As an editor, I am drawn to books that recreate a time and a turning point in history, and especially to witnesses that take us deep inside the moment. The world watched – and changed — when Nelson Mandela walked out of prison, and Zelda la Grange takes us back to that turbulent time in South Africa, and helps us understand how it looked from inside a frightened white community. “I was fearful of so much twenty years ago—of life, of black people, of this black man and the future of South Africa-and I now was no longer persuaded or influenced by mainstream fears. He not only liberated the black man but the white man too…“Prior to the elections we expected black people to take over the country. We expected revenge. But we all woke up the next morning, went back to work and the normal way of life. Nothing was there to indicate that soon the very foundations of my life, my ignorance, my beliefs, my values were to be shaken up and tested. Little did I know that I would emerge from that paranoid, white cocoon of fear and denial and that the man who would lead me out of that – gently holding my hand – would be Nelson Mandela.”
There is probably no one figure on the global scene in the last twenty years who was more admired, more treasured, and more recognizable than Nelson Mandela. And yet for all the thousands of pages that have been published about him, very few who have written about him were personally close to the great man, or can testify to what he was like off stage, when the cameras were turned off. Zelda la Grange is that witness for us; she was his personal assistant and aide-de-camp for almost two decades. She traveled with him, managed his office after he stepped down from the presidency, and came to regard him as family.
But what is startling about this story, and one of the things that drew us at Viking to take on this book, is that Zelda herself is a white Afrikaner, who grew up in a conservative family in South Africa and who was taught as a child to think of Mandela as the enemy. Her journey from prejudice to acceptance, from fear to love, makes her new book, Good Morning, Mr. Mandela, both unexpected and moving.
She then gives us a wonderfully rich and warm portrait of the man she came to call “Khulu” – grandfather. He is wise, moral, and direct, but with a teasing sense of humor and personal quirks – in other words, an actual human being.
Penguin imprints around the world are going to be publishing this book all together at the end of June, and it’s exciting to be involved in such a special global project together.