Book Reviews, Zelda la Grange

Good Morning, Mr Mandela by Zelda la Grange

I read this memoir by Nelson Mandela’s former secretary, Zelda la Grange, at the end of last year.

In Good Morning, Mr Mandela, la Grange provides a uniquely human account of this icon of the modern age during his presidential and later years. It was my desire to learn more about Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s history that drew me to this book and what sustained my interest, even in the parts which are perhaps less riveting.

It may not be the greatest piece of prose you’ll ever read, but then la Grange is writing in a second language after all, her first language being Afrikaans. At times, the author failed to recognise the historical significance of the events she bore witness to, but that is what makes her account so human.

To la Grange, as to many others, Mandela was something of a saviour, and she saw him as almost a grandfather. We learn at the beginning of la Grange’s initial ignorance and racism, and how her experience with Mandela changed her fundamentally. Her unflinchingly honest account of her own flaws is something that deserves credit.

The author clearly wanted to present her own side of the story with regards to her grievances with his family. This more self-serving aspect of the book was of limited interest to me and, I imagine, to many other readers, who are looking primarily for an insight into Mandela and who he was beyond what we know of him politically.

But then, this is la Grange’s own memoir, and she is free to do with it what she wants.

I have no doubt that there are greater chronicles of Nelson Mandela’s life and influence, not least his own Long Walk to Freedom. Whatever its faults, la Grange’s Good Morning, Mr Mandela not only gives the reader a new angle on this iconic figure, but also paints a picture of a changing South Africa, through the eyes of one changing woman.

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