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Madiba bids final farewell to his first wife

Published May 8, 2004


Former president Nelson Mandela buried his first wife Evelyn on Saturday, nearly half a century after the couple split up.

Mandela and his third wife, Graca Machel, attended the funeral in Johannesburg, along with Mandela's second wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, SAfm national radio reported.

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Mandela married Evelyn Mase in 1944, the year he co-founded the African National Congress Youth League. She supported Mandela from her wage as a nurse while he completed his law studies.

Mandela and Evelyn, a cousin of his ANC colleague Walter Sisulu, had a daughter and two sons, as well as another daughter who died when she was a few months old.

The marriage broke up, partly under the strain of Mandela's devotion to the anti-apartheid cause, and the couple divorced in 1957.

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Evelyn later returned to her native Transkei where she ran a shop to support the children.

One son, Madiba Thembekile, never reconciled with his father after the divorce and died in a car crash in 1969. Mandela was refused leave from jail to attend the funeral.

A year after the divorce, Mandela married Winnie Madikizela, a glamorous social worker who stood by him through 27 years of imprisonment and became the darling of the ANC. They separated two years after his release in 1990.

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Evelyn spent much of her later years working as a Jehovah's Witness missionary. She kept the name Mandela, but in the late 1990s she married retired Soweto businessman Simon Rakeepile.

She died on April 30 aged 82 after a respiratory illness.

In 1998, on his 80th birthday, Mandela married Machel, the widow of Mozambique's assassinated founding president Samora Machel.

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