Graca Machel, who became Mandela's third wife in his twilight
years, was frequently undermined by some members of his family,
former Mandela assistant Zelda la Grange wrote in her memoirs
published on Thursday.
"It was becoming farcical. If we could barely get Nelson
Mandela's widow and her children accredited to attend his
memorial service, it was becoming downright impossible to get
anyone else officially accredited," la Grange wrote in the book
"Good Morning, Mr. Mandela".
State inefficiency also meant friends like Archbishop Desmond
Tutu and Oprah Winfrey struggled to get passes to the funeral
last December in rural South Africa, according to her account.
Mandela's daughter Makaziwe has threatened to sue la Grange over
the book's allegations, according to local media.
"I have learned from Madiba that you will never, ever do
anything that will please everyone. You have to be happy with
yourself," she told Reuters, referring to Mandela by his clan
name, when asked about the threat of legal action.
La Grange, nicknamed "the rottweiler" for being overly
protective over Mandela, did not initially have a smooth
relationship with her boss' wife.
"She was the wife, I was just a secretary but I was giving them
instructions on how to live their lives. It was difficult," la
Grange said during her book launch in Johannesburg, attended by
some of Mandela's family and friends.
While accompanying the president on a trip to France as a
24-year-old, la Grange was mortified to realise that Mandela was
alone behind a locked door with a woman, a thing that was her
duty to ensure never happened.
Pleas to other aides to help her save the situation fell on deaf
ears. Mandela later introduced the stranger as Graca Machel from
The book traces the 43-year-old la Grange's upbringing in an
Afrikaans family that considered Mandela a terrorist. It goes on
to describe her improbable appointment to his office when he
became president in 1994, and her close relationship with him
until his death last year.
The life and beliefs of la Grange, a white South African who
grew up supporting the apartheid system of racial segregation,
were transformed after she started working for Mandela.
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The book title is drawn from a conversation during her initial
meeting with the country's first black president, when she nearly
bumped into him in a corridor.
"I was ready to pull back my hand after shaking his but he held on
... I wasn't sure if I was supposed to hold this black man's hands,"
La Grange started as a typist but went on to become Mandela's
trusted assistant until just before his death at the age of 95. She
and other members of his staff were bequeathed 50,000 rand ($4,700)
each in a will read out in February.
La Grange plans to donate a portion of the book royalties to the
Nelson Mandela Foundation to further his legacy.
"The story of a young white Afrikaner girl working for the president
is a story that could only happen in this country. It is really a
fairy tale," Ahmed Dangor, former chief executive of the foundation,
told Reuters at the book launch.
Often photographed with a white-haired Mandela leaning on her arm
for support, la Grange accompanied him on trips abroad and was with
him when he met world leaders and celebrities.
On a lighter note, she recounts how she and Mandela shared a lift
with James Bond actor Pierce Brosnan in Ireland. After 27 years in
prison, Mandela had no idea who Bond or Brosnan were, but pretended
he did when they shook hands.
With Brad Pitt, Mandela asked for a business card, which the actor
did not have. "So what do you do?" Mandela asked - to which the
Hollywood star replied: "I try acting for a living."($1 = 10.6588
South African Rand)
(Reporting by Helen Nyambura-Mwaura; Editing by Tom Heneghan)
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