Madiba magic inspires at Women’s Day event

Zelda la Grange, former private secretary to Nelson Mandela, said the statesman was authentic and had great respect for his fellow man.


La Grange, who was born in the Boksburg Benoni Hospital in 1970, grew up in Pretoria at the height of the apartheid era.

“Honestly, the first time I heard Nelson Mandela’s name was the day he was released from prison. I remember it clearly.

Sisters Brenda, Natalie and Cheryl Firmani enjoying the festivities at the Carnival City Women’s Day event.

“I was in our swimming pool at home and my dad came running out to tell me we were now all in danger because the ‘terrorist’ has been released from jail. I asked who the terrorist was and he said ‘Mandela’.”

In 1994, she applied for a job in Jay Naidoo’s office, a then minister without portfolio.

“Two hours after the interview they called me to ask whether I’d be interested in a job in President Mandela’s private office. I accepted and was thrilled to hear I’d be working in the Union Buildings.”

Boitumelo Chauke (left), Nikki Mothiba and Dimakatso Chiloane were inspired by Zelda La Grange and Miss South Africa 2107, Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters, at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party, hosted by Carnival City on August 9.

The new job took her completely out of her comfort zone.

“I had no political background and was working as a typist for the president’s private secretary.

“Soon after I started the job President Mandela asked me to be part of a delegation accompanying him on a state visit to Japan! I met the Emperor of Japan and Madiba personally introduced me, telling the Emperor that I was his secretary and a real Afrikaner ‘boere meisie’.”

La Grange, who was at Mandela’s side for 19 years, said her father was unimpressed when she got the job and they even lost family friends due to her working for the ‘black’ president.

Assistant editor of the Advertiser Lana O’Neill with Miss South Africa 2017, Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters.

But, she was 200 per cent committed to the job, she said, which is what she believes set her apart from her colleagues.

“I’m sure many people could have done a better job than I did but my commitment was unwavering and it didn’t go unnoticed. I was always accessible to the president and he knew he could rely on me.”

With spending so much time together, the pair grew close.

Adele Pillay having a ball at the Carnival City Women’s Day event at which Zelda la Grange and Miss South Africa 2017, Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters, were guest speakers.

“Mandela was authentic. Who you saw in public was the man he was in private.”

Her dad grew very fond of Madiba and was inconsolable after his death, said La Grange.

“He even volunteered to project manage a tree-planting project at Madiba’s home in Qunu. I couldn’t resist telling him at the time, ‘You once warned me against the terrorist and now you are working in his garden!'”

La Grange shared various anecdotes from her time with Mandela, which taught her valuable lessons about discipline and respect.

“This is where the Madiba magic really lay, in his treatment of others and his ability to have the importance of mutual respect rub off on those around him.

“Nelson Mandela and my experiences with him not only changed my life, but my family’s too. The Madiba magic was a ripple effect which touched thousands of lives.”

Miss South Africa 2017, Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters, was also a guest speaker at the event and told the audience her life story and inspired them to grab opportunities with both hands.

“All you need to be happy, successful and fulfilled in already inside you. You are the only one who can make it happen,” she said.

Lana O’Neill
Assistant Editor

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