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Nelson Mandela Marriage and Family Life: Three Wives and Children (Photos)

( [email protected] ) Dec 06, 2013 01:27 AM EST
Nelson Mandela, former South African president and icon of anti-apartheid movement, has died Thursday after a prolonged illness at age 95. He is survived by his third wife, Graáa Machel, whom he married in 1998 on his 80th birthday; his former wife Winnie Mandela and three daughters Pumla Makaziwe, Zenani and Zindziswa Mandela.
Nelson Mandela, center, with his three daughters and grandchildren.

Nelson Mandela, former South African president and icon of anti-apartheid movement, has died Thursday after a prolonged illness at age 95. He is survived by his third wife, Graáa Machel, whom he married in 1998 on his 80th birthday; his former wife Winnie Mandela and three daughters Pumla Makaziwe, Zenani and Zindziswa Mandela.

"My father, I think, would love to be remembered as a family man, as a person who if he could change one person's mind, then he's done his job," Mandela's daughter, Zenani Mandela Dlamini, told CNN, "My father doesn't dwell on who he is ... he's just a normal human being, according to him."

Nelson Mandela's early life and marriage

Nelson Mandela's father died when he was nine years old. He escaped from an arranged marriage he wanted no part of when he was a student. From then on he married three times. He had six children, four girls and two boys. A daughter and two sons passed away: Makaziwe died as an infant in 1948; Madiba Thembekile [Thembi] died in a car accident in 1969 and Makgatho Lewanika died of an AIDS-related illness in 2005.

His first two marriages collapsed under the strain of politics. In 1944, Nelson Mandela married his first wife Evelyn Mase and also began his political career in earnest, joining the African National Congress, ANC.

Evelyn was the cousin of ANC stalwart Walter Sisulu and met Mandela in Sisulu's home in Soweto. They married months later, there were happy together for couple of years until later, Evelyn bitterly resented her husband's absences. The couple had two sons and two daughters, they divorced in 1957.

Mandela wrote about the difficulties of his first marriage to Evelyn Mase in his autobiography, "Long Walk to Freedom":

"My devotion to the ANC and the struggle was unremitting. This disturbed Evelyn .... I patiently explained to her that politics was not a distraction but my lifework, that it was an essential and fundamental part of my being."

(Photo : Nelson Mandela with his second wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela after his release from prison in 1990. They separated two years later.)
Nelson Mandela with his second wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela after his release from prison in 1990. They separated two years later. (Photo: Reuters)

Winnie came into Mandela's life at the start of a second treason trial, which would see him jailed for 27 years, and they married in June 1958.

In the mid-1950s, Winnie Madikizela met Nelson Mandela, who, at the time, was leader of the ANC. The two married in June 1958, despite concerns from Winnie's father over the couple's age difference and Mandela's steadfast political involvements.

Nelson Mandela was routinely arrested for his activities and targeted by the government during his early days of marriage. He was eventually sentenced in 1964 to life imprisonment, leaving Winnie to raise their two small daughters, Zenani and Zindzi alone.

Nelson Mandela was freed in 1990 after 27 years of imprisonment. The years of separation and tremendous social turmoil had irrevocably damaged the Mandela marriage, the couple divorced in 1996.

(Photo : Nelson Mandela and his third wife, Graça Machel, on board the QE2 in 1998. Photo: Louise Gubb/Corbis)
Nelson Mandela and his third wife, Graça Machel, on board the QE2 in 1998. Photo: Louise Gubb/Corbis

Mandela remarried on his 80th birthday in 1998, to his third wife, Graça Machel, widow of Samora Machel, the former Mozambican president and ANC ally who was killed in an air crash 12 years earlier.

"He is simply a wonderful husband. We met in life at time we were both settled. We were grown up, we were settled, we knew the value of a companion, of a partner. Because of that, we have enjoyed this relationship in a really special way. It's not like when you are still young, you are too demanding. No, no. We just accept each other as we are. And we enjoy every single day as if it is the last day. Because of that, it has been wonderful to have him as a husband." Graca Machel said in an interview with CNN.

"When we married, we didn't know we'd be given 10 years together. We have been very lucky. Very grateful for that." Machel concluded.