Who Is Graca Machel? Nelson Mandela’s Wife

Graca Machel

Graca Machel | Bryan Steffy/Getty Images for Diamond Empowerment Fund

The name Graca Machel may ring a bell as she is the widow of the late Nelson Mandela.

Machel was the third wife of the former South African president. His first two marriages to Evelyn Wase and Winnie Mandela crumbled under the strain of politics and ended in divorce, but he found love again with Machel later in life.

Mandela passed away in 2013 and following his death, Machel did an interview with the Guardian in which she opened up about losing her partner.

“If you can imagine how millions of people felt this sense of loss, then you can imagine what it means for me,” she told the publication. “That huge presence, filling every detail of my life, every detail of my life full of him. And now, it’s pain, it’s emptiness and it’s actually searching now – at a certain point you even search yourself, who I am now after this experience. It’s like something has changed inside you as well. Of course, you don’t go through this kind of experience and you remain exactly the same.”

Here are some interesting facts about the woman who was with him till the very end.

Machel has been the first lady of two nations

Machel is the only woman ever who has actually been the first lady of two nations.

Before she and Mandela tied the knot, Machel was the first lady of Mozambique when she married President Samora Machel. The two wed in 1975, three months after the country gained independence. Her first husband died in a mysterious plane crash on October 19, 1986, in Mbuzini, Lebombo Mountains, South Africa.

She was nicknamed Jackie Kennedy

Machel got the nickname the Jackie Kennedy of Africa because like the former first lady of the United States, she experienced the tragedy of losing her husband while he was in office.

Machel expressed her grief by wearing black for five years after his death.

She was reluctant to marry Mandela at first

Machel and Mandela met in the ’90s and formed a relationship over the years but she was still reluctant to marry the much older South African leader. Eventually, he wooed her and the two wed in a private ceremony in 1998 on his 80th birthday. She was 52 at the time and spoke positively about their age difference and marrying later in life.

“It wasn’t a problem. I was so happy to marry him,” she said. “We were grown up; we were settled; we knew the value of a companion, of a partner.”

Her very busy career

Machel is a politician and humanitarian, who served as the minister of education and culture in Mozambique for more than a decade. She is especially passionate about youth education and served as an expert on children’s issues for the United Nations. She is also an advocate for women’s rights and a global champion for Girls Not Brides.

Mandela once joked about her work schedule in 2007 saying, “She is busier than I am. We meet for lunch, go off and then only see each other again for supper. I wish I had married a wife who was less busy.”