'Never give up on South Africa', Nelson Mandela's former sec urges UAE expats

Nelson Mandela's former private secretary Zelda La Grange is encouraging South African expats in the UAE to vote in their country's upcoming general election
'Never give up on South Africa', Nelson Mandela's former sec urges UAE expats
Zelda la Grange, former private secretary to former South African president, and Nobel Prize winner Nelson Mandela
By Bernd Debusmann Jr
Sun 03 Feb 2019 09:12 AM

The tens of thousands of South Africans expatriates living in the UAE should take an active interest in their country’s domestic politics and vote in its upcoming general elections, according to Zelda La Grange, Nelson Mandela’s former private secretary.

“While one understands that people are here for job opportunities, they should never give up on South Africa,” she told Arabian Business in an interview ahead of this week's Emirates Airline Festival of Literature. “We are on our way to being the miracle nation that we are.”

The upcoming elections will see the ruling African National Congress (ANC) led by incumbent president Cyril Ramaphosa attempt to maintain is majority.

Ramaphosa’s predecessor, Jacob Zuma, resigned in February 2018 after nine years characterised by corruption scandals and a struggling South African economy.

“We can turn things around and they [expats in the UAE] must vote in the upcoming national elections to help us secure the future for our country,” Le Grange added.

Unwelcome

In January 2015, Le Grange made international headlines when she expressed her belief that Zuma was making white South Africans feel “unwelcome” in their own country after the then-President said that South Africa’s problems all began with the arrival of Dutch explorer Jan van Riebeeck in 1652.

While she initially issued an apology for her remarks, Le Grange now says that she stands by them. She now accuses the now defunct Bell Pottinger public relations agency of running a campaign to “discredit people in South Africa and drive racial divisions in South Africa.”

In 2016 and 2017, the PR agency was accused of running a “smear campaign” in South Africa to benefit Oakbay Investments, which was controlled by the Gupta family and which had strong ties to the Zuma administration.

“Yes, I stand by it. It was a paid for campaign and my mistake was to believe it,” she said. “It is by no means a reflection of the real society of South Africa. They have dismally failed at dividing us. While there is still occurrence of racism, the majority of South Africans are at peace and are learning to live together despite our hurtful past.”

Literature festival

Le Grange is among the authors that will be in attendance at the upcoming literature festival in Dubai, where she will be discussing her 2014 book ‘Good Morning Mr. Mandela.’

Recalling her time spent as Mandela’s private secretary, she said that he – whom she called ‘a fair minded humanitarian’ - changed her outlook on life and race in South Africa.

“Growing up I believed that white people were the superior race. We were conditioned to suit the apartheid regime’s propaganda of segregation and superiority. We were driven by fear that the black majority are dangerous, vicious and hate white people,” she said.

“Once I had exposure, was challenged intellectually by black people and was loved by black people, I realised I was indoctrinated,” she added. “I now recognise any human being for their humanity rather than focusing on our differences or what set us apart. It was a long process of unlearning my thinking and questioning my beliefs but necessary to arrive at the point of clarity in my own mind.”

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