Mandela PA’s racist rant

By MOGOMOTSI MAGOME Time of article published Jan 18, 2015

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Johannesburg - A woman who was hoisted by former president Nelson Mandela as a poster girl of transformation has been caught up in a racial storm on social networks.

The bid by Zelda la Grange, Mandela’s long-term personal assistant, to attack President Jacob Zuma and defend FW de Klerk backfired on Saturday, forcing her to apologise.

“I want to apologise to everyone who was offended by my tweets this am, even my apology tweets got taken as me justifying me hurting people... So this right now is just a plain apology no buts,” La Grange said on Twitter.

La Grange’s racial outbursts on Twitter have raised serious debate about reconciliation efforts as the person who was arguably the closest individual to the country’s custodian of reconciliation for more than a decade appeared to be perpetuating racial stereotypes.

La Grange, who last year released a book about her years as Madiba’s assistant, was taken to task after a series of bizarre tweets that appeared to downplay the effects of apartheid and colonialism on South African society.

She was accused of being racist after her tweets, which included threats to leave South Africa and claims that white taxes had funded the R246 million security upgrades at Zuma’s Nkandla home, went viral on Saturday. La Grange has 57 000 Twitter followers.

Earlier, she had defended the suggestion by the City of Cape Town to name a street after the last apartheid president De Klerk, saying he could have attempted to hold on to power instead of releasing Mandela and other political prisoners as well as taking part in the transition to a democratic South Africa.

She had also changed her surname on her Twitter profile to “Zelda van Riebeeck” in response to Zuma’s comments in Cape Town last week that most of the country’s current challenges had begun with Jan van Riebeeck’s arrival in South Africa in 1652.

But it was perhaps her tweets about white people not being made to feel welcome in South Africa that unleashed a wave of angry tweet retorts from personalities like radio host Redi Tlhabi and newspaper editor Ferial Haffajee.

The Nelson Mandela Foundation on Saturday distanced itself from her comments. “I have not personally seen the tweets but even if I had, those remain her personal views and would not be linked to the foundation in any way,” said chief executive Sello Hatang.

ANC spokesman Keith Khoza said on Saturday the party was disappointed with her remarks, adding she was trying to pretend that “certain things did not happen in this country”.

“It’s unfortunate she would want to pretend certain things did not happen in this country that continue to impact on the level of economic and social development. We cannot avoid the truth about what happened in this country. It is our duty to talk about what happened in the past and that is what the president was doing. We need to speak about those things so they do not repeat themselves; we cannot gloss over the past,” said Khoza.

Wits academic Melissa Steyn, South Africa’s foremost scholar on “whiteness”, was critical of La Grange, including her threat to leave the country.

“Quite frankly it’s a little bit tedious. There’s a way in which white South Africans want history to be presented in a way that makes them feel good, (but) an honest appraisal of South Africa’s past can’t and shouldn’t make white South Africans comfortable. This thing about leaving; it’s a thing in which white South Africans feel comfortable to live in South Africa on their terms only. When South Africa was run by an obviously white supremacist state they didn’t have problems living here,” she said.

One of her tweets posited whether to ask French President Francois Hollande to have her as a French citizen.

According to Steyn, La Grange’s comments on Hollande were part of a reality that white South Africans could fit seamlessly into the white global elite, while the inverse is not true for blacks.

“If the country doesn’t maintain in such a way that white people feel completely comfortable then they pull out this threat of leaving. “There’s a way in which whites have had greater mobility. White South Africans have to create a genuine spirit of being compatriots with black (South Africans). They need to take our (white) history seriously. It asks us (whites) to not shy back and we do have the opportunity do that. But to threaten to leave is petulant,” she said.

Branding expert Thebe Ikalafeng said La Grange’s comments had veered her into a political battlefield.

“Zelda very much built her reputation on the ‘new’ South Africa’s ‘old South African girl’ because that’s who she is. She presented herself as somebody who’s not ashamed or embarrassed by her past but embraces the future or the new South Africa as well.

“In all her interviews and her writing, La Grange had been frank about her background but had also presented herself as a non-political person.

“Defending FW de Klerk, Max du Preez and Van Riebeeck, and attacking Jacob Zuma – to me that is veering into a political battlefield for which I’m not sure she is equipped,” he said.

He said the comments would not bode well for her reputation.

“This looks like a Twitter meltdown in many ways, (but) will do more harm to her brand, of a ‘new South Africa’ Afrikaner girl, that she has carefully cultivated.

“But she does have a right as every citizen to express her views about public or private individuals – that is what we all fought for.

“She has that right but she has to prepare for the consequences.

“I don’t know how much she made from the book, Good Morning, Mister Mandela, but she made money because she was a ‘good, transformed, Afrikaner girl,’” he said. – Additional reporting by Shanti Aboobaker

The Sunday Independent

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