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Zelda la Grange on Mandela: 'Heroes never die'

Staff Reporter

Zelda la Grange, the former private secretary to Nelson Mandela, remembers the iconic anti-apartheid activist.

A file photograph Zelda la Grange and Nelson Mandela in 2004. (Reuters)

"My sincere condolences to Mrs Graça Machel [Mum], Maki, Zeni, Zindzi, Josina, Malenga and the entire Mandela family, as well as everyone who feels a sense of loss this morning," said Nelson Mandela's former private secretary Zelda la Grange on Friday.

La Grange served as his secretary from 1994 to 1996 and was, in 1999, after Mandela left office, appointed as executive personal assistant and spokesperson for the Nelson Mandela Foundation.

Following the announcement of former president Mandela's death on December 5, she said: "Nelson Mandela inspired people to forgive, to reconcile, to care, to be selfless, to be tolerant, to maintain dignity no matter what the circumstances. I can attest to each of these because these are the ways in which he changed my life over the past 19 years. I am blessed and honoured by the privilege to have had the opportunity to serve him.

"I often battled with the relentless pressure. But then I looked to him who carried himself with such grace and energy. I never left, I never could. Nelson Mandela did not demand loyalty, but he inspired profound and unwavering loyalty from everybody whose life he touched."

According to La Grange, she is "slowly coming to terms with the fact that I will never see him again. But heroes never die.  As sad as it makes me that I will never walk into a room again and see his generous infectious smile or hear him say, 'Oh Zeldina, you are here.' I have come to terms with the fact that Madiba's legacy is not dependent on his presence."

On Thursday nigh​t, President Jacob Zuma made the announcement of Mandela's death from the Union Buildings in Pretoria. He said Mandela passed away at 8.50pm at his home in Houghton, Johannesburg, surrounded by his wife,Graça Machel and members of his family.

Zuma said Mandela would have a state funeral and that flags would fly half-mast from December 6 until after the funeral.

Zuma called on South Africans to "recall the values for which Madiba fought".

'Cherish every smile'
"His legacy will not only live on in everything that has been named after him, the books, the images, the movies. It will live on in how we feel when we hear his name, the respect and love, the unity he inspired in us as a country but particularly how we relate to one-another," Le Grange said.

"Madiba will forever be present in my life because he made me into the human being I am today. I will cherish every smile, the pleasant but also the difficult times and especially my barefoot moments. Thank you for all the wonderful opportunities you afforded me, but most of all thank you for believing in me Khulu [her name for Mandela], making me a better person, a better South African."

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