JOHANNESBURG, Gauteng – When Nelson Mandela turns 95 on Thursday he will also mark 15 years of marriage to Graca Machel, who throughout his hospitalisation has wooed a nation with her dignified poise.
During the last six weeks Machel has kept a near round-the-clock vigil at her husband’s hospital bedside, leaving to attend Mandela’s charity events or visit their Johannesburg home.
But then the Mozambican born Machel, 27 years younger, has already been by Mandela’s side for 15 years of marriage.
“We make sure we spend time with each other because we were so lonely before. You only live once,” she remarked before the ravages of time tightened their grip on her husband.
Machel married Mandela in 1998, 12 years after her first husband, Mozambique’s former president Samora Machel, died in a mysterious plane crash.
At that time Mandela had been divorced from his second wife Winnie for two years, but estranged by time and prison for three decades.
“When I am alone, I am very weak,” South Africa’s first black president said when discussing Machel in 2007.
On the cusp of their anniversary, Mandela’s close friend and lawyer George Bizos described them as “a loving couple.”
“They are very happy together,” he said, adding Machel “is dedicated to the well being of her husband Nelson. It’s commonly known that she spends a long time at his bedside.”
While South Africa’s revered former statesman battles to recover, Machel has been notably absent from the unseemly squabbles rocking the Mandela family.
As she prepares for the dreaded, yet inevitable, she has largely stayed out of the public eye.
But at one charity event she gave a rare, but desperately awaited, first-hand account of Mandela’s condition.
He was, she said, at times uncomfortable, he had seldom been in pain.
Last week she sounded an even more upbeat tone, saying she was now less anxious about his health.
The two met in the early 1990s and fast became friends.afp
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