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Unisa online - Madiba's super assistant inspires Unisa's office professionals

It’s no secret that administrative assistants, secretaries and personal assistants form the very pulse of an organisation. Their behind-the-scenes contribution, efficiency and ability to ensure that things get done, and get done right, should never go unnoticed. Celebrating Unisa’s office professionals, the Human Resource Development (HRD) Directorate hosted a first of its kind event to recognise these professionals on 3 September 2012.

One can always learn from others, especially those who have climbed the ranks through high performance and perseverance. Pamela Khumalo, PA to the Group CEO of Telkom, is an example of success and was excited to share valuable tips with Unisa’s office professionals. “Being a super assistant is linked to leadership. You need to be leadership and information driven, go back to basics, focus on skills development, participate in the workplace and implement what you learn, be creative in what you do and solidify your work with loyalty,” advised Khumalo.


Some of the hardworking and committed office professionals at Unisa

Zelda La Grange (former Spokesperson and PA to Nelson Mandela)

With many organisations and institutions, including Unisa, placing great emphasis on ethics, Khumalo believes that all office professionals should be well versed on business ethics. Not only should they support their managers in ethical behaviour and decisions, but practise the same themselves.

No doubt a super assistant, and then some, Zelda La Grange, former Spokesperson and PA to Nelson Mandela, shared her incredible experience of how she as a young “boere meisie” started off as a typist in the Office of the President and went on to become a very important part of Madiba’s life.

The first time she met Madiba was unforgettable for La Grange. “They say that to speak to the heart of a person you should speak in their language. The first time I met Madiba, he put out his hand to shake mine and spoke to me in Afrikaans. He asked me about myself and his kindness was overwhelming. I was so emotional that I cried uncontrollably.”

Just as memorable was leaving South Africa for the first time, which was with Madiba on a state visit to Japan. “I didn’t understand my role at first, but later realised that this was his way of showing the world that South Africa was very serious about reconciliation.”

What stood out for her in the 18 years of working with Madiba is that he never treated her with anything but respect. It was this unconditional respect that urged her to be the best possible assistant to the man leading South Africa into a fully fledged democracy. “Madiba needed someone to always be available at any time of the day or night. I made myself indispensible. In over ten years, I hadn’t even been to a movie because I didn’t want to miss any calls or important tasks.”

La Grange believes that if someone believes in you, you need to take that forward. “Madiba was the best coach and mentor. As a female Afrikaans-speaking person in the Office of the Presidency, I endured my fair share of criticism. One day Madiba said to me: “If you’re going to be a coward, you’re not going to last in this office.” He always supported and believed in me and I’ve learnt so much from him. The way in which he deals with people who stand in front of him has completely changed my life.”

Taking this inspiration further, motivational speaker, Robin Banks had the audience in good spirits with his talk entitled “Success is a choice: creating a new reality”. He urged everybody to move from a victim to victor state simply because life is all about choices. “It’s easier to be a victim because this allows you to blame someone else. Yes, we all have baggage, but you have to change yourself. Stop waiting for someone else to change you.” Banks believes that happiness, success, even failure is a choice. “People decide to have terrible days and others are waiting for the day when they won’t have problems. Jy gaan lank wag (you’re going to wait a long time) – it’s called death,” he said.


Zimkitha Mbane (Study Material, Production and Delivery), Regina Ramoshebi (HRD), Mantshego Selepe (HRD), Robin Banks (motivational speaker) Kereeditse Modisane (HRD), Pamela Khumalo (PA to Group CEO of Telkom) and Firoza Patel (HRD)


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