Nelson Mandela has a double celebration today as he marks 10 years of marriage to his third wife Graca Machel — the only woman in the world to have married two heads of state.
Veiled in secrecy, the ceremony took place on Mandela’s 80th birthday despite the couple denying up until the last minute they were about to tie the knot.
Machel, who had been married to the late Mozambican president Samora Machel — killed when his aeroplane crashed over South Africa in 1984 — is a strong social and political activist with numerous humanitarian interests.
Loving the world’s most loved man is only one of the roles of the former Mozambican education minister who once said Mandela was “a symbol … but he is not a saint. He has weaknesses”.
The couple, who first met shortly after Mandela’s release from prison in 1990, spend most of their time in Johannesburg, but are also frequent visitors to Mozambique and Qunu in the rural Eastern Cape where Mandela grew up.
“They are deeply in love like a newly married couple just back from honeymoon,” Mandela’s fellow Nobel laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu is quoted as saying.
He recalls the couple’s Johannesburg wedding, which he said took place after Mandela entered into traditional negotiations with Machel’s family, even paying lobola.
Although he retired from public life in 2004, his personal assistant of 14 years, Zelda la Grange, said the Nelson Mandela Foundation receives around 4 000 requests a month asking for appearances or contributions.
“Hopefully after his birthday celebrations, we may be in a position to ensure that all his time is now spent on the things he chooses to do”
F.W. de Klerk hailed Nelson Mandela as one of the greatest figures of the last century in a 90th birthday tribute on Thursday to his successor.
De Klerk said his co-winner of the 1993 Nobel peace price was a born leader with the “humility and the grace of a true natural aristocrat”.