Lessons from Madiba, shared by his private secretary

DURBAN – “For me, success is all about going back to the basics. No matter how important you become, no matter how wealthy you become, don’t forget the basics that Madiba showed us every day. As commoners, we could relate to him because what he showed us every day were things we could aspire to be.”

This was just one of many observations that the former private secretary to Nelson Mandela, Zelda la Grange, shared with members of the Durban branch of the Entrepreneurs Organisation (EO) which held its premier Entrepreneur Event of 2019 at the Oyster Box Hotel last week.

La Grange, who published the book Good Morning, Mr Mandela, to chronicle her experiences at the side of South Africa’s most revered statesman, noted that “the power of sharing” would make for a powerful organisation.

Now a sought-after motivational speaker, La Grange sees herself as a change agent. As she shares her story of how Mandela both challenged and transformed her, she aims to inspire her listeners to interrogate key issues such as discipline, leadership, respect, integrity, honesty and transparency.

She described Mandela as a politician first, then as a strategist, a statesman, an icon, a father figure and more.

“Every day, Madiba was disciplined, was honest, showed his integrity and respected people. This is why we all adored him. He was such an authentic person. He decided that if he could just touch one person a day, he could change the world,” she said.

EO, the only global network exclusively for entrepreneurs, is active in 54 countries. Members are founders, co-founders, owners or controlling shareholders of businesses making more than $1million (R14m) in annual revenue and founders of businesses with annual revenue that exceeds $1million.

Seeing itself as a catalyst to enable entrepreneurs to grow and learn from one another, EO aims to enrich members’ lives through peer-to-peer learning, once-in-a-lifetime experiences and connections to experts.

Its core values include leaving a legacy and trust and respect – values personified by Mandela.

La Grange, who grew up in a typical “prejudiced Afrikaner family” where politics was not discussed, began working in Mandela’s office quite by chance at age 23.

She listed three key lessons she had learnt during her 19-year career with Mandela: that punctuality and discipline are a mark of respect for others; the need to respect everyone, irrespective of their background, ideology and religion; and the importance of integrity, honesty and ethics.

Responding to La Grange’s story, Mark Essey, an EO member and managing director of Debt-IN, observed: “For me, the message was one of sticking to your principles and not being afraid to go against the consensus.”


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