Former President Nelson Mandela, assisted by Zelda Le Grange, right, arrives at the Nelson Mandela Foundation in Johannesburg. Photo: AP Photo/ Denis Farrell

Johannesburg - Heroes never die, former president Nelson Mandela's personal assistant Zelda la Grange said on Friday.

“As sad as it makes me that I will never walk into a room again and see his generous infectious smile... I have come to terms with the fact that Madiba's legacy is not dependent on his presence,” she said in a statement.

“His legacy will not only live on in everything that has been named after him, the books, the images, the movies. It will live on in how we feel when we hear his name, the respect and love, the unity he inspired in us as a country, but particularly how we relate to one another.”

She said Mandela inspired people to forgive, reconcile, care, be selfless, tolerant, and to maintain dignity no matter what the circumstances.

“I can attest to each of these because these are the ways in which he changed my life over the past 19 years,” said La Grange.

“I am blessed and honoured by the privilege to have had the opportunity to serve him.”

Mandela did not demand loyalty, but inspired unwavering loyalty from everyone he touched, she said.

“Madiba will forever be present in my life because he made me into the human being I am today. I will cherish every smile, the pleasant but also the difficult times and especially my barefoot moments,” said La Grange.

“Thank you for all the wonderful opportunities you afforded me, but most of all thank you for believing in me... making me a better person, a better South African.”