Style Observer

COCKTAILS WITH... ZOLEKA MANDELA

Sunday, May 21, 2017

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It's a head-turning moment as Zoleka Mandela pops into the lobby of the Spanish Court Hotel. Beautifully outfitted in an African-inspired ensemble, her presence is both commanding and regal, and it's little wonder people are stealing furtive glances. Granddaughter of late human rights icon and former South African president Nelson Mandela, the 37-year-old writer is on special invitation to the Rock, and we're eager to learn more.Is it business or leisure that brought you to Jamaica?

I was attending the Fourth United Nations Global Road Safety Week event led by Prime Minister Andrew Holness.

What is your most memorable takeaway from your stay on our fair isle?

The privilege of lending my voice and support to the launch of the #SlowSpeed vaccine as a call for renewed action towards preventing our children from being injured and killed on our global roads.

Is there a repeat visit here in the cards? And if so, what's on your to-do-and-see list when you return?

I certainly hope so! I didn't get a chance to visit the Bob Marley Museum, Montego Bay, Negril as well as any craft markets.

Is it a heavy crown to wear being a descendant of as historical an icon as your grandfather Nelson Mandela?

Not entirely! I'm truly blessed with the platforms my grandparents have afforded me, I try to focus my life more on what they have both taught me, though, and that is, despite our own challenges in our lives, we still have a responsibility towards others, and we can still make an impactful difference in the lives of those who are less privileged than we are.

Your autobiography When Hope Whispers recalls your struggles with addiction and losing two of your children. How important was it to share your life story, and was it cathartic divulging personal details?

Cathartic somehow seems like a complete understatement. I grew up thinking that I never had a voice; writing my autobiography did more than give me one — it made me feel like I was being heard and that through it, I was somehow giving others a voice. We all have a story worth sharing.

You're in the middle of exams. Can you update us as to your present academic pursuits?

Due to my addiction to alcohol and drugs, I dropped out of university back in 2007. This year, I not only celebrate my seventh year of sobriety; having abused drugs and alcohol for over 17 years, I celebrate my goal to finally complete my degree.

As a breast cancer survivor, what's the single most important thing that you recount when telling of your experience?

When I was diagnosed for the first time in 2012, I though breast cancer was a death sentence. I was diagnosed again in 2016 and today, I'm cancer-free.

True freedom is...

knowing that I no longer need sex, drugs and alcohol to feel better about myself.

Your grandmother Winnie Madikizela Mandela is as beloved a figure in Jamaica as your late grandfather Nelson. Describe the relationship that exists between you and her.

She is one of the best things about me! My grandmother has been with me through some of the darkest parts of my life and despite the shame, hurt, disrespect and humilation I brought to her and my family, she says I make her proud!

My greatest pet peeve is...

when every Mandela is painted with the same brush regardless of the fact that we are different individuals .

What's the one can't-live-without thing that's always packed in your suitcase whenever you travel?

I always want to represent my country so I always have an outfit or two that was made from back home.

The greatest joy and hardest truth of being a mother are...

that your children will love you regardless of how many times you fail them as a parent. My greatest joy has been the birth of all four of my children and the opportunities I have been given to somehow right my many parental wrongs.

You're a published author, but what book do you find yourself rereading on occasion?

I am such a huge fan of Terry McMillan's; I reread her books at every given opportunity.

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