yesterday, Mandela’s grandson, Mandla Mandela, said that he was a guest speaker at La Grange’s book launch on Thursday, so he reserved comment until then.

He added that he had spent the weekend with Graca Machel, her family and the Mandela family in Qunu to mark the end of the mourning period for his grandfather.

Describing Machel as the “elder, the unifier” in the family, he said the black clothes that she had been wearing for six months were burnt according to custom, and her family gave her a new outfit to symbolise the end of the mourning period.

Good Morning, Mr Mandela is described by publishers, Penguin, as “the extraordinary story of how a young woman had her life and everything she once believed in transformed by the greatest man of her time”.

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