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Page last updated at 14:27 GMT, Friday, 18 July 2008 15:27 UK

Key figures in Mandela's life

As part of Nelson Mandela's 90th birthday commemorations, BBC World Service's Outlook programme spoke to some of the people who stand closest to him - and who help to protect him from the world's gaze.

ZELDA LA GRANGE

Zelda La Grange
Ms La Grange is notoriously difficult to interview
Zelda La Grange is Mandela's personal gate-keeper: a white Afrikaaner, she has been his butler, spokesperson, travelling companion, confidante and - they both agree - honorary grand-daughter.

For Mr Mandela, my role is very much supporting whatever he wants to do - whether at a personal level or at work with his charities, I organise his life and make sure things happen according to his wishes.

I have a historical memory, as they call it, so I am able to guide through things according to what I think he would want things to play out.

While it is a great privilege to work with Mr Mandela, people don't realise the hard work and the stress that goes into the job.

That really makes it hard to explain to people that it's not all glitz and glamour; it's really difficult as well.

The pressure - trying to please people all the time - there's always people complaining and there's always criticism. I try and feed that away from Mr Mandela and protect him against that.

There's also commercial exploitation. You need to have a seventh sense for people wanting to exploit him.

At 90, he's as good as any 90-year-old. He's got the aches and pains of any person that age. He needs freedom now; time to spend with his family, and especially his children and grandchildren. That was a big part of his life that he missed out on.

AHMED KATHRADA

Ahmed Kathrada with his family and Nelson Mandela
Mr Kathrada (left) says Mr Mandela is always happy to laugh at himself
Ahmed Kathrada first met Nelson Mandela at school. Years later he was imprisoned alongside him on Robben Island - where he started to regard him as a guide and mentor.

He remains an example - at this age.

Although I am 11 years his junior, we knew each other for a long, long time and have been through so many things together.

Last month he invited me to spend a few days with him in Mozambique. It was an opportunity that seldom comes anybody's way, because there was no-one there pressurising him. We just talked, reminiscing about all things.

He is an avid reader of newspapers. If there was anything of importance in them we discussed it.

Recently I was asked by a magazine to write 100 words on him. How could I do that? I gave an anecdote of his vanity.

I was in a group that was charged with looking after him when he was underground - arranging safe transport, safe meetings. He is an imposing figure - tall, handsome, well-known - so he had a beard. We asked him to shave it off because he was too recognisable, but he refused.

I put it down to vanity.

In prison he was used to a brand of hair oil called Pantene - we called it the Pantene revolution. When the authorities said it was no longer available, he complained to everybody.

He is a person I envy because of the way he relates to just about anybody. When I was with him some years ago he was talking on the phone, having a long conversation with someone he kept calling "Elizabeth."

When he finished, I asked who this Elizabeth was. He said it was the Queen.

MOTHOMANG DIAHO

Mothomang Diago
Ms Diago has been one of the key architects of the birthday plans
Dr Mothomang Diago is the head of the Dialogue for Justice Programme at the Nelson Mandela Foundation, an organisation set up to promote the values of his Mandela's life.

Our dialogue work is informed by the life and times of the founder, Nelson Mandela. Through this work we hope to continue the principles that he fought for.

It was fighting for justice; human rights issues.

For us, we cannot deny that HIV/Aids has become one of the biggest human rights issues that this country faces.

We don't interact with Mandela on a daily basis, but he reads the papers a lot and is totally aware of any coverage that we get on the work we have done.

I would think that it pleases him that the work that he started in 2003 - when he took that bold step to start the anti-retroviral programme at a time when it was difficult - is continuing.

The pace of work has been surprising, and as we build up to his birthday it has been unrelenting.

Every activity this year has been built around the celebration. It has been extremely exciting. It is a very special place.

ACHMAT DANGOR

2004 Booker Prize nominees
Dangor (left) is an author and was nominated for the 2004 Booker Prize
Achmat Dangor is head of the Nelson Mandela foundation, and responsible for managing his official "brand."

We have to go out and lose money. Just because Nelson Mandela's name is attached to something, it doesn't mean the money rolls in.

Apart from the three charities that he has asked to carry on his work in 2004, over the years he has also leant his name to 54 organisations that are competing against each other to raise money.

We have been told that his name and face are among the top 10 most recognisable brands in the world.

When I first started talking about brand protection, I was on public radio and roundly attacked for wanting to brand Nelson Mandela. But we have to be realistic - in this day and age, someone with his image has to be protected.

We have registered many names, not to make money out of it but to prevent what we would call unethical exploitation.

We have negotiated partnerships with the private sector... the more ethical organisations have by and large heeded our call, but inevitably you're going to find the unscrupulous people.

We have been successful to a large degree in getting people to respect our position.

ARTHUR CHASKALSON

Arthur Chaskelson
Arthur Chaskelson has served as Chief Justice of South Africa
Arthur Chaskalson is one of the lawyers who defended Nelson Mandela at the trial that saw him committed to life imprisonment in 1963.

Mr Mandela always used to introduce me on those occasions as, "this is my lawyer - he sent me to jail for 27 years."

I thought I should respond, and did so when he was introducing me to President Clinton. I said I saved his life - had he got his freedom, he would have been assassinated.

President Clinton said it was the best excuse he had ever heard for losing a case - but it was probably true.

My first impression of him was his dignity. Everybody saw him as a leader, recognised him as a leader - even the prison guards.

It was certainly a privilege to be part of his defence, but it was also an extraordinary responsibility.

They were on trial for their lives, and the fact that their defence was to put apartheid on trial. The whole case was conducted on that basis.

He is a remarkable man. People just respond to him in an extraordinary fashion. Audiences just spontaneously erupt in applause.


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