Zelda la Grange says she grew up racist, but working with Nelson Mandela changed her

Nelson Mandela with Zelda la Grange (ALEXANDER JOE/AFP/Getty Images)

During Zelda la Grange’s childhood in South Africa, she watched her country change before her eyes. Brought up in a home where black women cooked, cleaned, and cared for the children, and lived in a small room in the back of the house away from the white family, la Grange says she was raised racist. She voted against ending apartheid, but then, in a twist of fate, became a secretary for the nation’s first black president, Nelson Mandela. Mandela’s remarkable composure, charisma, and warmth toward la Grange were overwhelming to her, and she was overcome with guilt, crying the first time they shook hands.

“I looked at him, and I thought, ‘What did we do to this man? What’s happened in my country? Why did my father call him a terrorist?'” la Grange tells The Sydney Morning Herald in an interview about her new memoir, Good Morning, Mr. Mandela.

In the book, la Grange chronicles working for the leader affectionately known in his nation as Madiba for 13 years. She recalls being in charge of laying his slippers out side-by-side next to his bed at night, and urging him not to refer to England’s Queen Elizabeth as, merely, “Elizabeth.” But more importantly, la Grange says her work with Mandela changed her life, and how she viewed the world.

“He freed me from the shackles of my own fears,” she writes in the book. “He not only liberated the black man, but the white man, too.”

Read the full story at The Sydney Morning Herald.

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