The three women in Nelson Mandela’s life
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Durban - Nelson Mandela married three times and fathered six children. He also had 17 grandchildren and many great-grandchildren.
His life was dedicated to politics and achieving freedom for the oppressed people in the country, which left him little time with his children and loved ones. He was described as a stern and demanding father but affectionate towards his grandchildren after his release from prison.
Mandela first married Evelyn Ntoko Mase from his homeland in Transkei in October 1944. She was the cousin of Walter Sisulu.
The couple had two sons, Madiba “Thembi” Thembekile (1946-1969) and Makgatho Mandela (1950-2005), and two daughters, both named Makaziwe Mandela (known as Maki; born 1947 and 1953).
Their first daughter died aged nine months. They named their second daughter in her honour. Mandla Mandela, became chief of the Mvezo tribal council in 2007. In his autobiography the Long Walk to Freedom he said in 1955, she (Mase) gave him an ultimatum to choose between her and the ANC.
“When I came out of prison, I found that she had moved out and taken the children. Mase and I had irreconcilable differences. I could not give up my life in the struggle. She could not live with my devotion to something other than herself and the family. I never lost my respect and admiration for her, but in the end, we could not make our marriage work. I regret what happened to my first marriage.”
Mandela married Winnie Madikizela in 1958. She was Johannesburg’s first black social worker. Their marriage lasted until 1996. They had two daughters, Zenani (Zeni), born on February 4, 1958, and Zind-ziswa (Zindzi) Mandela-Hlongwane, born in 1960.
Mandela was sent to Robben Island in 1962 and did not witness his daughters grow up.
“I have nursed for her inside and outside of prison from the moment I first met her.” Mandela said describing his marriage to Winnie. Journalist Jessie Duarte who interviewed Mandela said Mandela and Winnie had grown apart. He said Mandela recognised this. Duarte said he (Mandela) thought it was going to be very difficult for them to continue a relationship that hadn’t been there for 27 years. Mandela had very fond memories of their early marriage together. Winnie was his only reference point physically with the rest of the world for a long time.
Mandela married his third wife Graça Machel in 1998 on his 80th birthday. She was the widow of Samora Machel, the former Mozambican president.
They had first met in July 1990, when she was still in mourning. Their friendship grew into a partnership, with Machel accompanying him on many of his foreign visits.
“I’m in love with a remarkable lady,” Mandela said in a public announcement.
Graça in a radio interview said, “It’s just wonderful that finally we have found each other and can share a life together.”
In an interview with journalist Ann Mcferran in 2007, Graça said, “We were both very, very lonely. We both wanted someone you could talk to; someone who’d understand. It just happened; I can’t explain it. I’m very close to my children so I couldn’t hide it from them. I said, ‘I feel good about seeing Mandela, but there’s no question of marriage.’ But it came to the point where for Madiba (Nelson) the only thing that was missing was marriage. When I told my children, they couldn’t believe it. I’d sworn I wouldn’t get married again, but he surprised me. It took a very special person to make me change my mind.”
In the book, Mandela: The Authorised Biography he said, “I don’t regret the reverses and setbacks because late in my life I am blooming like a flower, because of the love and support she has given me.”