Meet Graça Simbine Machel, the only woman in history to have married two presidents of two different countries.
Graça Machel is a Mozambican politician, humanitarian and the widow of former President of Mozambique Samora Machel and former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela. Graça Machel is the only woman in modern history to have served as First Lady of two countries, South Africa and Mozambique.
Graca Machel: Early Life & Education
Graça Simbine Machel was born on 17 October 1945, in Gaza, Mozambique, and she was the last child in a family of six. Her father died three weeks before her birth and left an instruction that she must be educated through high school. A will that was carried out by her older siblings.
After completing high school, the Methodist church granted her a scholarship to study at Lisbon University, Portugal. And she chose to major in languages.
Due to Surveillance from the Portuguese secret police, she was forced to abandon her education and fled to Switzerland.
In 1973, she returned to Tanzania and joined the FRELIMO where she met her first husband, Samora Machel – the first president of Mozambique.
On June 25, 1975, Mozambique gained independence and Samora Machel was made the first president of the new country.
Graca Simbine Machel Marriage To Samora Machel
When he was sworn in as a president of the mozambique, Samora Machel was a widower as his wife, Josina, had died of leukaemia in 1971. In September of 1975, Graça married Samora Machel and became the First Lady of the country, a position she combined with her cabinet portfolio as Education minister.
Together they had two children: daughter Josina and son Malengane. Samora Machel died in office in 1986 when his presidential aircraft crashed near the Mozambique-South Africa border.
While she was first lady, she was recognised for her dedication to educating the people of Mozambique, and for her leadership in organisations devoted to the children of her war-torn country.
Graca Simbine Machel Marriage to South Africa’s Madiba Nelson Mandela
Graça’s marriage to Mandela was announced at the 80th birthday of the late icon in the presence of over 2,000 international guests in 1998.
Having tied the nuptial knots with Mandela, Graça assumed the position of the First Lady of South Africa at age 52. At the time, Mandela was serving as the first post-apartheid president of South Africa. Mandela died of pneumonia on 5 December 2013.
Graça Machel Mandela married her second husband, Nelson Mandela, in Johannesburg on 18 July 1998, Mandela’s 80th birthday. At the time, Mandela was serving as the first post-apartheid president of South Africa. Mandela died of pneumonia on 5 December 2013
Graça said about her marriage to the two past presidents: “It’s not two leaders who fell in love with me, but two real people. I feel privileged that I have shared my life with two such exceptional men”.
Awards and International Recognition
Graça Machel received the 1992 Africa Prize, awarded annually to an individual who has contributed to the goal of eliminating hunger in Africa by the year 2000.
Machel received the 1995 Nansen Medal from the United Nations in recognition of her longstanding humanitarian work, particularly on behalf of refugee children.
In 1997, Machel was honored with the Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II for her contributions and services in the field of human rights protection. In the same year, she received the Global Citizen Award of the New England Circle.
Machel has been chancellor of the University of Cape Town from 1999 to 2019. In 2009, Machel was appointed to the Commonwealth of Nations’ Eminent Persons Group. She was named president of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London in 2012.
In 2016, Machel was named chancellor of the African Leadership University, a role that she still holds today.
In July 2017, Machel was elected an Honorary Fellow of the British Academy (HonFBA), the United Kingdom’s national academy for the humanities and social sciences.
In 2018, she was awarded by the World Health Organization for her contributions to the health and wellbeing of women, children and adolescents.