Nelson Mandela…Madiba…was a truly great man. He had the strength to not cower away when things got bad, and did not allow himself to fall into despair even after 27 years imprisoned on Robbins Island. His soul was not overwhelmed with evil, even though so many others were. He righted a wrong, and freed many people in his own nation of South Africa, along with many people’s souls around the world. There will never be another like Madiba.
The sad fact is, we only see Madiba as a towering icon instead of a real person, with love and loss, success and pain…until now. Good Morning, Mr. Mandela is a remarkable achievement by Madiba’s honorary granddaughter Zelda la Grange. la Grange is a white Afrikaaner, bred believing that Mandela was a “terrorist.” Growing up in apartheid, she was raised believing that the system was correct.
But, as the nation changed, so did she. In 1994, she became an employee at the office of President Mandela as a senior ministerial typist. As South Africa transitioned from a poverty-stricken nation to a developing one, la Grange also changed, realizing that Madiba was not the man that his haters told her and countless others. She found a man full of compassion, courage, and love for all people, and someone who was willing to make her, a white Afrikaaner, an aide, even after all the things the Afrikaaners did to the black Africans.
In 2002, la Grange became Mandela’s personal assistant at the Nelson Mandela Foundation. This is where the book gets really interesting, where we see how Madiba reacts to all the international places he traveled as a humanitarian. Everything from dining with the King in Saudi Arabia to visiting celebrity friends like Bono, President Bill Clinton, and Oprah Winfrey, la Grange was there, right by his side. For over 2 decades.
One of the funniest stories Zelda la Grange told was the fact that, due to their great friendship, when Madiba visited Buckingham Palace, he called the Queen “Elizabeth.”
“I think he was one of the very few people who called her by her first name and she seemed to be amused by it. I was entertained by these interactions,” La Grange writes. “When he was questioned one day by Mrs. Machel and told that it was not proper to call the Queen by her first name, he responded: ‘But she calls me Nelson.’ On one occasion when he saw her he said, ‘Oh Elizabeth, you’ve lost weight!’ Not something everybody gets to tell the Queen of England.”
Good Morning, Mr. Mandela is a testament to both of the main figures in the memoir: to Nelson Mandela’s pure heart and trustworthiness, and to Zelda la Grange’s benevolence to the man she called Khulu, or “Grandfather.” la Grange writes with precision, expertise, and vigor that make the book informative and at the same time exciting to read. la Grange reveals the human side of Madiba like none other.
Nelson Mandela may be gone from this world, but his vast legacy remains. Did he ever really die, then, if his deeds still live on through leaders like President Obama? In any event, I believe that we all can agree with Zelda la Grange’s words of goodbye:
“Tot weersiens Khulu!” – “Until we meet again, Grandfather.”
Zelda la Grange was born in 1970 in Boksburg, South Africa, and began working as a secretary for the South African government in 1992, in the Department of State Expenditure. In 1993 she moved to the Human Resources division, and in 1994 she joined the office of the first democratically elected president of South Africa as a senior ministerial typist. She became one of President Mandela’s three private secretaries in 1997. In 2002 she left government and became a full-time employee of the Nelson Mandela Foundation. She lives in Pretoria, South Africa.
Praise for Zelda la Grange:
“In Good Morning, Mr. Mandela, Zelda la Grange recounts her remarkable life at the right hand of the man we both knew and loved. It’s a tribute to both of them—to Madiba’s eye for talent and his capacity for trust and to Zelda’s courage to take on a great challenge and her capacity for growth. This story proves the power of making politics personal and is an important reminder of the lessons Madiba taught us all.”
—President Bill Clinton
“President Nelson Mandela’s choice of the young Afrikaner typist Zelda la Grange as his most trusted aide embodied his commitment to reconciliation in South Africa. She repaid his trust with loyalty and integrity. I have the highest regard for her.”
—Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu
“Zelda la Grange has a singular perspective on Nelson Mandela, having served as his longtime personal aide, confidante and close friend. She is a dear friend to both of us and a touchstone to all of us who loved Madiba. Her story of their journey together demonstrates how a man who transformed an entire nation also had the power to transform the life of one extraordinary woman.”
—Morgan Freeman and Lori McCreary, actor, producer of Invictus