The Women In Nelson Mandela's Life

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By Riza Ornos | December 9, 2013 8:47 PM EST

Nelson Mandela has lived an austere life. He often concealed his emotions and only confided his feelings to a select few. He even refused to drink alcohol or smoke. As a President, he even made his own bed. Known for being stubborn and loyal, Mandela was friendly and welcoming and often looked at his best among well-known individuals.  

Give his charm and impeccable sense of style, Mandela was loved by many women and married three of them. According to Mandela's Biographer Anthony Sampson, he was a "ladies' man and proud of it."

He fought to the end apartheid not just in his country but in the world. Yet, that's not the only cause he fought. He devoted himself to empower women and even declared Aug. 9 as Women's Day. In his fight to empower women, Mandela recognized that there was no major success without gender equality.

"Freedom cannot be achieved unless women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression... Our endeavors must be about the liberation of the woman, the emancipation of the man and the liberty of the child," Mandela declared at the opening of the First Parliament in 1995.

Here were the three women in Mandela's life.

Evelyn Mase

Mandela was 26 when he married Evelyn Mase while she was 22 when she said "I do" after months of dating. Mandela met Mase three years after arriving in Johannesburg to avoid an arranged marriage in his hometown in Cape Town.

Mase was a nurse when she married Mandela in October 1944. They had four children: "Thembie" Thembekile, Makgatho and two daughters both named Makaziwe Mandela. Their first daughter died at 9 months. This was the reason they named their second daughter with the same name.

The couple was married for 13 years and during that time Mase supported the whole family in her nurse's salary while Mandela was pursuing his law degree.

Winnie Madikizela

A South African politician, Winnie Madikizela was Mandela's second wife when he was elected as President of South Africa. She was 16 years younger than Mandela. She was 22 when she married him and after the marriage she became a political firebrand.

"I was both courting her and politicizing her," Mandela said in his autobiography.

In her 1984 memoir, "Part of My Soul Went with Him," Madikizela revealed that Mandela never proposed to her. "One day Nelson just pulled up on the side of the road and said: "You know, there is a woman who is a dressmaker, you must go and see her, she is going to make your wedding gown. How many bridesmaids would you like to have?"

"That's how I was told I was getting married to him! It was not put arrogantly; it was just something that was taken for granted. I just asked: 'What time?'"

They were married in 1958 and had two daughters: Zenani and Zindzi.

Graca Machel

A Mozambican politician and humanitarian, Graca Machel was the widow of Mandela. She is the only woman in history who became first lady of two different countries. Machel served as First Lady of Mozambique from 1975 to 1986 and she was South Africa's First Lady from 1998 to 1999.

Mandela was 27 years her senior. She married him on his 80th birthday in 1998 even though she was reluctant because of her sense of obligation to the people of Mozambique. Machel shared the same sentiments with Mandela's previous wives. She said he could be "very patient" and "very stubborn."

"He is a symbol, that's correct, but he's not a saint," Mache said to Sampson.

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