Nelson Mandela and the Women He Loved



It’s a sad day. Former South African president Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid activist who served 27 years in prison and became South Africa’s first black president, died at his home on Thursday at age 95. However, his legacy as husband, father and grandfather lives on. Here, a look at the women he leaves behind.

Evelyn Mase: Mandela married the South African nurse in 1944. Although the couple had four children, the husband and wife grew distant, in part because of Mandela’s involvement with anti-apartheid group, the African National Congress (ANC). According to a story published in The Guardian, one day Mase returned from a trip to Durban, South Africa, and found her husband’s secretary in their Johannesburg home. Mase reportedly threatened to throw boiling water on the woman, who fled, but the affair continued. Eventually, the couple’s marriage crumbled when Mase demanded that Mandela choose between her and the ANC. In 1958, she moved out and took their children with her. She died in 2004 at age 81.


Winnie Mandela: The same year Mandela and Mase divorced, he wed Winnie Madikizela, with whom he had two daughters, Zenani and Zindzi. However, Mandela was imprisoned frequently for anti-apartheid activities and in 1964 he was sentenced to life in prison, while Winnie continued his political efforts, repeatedly landing in prison herself. After Mandela was released from prison in 1990 and was elected President of South Africa in 1994, years of separation had fractured the couple’s bond. In divorce court, Mandela described himself as “the loneliest man” after returning home to Winnie who reportedly was having an affair with a younger man. The couple divorced in 1996 after 38 years of marriage.


Graca Machel: Two years later, on his 80th birthday, Mandela married former first lady of Mozambique, Graca Machel, despite the South African community initially rejecting the union because her nationality. Machel, who has a law degree and speaks three languages, managed to stay out of family disputes and led a more independent life than Mandela’s previous wives, even keeping her former husband’s name throughout her marriage to Mandela.

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