The emigration of the heart

Nelson Mandela's 'Rottweiler' talks to East about her passage from a 'very white' supporter of apartheid to key aide of black South Africa's Founding Father.

Zelda la Grange is a very white and very 'Boer' young South African woman who by chance and by ability became one of the closest associates – his 'Rottweiler' some say – of Nelson Mandela; today perceived, rightly enough, as a modern saint.

Make no mistake about it: at one stage of his political career Mandela was a terrorist. The South African government of the time did not lock him up simply because of its despicable apartheid racial policies, but 'also' because he was a founder of the 'MK', the 'Spear of the Nation' clandestine military wing of the ANC – the African National Congress – an organisation that set bombs and killed people.

That was what Ms. la Grange knew about Mandela when they met in the corridor of an office building in Pretoria shortly after his election to the South African presidency.

"The first time I met him, the thing I remember is the sincerity in his eyes. He had an infectious smile. And it was the kindness of his words. He spoke to me in my own language, Afrikaans. That was a shock and something I never expected. I was brought up to believe that this was a man to fear, that he represented a threat to white South Africa."

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