The failed experiment


LAST Saturday South Africa woke up to the Twitter tirade of Zelda La Grange. It might be presumptuous to say there is not one who did not “know” Zelda.

Lest you start thinking she’s the animated character from the Nintendo Xbox games. Zelda was born on October 29 1970. She is a child of apartheid South Africa.

She was raised in suburban Pretoria in a middle class Afrikaner family with Calvinist values. Her claim to fame is that she was Nelson Mandela’s personal assistant (PA) or as others have pointed out with derision, “The first white helper”.

She literally rose from obscurity as a typist in the president’s office in 1994 and was later elevated to PA working in close proximity.

At face value Zelda was his white PA, but she went beyond the call of duty by becoming Mandela’s confidante, advisor, protector and mascot for his elusive concept of the “Rainbow Nation”.

Zelda further used her relationship to further catapult herself to greater fame with her novel entitled Good Morning Mandela which raked in millions becoming the bestseller of 2014.

It reportedly sold 11 000 copies a month and to date over 50 000 copies have been sold. I have author envy just hearing those figures!

Zelda herself claimed to be a self-confessed racist who was transformed through her association with Mandela. She became the “poster girl” of racial transformation.

So it was a shocking disappointment when she took to the social media podium and spewed vitriol that sparked off flames of racial discontent.

Her outburst in itself is revealing of the racial status quo in South Africa. It shows that reconciliation was for many a myth and by far not a mutual feeling. It is clearly the black people who reconciled themselves to an idea of the Rainbow Nation.

The majority of the Whites did not buy into the concept even though they may have pretended to. It might appear insolent to judge an entire population of white South Africans on the basis of Zelda’s tweets.

However, like she pointed out there are good people and they are bad people. I know I have at one point had a patronising white person put their arm around me and pat me gently on the back saying “I’m a good black” as opposed to the other bad blacks.

So I am assuming we have the good whites and the bad whites. Yet when all is said and done I would rather be friends with a Steve Hofmeyr than a Zelda la Grange. At least Steve is frank and brutally honest about his racism.

With someone like that you know where you stand. However, with the Zeldas of this world you are led to believe something else because they pretend.

They essentially play to the gallery. I was left with the impression that she did her bit for political expediency and personal gain. In a world where the Mandela name carries a lot of weight, she has certainly made it work for herself.

Mandela was the grand architect of reconciliation and it is what he stood for and is remembered for.

So to have the one person who spent more time in his company speak this way really is a slap in his face and legacy. And so now we sit with a failed experiment on our hands and so many disillusioned bitter people.

She tried to salvage the day with her 14-point apology which sounded more like “a sorry but. . .” Now I could not for the life of me understand why she was being apologetic for revealing her true colours.

Surely it must be liberating after all the years to finally come out of the closet and be who you really are.

People openly pine for a non-racist society. For me it’s the ideal utopian world where people would co-exist without prejudice.

However, the reality is that we talk of reconciliation, but few of us have reconciled ourselves to living it. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 ended racial segregation in the United States yet just last year America was reeling from the Ferguson race riots. Even after 50 years they have still not gotten it right.

Trying to achieve racial integration is one of those failed experiments that keep being repeated with dismal results.

We see it in churches, schools, neighbourhoods, nightclubs, restaurants, universities and in so many other facets of society. I am not saying let’s revert to racial segregation, but rather call a spade a spade. It is what it is.

Sukoluhle Nyathi is the author of the novel The Polygamist. You can follow her on Twitter @SueNyathi