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Johannesburg - Zelda la Grange’s windswept blonde hair and steely-eyed look are fearsome to behold as she straddles her red, chrome 1200 GS.
This is a woman, a biker chick, a philanthropist, with a mission.
As the personal assistant to Nelson Mandela, La Grange’s interests and career have merged into an initiative that takes her across South Africa every July.
Bikers for Nelson Mandela Day isn’t your typical charity group. And they’re not the chain-swinging, hard-boozing motorcyclists your parents (wrongly) warned you about, but a group of (mostly) wealthy biking enthusiasts who would rather dump their luxury cars than their hogs.
Every year since 2010, La Grange and her group have gone cross-country to find a way to spend their 67 minutes – each day for a few days – to celebrate Nelson Mandela’s legacy.
La Grange says that after working with Mandela for almost two decades, there’s nothing she takes more seriously than teh day named after him
She was part of the application to the UN to have July 18 declared Mandela Day, but rather than the formal attire she wore that day, she looks more comfortable in her heavy-plated gear with 260kg of metal underneath her.
This year, Bikers for Mandela Day are focusing their work on the fight against rape and gender-based violence, travelling to help at the Mahikeng LifeLine Crisis Centre.
La Grange says various recent attacks on women and children inspired her choice of charity this year. And what does she think Mandela would feel about the horrors of rape and gender violence?
“Everyone knows that gender equality and women’s rights were so important to Madiba. (Securing them) was a passion of his,” says La Grange.
For her, the rights of women also extend to how they are perceived. And so she uses her biker group to address the stereotype of female motorcyclists, which paints them as unladylike or butch.
“A lot of people say (female bikers) aren’t feminine. But this doesn’t take away from my femininity; it’s just a sport I love,” she says.
The Jimmy Choo riding boots she wears for short distances are a testament to this.
“You don’t have to give up style to ride a bike,” she says.
Even after four years of Bikers for Mandela Day initiatives, it doesn’t look as if she’s losing any energy as she gathers celebrities and major corporations to join in.
“But I want people to do their own things for Mandela Day, not be dependent on celebs to push for change,” she says.
It was when she joined the biking community five years ago that she was inspired to start charity work.
La Grange says the moment she puts on her helmet, the world disappears and only the road exists. It becomes a sort of meditation for a woman whose phone rarely stops ringing. When she’s on her bike, it’s the only time she can’t answer.
“There’s nowhere else in the world where you can be by yourself,” she says.
La Grange says anyone can use their own lifestyles to help others – you just need a little inspiration.
Lifeline crisis centre gets a garden
The scourge of sexual violence is rampant in Mahikeng, North West, with recent SAPS statistics revealing that the city has the highest number of rapes in the country.
One small property near the city centre – a white house with just a few bedrooms – serves as a safe house for men, women and children who have been victims of sexual, physical and mental abuse. It’s known as the Lifeline Crisis Centre.
In recent days the house was home for a family who had to flee from an abusive father. The woman’s own family was eventually found in the Eastern Cape, and she was able to return home after a few days of counselling.
But a few days is not enough for a lot of cases.
It’s clean and hospitable, but one room holds five beds, and before Saturday, the lawn outside was barren.
While it is well maintained, the centre has to service three local municipalities, and this year, its funding was cut by 25 percent.
Molly Nage is an emotional wellness worker – one of eight counsellors at the centre.
She says the centre usually houses the abused for less than a week, but if further security is needed, the closest place of safety that can take them long term is in Vryburg.
The counsellor says women often blame themselves for the abuse, and the centre’s job is to strengthen them emotionally, especially if it means victims have to face their attackers again in court.
Recently, Bikers for Nelson Mandela Day arrived to set up a new jungle gym, plant a vegetable garden and donate R100 000 to help out with the bills from First For Women insurance.
“The jungle gym is a big help; the children sometimes just have to sit around. Now they can have playtime, and mothers will have a few moments to themselves as well,” says Mmaja Motjale, the project manager at the centre.
Motjale says money is tight, but the workers will continue to do their best to help in the fight against domestic violence.
Victims of abuse in North West – male or female – can contact the Lifeline Crisis centre on 018 381 8535.
Bikers help woman who was set alight
Neo Motlhoki was beautiful once. Her decade-old ID photo shows a wide-eyed woman with symmetrical features and long, thick hair.
“Look at me, look at me!” she says as her finger jumps between her current face and the photograph.
Motlhoki had been married for 23 years when her common-law husband set her clothes on fire.
On that day in 2010, she had been making food for her family in her home in a rural area near Rustenburg, the flames burning hot on her paraffin cooker.
Her partner was an insecure man, jealous of any man she spoke to.
She says he’d hit her before, but she never thought he’d set her on fire.
Pain is now etched into her face. Her entire upper body is scarred. Her upper right thigh is covered in rectangles of scar tissue from where skin grafts were harvested.
She now lives in her home country of Botswana, in Remotswa, surrounded by rolling hills and houses larger and better maintained than her own.
The man who hurt her fled back to Rustenburg, where he now lives. He was never convicted.
Motlhoki, now 41, is shunned by her community and has been unable to find work to support herself and her seven-year-old daughter, Precious, and two almost-adult sons, Kabelo and Phenyo.
She is helped out by some of her neighbours and the Botswana Bikers Society, who heard about her plight a few years ago.
They’ve been helping to pay her water bill, and it was because of their link with the Gauteng motorcycling community that Motlhoki was given a new home this week.
On Sunday, Bikers for Nelson Mandela Day helped paint the house and plant a vegetable garden they hope will help feed Motlhoki and her three children.
Motlhoki’s fate is unclear. Will she ever be accepted by the community? And will she ever be able to see justice act against the man who ruined her life?
Motlhoki doesn’t think so. “Only God can punish him now.”