Back to Speaker Bureau Home Page

Zelda La Grange

Nelson Mandela’s secretary, gatekeeper and constant companion for the best part of 20 years

Nelson Mandela’s secretary, gatekeeper and constant companion for the best part of 20 years

Zelda la Grange was born in the Apartheid South Africa. After completing her secondary education she completed a 3 year National Diploma as an Executive Secretary. She started her career in 1992 at the Department of State Expenditure and in 1994 applied for a job as a Senior Ministerial Typist in the Office of the Presidency. In 1997 she was promoted to become one of the three Private Secretaries in President Mandela’s personal staff and in 1999 he requested her to remain in his services beyond retirement. Together with Professor Jakes Gerwel, Zelda was the only other founding staff member of the post Presidential office of Mr Nelson Mandela and from there the Nelson Mandela Foundation was established.

Zelda served Mr Mandela for 19 years in different capacities until his death on 5 December 2013. She has been awarded by different organisations for her dedication and service to the late Nelson Mandela. She currently serves as the Patron for the First for Women Foundation and the Beeld Kinderfonds. She is also a part-time employee of the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Foundation for Professional Development.

  • Good Morning Mr Mandela
    Zelda la Grange grew up in South Africa as a white Afrikaner who supported the rules of segregation. Yet just a few years after the end of Apartheid she would become a most trusted assistant to Nelson Mandela, growing to respect and cherish the man she had been taught was the enemy. Zelda la Grange will tell the story of how she had her life, beliefs, prejudices and everything she once believed in utterly transformed by the greatest man of her time. It is the incredible journey of redemption: an awkward, terrified young typist in her twenties later chosen to become one of the President’s most loyal and devoted servants, spending most of her adult working life travelling with, supporting and caring for the man she would come to call “Khulu”, or “grandfather”.
    Zelda la Grange was born in 1970 and brought up in apartheid South Africa. She began working as a secretary for the government in 1992, in the Department of State Expenditure. In 1993 she moved to the Human Resources division and in 1994 she joined the office of the first democratically elected President of South Africa as a senior ministerial typist. She was promoted to one of President Mandela’s three private secretaries in 1997 and in 1999 Nelson Mandela requested her to remain in his services beyond retirement.
    In 2002 she left government and became a full time employee of the Nelson Mandela Foundation. She served Nelson Mandela in different capacities over nineteen years, ranging from typist, assistant private secretary, private secretary, manager of his office his spokesperson and aide-de- camp. She was serving as his personal assistant when he passed on in December 2013.


    Zelda will speak for 35 minutes after which there will be an opportunity for delegates to ask her questions.

  • Mary Carlisle, Chairperson of the Midlands forum in KwaZulu Natal

    The people who were in the Howick High School hall had a morning that will stay with them.  They will think often of Zelda. They will laugh and think about what she said and they will agree that Madiba chose wisely.  He saw that something special in her. The audience listened to stories about a remarkable man told with such humour, sincerity, energy, love and humility. But, Zelda never becomes the hero in the story. She allows Madiba to occupy the centre stage and she is the narrator. Clearly, she lives by his philosophies and, after yesterday, there will be 600 people who will try to do the same! As a tribute to her we shall try harder.

  • The Telegraph

    Compelling and ultimately heartbreaking…her unguarded honesty allows her to tell a remarkable story.

  • I met Nelson Mandela Today (16 Feb 2016) – Anil Santhapuri, 16 Feb 2016

    Today, on 16th of February 2016, I met Nelson Mandela in Sydney, Australia. 

    Let me begin by thanking the person who introduced me to Nelson Mandela – Zelda La Grange – who was the former private secretary of Nelson Mandela and has worked with him for close to two decades.

    “You always find yourself at the right place, at the right time”, she said to all of us at WUBS, Australia office during her guest speaker session.

    I kept reflecting on the fact that how did I find myself at this place having a chance encounter to meet her and through her having the first-hand experience of Nelson Mandela. How fortunate am I to find myself in Sydney for 3 days for training and get invited to be part of a guest speaker session which I did not even know existed.

    She was right. There is nothing much to it. I had to be here today, to meet Nelson Mandela.

    In her short 15-20 minute key note, Zelda spoke about some of her life’s key experiences of how she landed up working for Nelson Mandela and how eventually she became a loyal follower of him, his aspirations and his vision. 

    I have heard a lot about Nelson Mandela, read a lot about him, got inspired too. Yet, today I met him in person. I saw Nelson Mandela living through Zelda La Grange.

    Being her humble self, Zelda went on narrating inspiring and interesting events about Nelson Mandela. The more she was talking about him, the more I was able to see his leadership becoming alive in her, through her. 

    Zelda worked as his private secretary, she was his follower – a loyal one. Yet, in the journey she has become something more than that, something larger than that – she has become a Servant Leader truly in the resemblance of Nelson Mandela.

    Being a loyal Servant Leader she was attentively narrating the incident of her encounter with him and how he with his kindness, humility and attention won over her. As I was listening to her with rapt attention, she started winning over me with her kindness, genuineness and humility.

    Here I was not listening about Nelson Mandela, I started seeing him. This was my first glimpse. 

    Zelda La Grange was not a phenomenal follower of one of the greatest personality of our century. She was more than that, she was become a leader in her own accord. A leader created and shaped by one the best leaders of our century. 

    This was true Leadership in Action. Leadership begetting Leadership – I was not just listening about him. I was seeing him through his legacy, through her.

    She went about talking about three important lessons that she learned from him. Those were on Discipline, Respect and Integrity. She went on to share some examples from his life and her observation.

    Here is a leader making her way by living the values of Discipline, Respect and Integrity.

    I have heard of Nelson Mandela, read about Nelson Mandela and felt inspired too – all that was second hand experience.

    Today I met Nelson Mandela as I met Zelda La Grange. And, she made me a better person compared who I was yesterday by inspiring me.

    Leadership and Change can happen by transforming one individual at a time.

    Thank you Nelson Mandela for transforming Zelda La Grange and thank you Zelda La Grange for inspiring me today.

Looking for more information?

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

Subscribe to our free newsletter

Keep up to date with our latest offers, news & events by signing up to our FREE newsletter