Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela's widow treated badly by his family, book says

Former aide's book alleges Graca Machel needed accreditation to attend his funeral

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 June, 2014, 3:21am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 June, 2014, 3:37am

Nelson Mandela's widow was treated badly by members of his family as the peace icon was fighting for his life in hospital, excerpts from a memoir by his long-time aide have revealed.

In a book likely to ruffle some feathers within the large Mandela family, Zelda la Grange, Mandela's personal assistant for 19 years, describes shabby treatment of Mandela's wife, Graca Machel, even in the aftermath of her husband's death.

She wrote that Machel had to get accreditation to attend her own husband's funeral on December 15. The Machel family was allocated only five spots at the service.

La Grange's book, Good Morning, Mr Mandela, comes out Thursday.

Excerpts published by The Sunday Times newspaper reveal that Mandela's eldest daughter Makaziwe once called Machel "Ms Frantic" after media reports that she had been in a frenzy when an ambulance driving Mandela to hospital broke down on a motorway on a cold evening in June 2013.

La Grange also recalled family squabbles over control of the revered statesman during his final days, sidelining Machel.

She says debates within the Mandela family about his funeral took place for years before he died in December at the age of 95. Machel had refused to be party to such arrangements.

"I don't know of any person alive who has been treated with the amount of disrespect that people have shown to Mrs Machel," wrote La Grange. Makaziwe told The Sunday Times that La Grange would have to prove any reference she made about the family in the book, "otherwise she will be sued."

But the 43-year-old former aide has defended her words.

"My book was not written as a definitive account - to say 'this is Madiba'. It's just my experience," she told The Sunday Times.

La Grange, a white Afrikaans woman, had over the years become a permanent feature at Mandela's side, often seen holding his hand to offer support during his frail final years.

In a lighter anecdote, she described her loss for words when she met Mandela for the first time.

"I said: 'Good morning, Mr Mandela'," and started crying. "I felt guilty that this kindly spoken man with gentle eyes and generosity of spirit spoke to me in my own language after my people had sent him to jail for so many years."

La Grange also claims Machel had to intervene after Makaziwe had prevented her from visiting Mandela in hospital, telling her that, after 19 years of service, she was no longer an employee.