Zelda la Grange recounts her experiences serving the late South African President Nelson Mandela as his personal secretary in her memior Good Morning, Mr. Mandela. “He recognized things in me, I think he could see that he could shape my life and easily mentor me,” la Grange told uInterview, “maybe it was easy to influence me and he could actually mold me into whatever he wanted me to become, and I rose to the challenge, I accepted the challenge.”

In the years of working for Mandela, la Grange took a wild ride into the world of foreign affiars. “I was one of very few women at that point who ever met and shook hands with the king of Saudi Arabia,” she told uInterview. “That was totally in contrast to what we know of the Middle East and specifically Saudi Arabia.”

Good Morning, Mr. Mandela by is available now in paperback and ebook formats.

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Q: What was it like growing up under apartheid in South Africa? - Uinterview

Well, in South Africa, in those years, when you were born into apartheid and you were white, you were born into privilege. I had access to education, medical care, and we lived apartheid. We lived in segregation, and quite happily so. We didn’t know better, we didn’t know what was happening on the outside world. And we thought nothing of it, to live apartheid in South Africa growing up those years

Q: How was your first meeting with Nelson Mandela? - Uinterview

When I met him the first day, he extended his hand to me, spoke to me in my home language in Afrikaans, which was considered the language of the oppressor. He smiled at me, he held my hand for the entire conversation we had. I immediately felt guilty. I felt responsible for sending this man to prison even though I was too young to vote at that time. It really felt like my people were responsible for taking away this man’s life. Yet, regardless of that, he was open to me. He smiled, he was very sincere in his approach. And I broke down crying, and he put his other hand on my shoulder and he said to me, “No, no, no, relax. You are overreacting.” Now obviously if the president tells you you are overreacting, you compose yourself very quickly. That’s also why I chose the title of the book Good Morning, Mr. Mandela. The shift in my thinking started the day when I met him.

Q: What was the most difficult moment you witnessed? - Uinterview

Definitely when he buried his son after his son pasted away from HIV/AIDS. And that was definitely the most dramatic experience for me, to see him go through that kind of pain. He wasn’t an emotional person, meaning he didn’t show his emotion easily. But he became withdrawn and very quiet over an extended period of time. He was deeply, deeply troubled by the fact that he lost his son and that he had to bury his son.

Q: What was your most surprising moment with Mandela? - Uinterview

Well, not out of character really. There was hardly anything that was out of character. I think because you work so closely with someone you get to know him quite well. I think I was surprised on more than one occasion about his determination. His relentless efforts in peace negotiations. We would all be tired and wanting to go to bed, especially the time when we negotiated in Burundi. But he would sit there until two or three o’clock as an elderly person. He would sit there throughout the night and negotiate with the rebels and trying to bring about piece. And the way he was steadfast in trying to push for the piece agenda in a region like that, it always surprised me that he had that kind of energy.

Q: Were you happy to be asked to work for him after his presidency? - Uinterview

Yes, of course. If a person like Nelson Mandela asked you to serve him, obviously you don’t think about it, you just accept, it’s a great honor. But he recognized things in me, I think he could see that he could shape my life and easily mentor me. Maybe it was easy to influence me and he could actually mold me into whatever he wanted me to become, and I rose to the challenge, I accepted the challenge. He knew where my boundaries were, so he knew how far he could push me.

Q: What was your most memorable experience with Mandela? - Uinterview

I must say after many memories of him visiting the United States and especially at the time when Clinton was still in office, visiting the White House and meeting with the Clintons, they were obviously very memorable. And then also thinking of something that may not be popular in the United States, but his visits to Saudi Arabia and one specific occasion when we visited the king of Saudi Arabia. As you know, in that country women were not allowed to roam freely, especially in government buildings. Mr. Mandela insisted that I go with him to the king of Saudi Arabia and apart from Madeline Albright, I was one of very few women at that point who ever met and shook hands with the king of Saudi Arabia. That was totally in contrast to what we know of the Middle East and specifically Saudi Arabia. But Mr. Mandela insisted, as a secretary and a female, but he insisted that I go with him.

Q: How did he feel about his successor, Thabo Mbeki? - Uinterview

You know he always had great respect for Mr. Mbeki, and he really believed when he said Mr. Mbeki was the best president or prime minister that South Africa ever had. He really, truly believed that. There was a lot of politics as you know, and we struggled with the issue around HIV/AIDS. And Mr. Mandela’s fight with the government, really it was a fight at that stage, but his conflict with the government and trying to convince them to give free access to antiretroviral medicines in South Africa. And obviously with the help of the international community and people like President Clinton, we managed at the end. But we felt very strongly about it and yet a lot opposition from the South African government from Mr. Mbeki’s time. So that was a difficult thing an difficult hurdle to overcome in that time period. But despite the differences Mr. Mandela never disrespected Mr. Mbeki and always supported both in public and in private.

Q: What would Mandela think about South Africa today? - Uinterview

I think of over the last couple of years he was protected in a way because of the aging process. His wife and other people tried to withhold the newspapers and the bad news from him. I think to some extent he was always an optimist. He would be happy about certain progress made in South Africa. But he would disappointed about the level of corruption in South Africa at the moment.