How Mandela lived by his values

13 December 2017

Quality, not popularity, is a guiding principle to your success, writes Sylvia Pennington.

Zelda la Grange spent two decades by the side of the late Nelson Mandela watching him live by his values of discipline, honesty, respect and integrity and found her own life and beliefs profoundly changed as a result.

In a keynote speech at the AFA 2017 National Adviser Conference, sponsored by ANZ Wealth, la Grange told delegates she was privileged to have worked for an individual who led an authentic life and demonstrated his values in practical ways.

La Grange took a job in the office of the newly-appointed president Mandela in 1994, as a young woman of 24, and remained on Mandela’s private staff until his death in December 2013.

Working for one of the twentieth century’s most revered statesmen forced her to question and revise the deep-seated beliefs and prejudices she shared with other white South Africans raised in the apartheid era.

In 2014 she published a best-selling memoir entitled Good Morning Mr President in which she shares stories of many public and private moments with Mandela.

Authenticity above popularity

In contrast with today’s popular ‘heroes’, internet sensations whose success is gauged by Facebook likes and Twitter retweets, Mandela was a generational leader who lived by the courage of his convictions.

He was dedicated to pioneering principle-based change and his life revolved around the values and morals he stood for.

In this, he was poles apart from many personalities and celebrities of the current era for whom public life is a popularity contest, la Grange said.

She shared stories of a man who valued humanity over ideology – one who disconcerted and disarmed her at first meeting by addressing her in her native Afrikaans.

Discipline and respect

The late president subscribed to the credo that punctuality is the virtues of kings and was quick to express displeasure with anyone who failed to respect the time of others, from Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe down to a young la Grange running five minutes late.

Mandela’s behaviour during a court case instigated by South Africa’s controversial rugby boss Louis Luyt in 1998 also revealed the mark of the man, la Grange said.

Upon entering the courthouse, he greeted the opposing legal team warmly before approaching his own counsel.

When she asked his reason for doing so, Mandela taught her two important life lessons: that the ‘enemy’ should never be allowed to determine the grounds for battle, and that the way you approach an individual will determine how they treat you.

Showing the utmost respect for others, regardless of their stance or status, was one of the ways Mandela expressed his humanity and part of the reason he remains one of the most revered statesmen of the past century, la Grange said.

Change starts from within

Mandela’s story was also one of change.

Painted as a terrorist and imprisoned for 27 years under the apartheid regime, Mandela managed to replace his justifiable resentment and anger with love, respect and tolerance, even for his enemies.

It’s often necessary to change ourselves before we attempt to change others around us, or the world, and Mandela had demonstrated the power of doing so, la Grange said.