Graca Simbine Machel was born on October 17, 1945 in Incadine, Gaza, Mozambique. She was sent to a Methodist mission school at age 6 and later went to university in Portugal on a mission scholarship. There she mingled with students from other Portuguese colonies and developed her liberation politics. Upon returning to Mozambique in 1973, Graca joined FRELIMO. Though she received military training, she worked with women and children and taught school. In 1974, she was appointed Deputy Director of the FRELIMO Secondary School at Bagamoyo. Following independence in 1975, Graca became Minister of Education and Culture and a member of FRELIMO's Central Committee. During her tenure (she resigned in 1989), the percentage of children enrolled in primary and secondary schools doubled. Primary school enrolment increased from 40% of children in 1975 to over 90% of boys and 75% of girls by 1989. She married Samora Machel, the first President of Mozambique, in 1975.
Graca Machel and Samora Machel
Graca Machel was devastated. Pictures of the Machel funeral show her bowed over her husband's casket, prostrate with pain. "His death was so unexpected, and it was in such a violent way," she recalled for Ebony. In the company of many other sympathizers, jailed South African activist Nelson Mandela and his then-wife, Winnie, sent warm condolences for the loss of Samora Machel. Machel replied as soon as she felt able to do so. The newspaper Scotland on Sunday quoted her reply, "Those who have locked up your husband have killed mine," she wrote to Winnie Mandela, "They think that by cutting down the tallest trees they can destroy the forest," she added.
The "forest" continued to grow, but Graca Machel felt she had given whatever she could to her government post. She was now a widow with the solitary responsibility of bringing up her family alone, and she felt it was time for a change of scene. Soon after her husband's death she resigned her post as Minister of Education, leaving behind a sterling record--1.5 million children in school, as against 400,000 when she had arrived. source: Answers
President Machel was killed in a plane crash in 1986. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa is now inquiring into the plane crash, in which many believe the South African apartheid government to have been involved. Graca re-entered the global spotlight as a result of her July 1998 marriage to South African President Nelson Mandela. The couple commute between South Africa and Mozambique, and Graca continues her work with multiple organizations in Mozambique and at the U.N.
Graca Machel laughs with Nelson Mandelas ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, at an event put on by South Africa's ruling African National Congress to mark his 90th birthday.
Graca Machel has been very active internationally and is world-renowned for her commitment to children's and women's rights, education, and development. She served as President of the National Commission of UNESCO in Mozambique, as a delegate to the 1988 UNICEF Conference, and on the steering committee of the 1990 World Conference on Education for All. In 1994 UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali appointed Graca the independent expert in charge of producing the U.N. Report on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, and Graca spent 1994-96 traveling to investigate the plight of children in countries beset by war. The subject had never before been studied in depth and Graca's report was ground-breaking. As a result of her report, the General Assembly authorized the Secretary-General to appoint a Special Representative on the impact of armed conflict on children.
Over the years, Graça Machel has gained international recognition for her achievements. Her many awards include the Laureate of Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger from the Hunger Project in 1992 and the Nansen Medal in recognition of her contribution to the welfare of refugee children in 1995. She has received the Inter Press Service’s International Achievement Award for her work on behalf of children internationally, the Africare Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award and the North-South Prize of the Council of Europe, among others.
Graça Machel has served on the boards of numerous international organisations, including the UN Foundation, the Forum of African Women Educationalists, the African Leadership Forum, and the International Crisis Group. Among many other commitments, she is Chair of the Fund Board for the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisation (GAVI), Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, and Peer of the African Peer Review Mechanism.
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