JOHANNESBURG (AFP) - Mr Nelson Mandela's widow was treated badly by members of his family as the peace icon was fighting for his life in hospital, excerpts from a memoir by his long-time aide have revealed.
In a book likely to ruffle some feathers within the large Mandela family, Ms Zelda la Grange, Mr Mandela's personal assistant for 19 years, tells of shabby treatment suffered by Mrs Graca Machel, even in the aftermath of her husband's death.
Ms La Grange's book "Good Morning, Mr Mandela" will be launched on Thursday.
Excerpts published by Sunday Times newspaper reveal that Mrs Machel was once called "Ms Frantic" by Mr Mandela's eldest daughter Makaziwe, after media reports that she had been in a frenzy when an ambulance driving Mr Mandela to hospital broke down on a motorway on a cold evening in June 2013.
Ms La Grange also recalled family squabbles over control of the revered statesman during his final days, sidelining Mrs Machel.
She says debates within the Mandela family about his funeral took place for years before he died in December last year at the age of 95.
Mrs Machel had refused to be party to such arrangements.
"I don't know of any person alive who has been treated with the amount of disrespect that people have shown to Mrs Machel," writes Ms La Grange.
She also says that Mrs Machel, like anybody else, was compelled to get accreditation to attend her own husband's funeral on December 15.
The Machel family was allocated only five spots at the service.
Ms Makaziwe Mandela told the Sunday Times that Ms La Grange would have to prove any reference she made about the family in the book "otherwise she will be sued".
But the 43-year-old former aide has defended her words.
"My book was not written as a definitive account - to say 'this is Madiba'. It's just my experience," she told the Sunday Times.
Ms La Grange, a white Afrikaans woman, had over the years become a permanent feature at Mr Mandela's side, often seen holding his hand to offer support during his frail final years.
On a lighter side, she told how she was at loss for words when she met him for the first time. "I said: 'Good morning, Mr Mandela'," and started crying.
"I felt guilty that this kindly spoken man with gentle eyes and generosity of spirit spoke to me in my own language after my people had sent him to jail for so many years."
Ms La Grange also claims that Mrs Machel had to intervene after Ms Mandela had prevented her from visiting Mr Mandela in hospital, telling her that she was no longer an employee.
She was Mr Mandela's personal assistant while he was president from 1994 and continued working for him after he stepped down in 1999, for a total of 19 years until 2013.