Mandela: Unlikely friendship that changed a young typist’s life (News Feature by Craig Urquart, PANA Correspondent)

Johannesburg, South Africa (PANA) – Nelson Mandela's death on Thursday, apart from sending ripples across the world, has also called to mind the many achievements of the anti-apartheid lead campaigner, including the unlikely friendship that changed the heart of a pro-apartheid lady.

Mandela's passing calls to mind the extraordinary bond between the former president and a  young Afrikaans woman, Zelda la Grange, the daughter of a Pretoria family which voted for the National Party, the government which enforced apartheid.

From 1994 until 1996, she served as a typist at the Union Buildings in Pretoria where Mandela met her and took her under his wings. He appointed her his private secretary and then, when he left office in 1999, appointed her as his personal assistant and official spokesperson of the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

La Grange remained fiercely loyal to Mandela for years and protected him like her own father.

Reacting to his death, she noted that he inspired people to forgive, to reconcile, to care, to be selfless, to be tolerant, to maintain dignity no matter what the circumstances.

“I can attest to each of these because these are the ways in which he changed my life over the past 19 years. I am blessed and honoured by the privilege to have had the opportunity to serve him. I often battled with the relentless pressure. But then I looked to him who carried himself with such grace and energy. I never left, I never could,” she said.

She said Mandela did not demand loyalty, but he inspired profound and unwavering loyalty from everybody whose life he touched. “And now, as we grieve the departure of Madiba, I am slowly coming to terms with the fact that I will never see him again.

"But heroes never die. As sad as it makes me that I will never walk into a room again and see his generous infectious smile, I have come to terms with the fact that Madiba's legacy is not dependent on his presence.”

After all, she noted his legacy will not only live on in everything that has been named after him, the books, the images, the movies. It will live on in the respect and love and the unity he inspired.

“Madiba will forever be present in my life because he made me into the human being I am today. I will cherish every smile, the pleasant but also the difficult times and especially my barefoot moments. Thank you for all the wonderful opportunities you afforded me, but most of all thank you for believing in me, making me a better person, a better South African. I will love you every day for the rest of my life.”
-0- PANA CU/VAO 7Dec2013

07 december 2013 07:44:39

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