Graça Machel

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Graça Machel
Graça Machel in 2010
First Lady of South Africa
In role
18 July 1998 – 14 June 1999
PresidentNelson Mandela
Preceded byZindzi Mandela
Zenani Mandela
Succeeded byZanele Mbeki
First Lady of Mozambique
In role
11 November 1975 – 19 October 1986
PresidentSamora Machel
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byMarcelina Chissano
Mozambique offices
Minister of Education and Culture
In office
25 June 1975 – 1989
PresidentSamora Machel
Preceded byPosition established
Ceremonial offices 1999-2019
Chancellor of the University of Cape Town
In office
1999 – 31 January 2019
Vice-ChancellorNjabulo Ndebele
Max Price
Preceded byHarry Oppenheimer
Succeeded byPrecious Moloi-Motsepe
Personal details
Graça Simbine

(1945-10-17) 17 October 1945 (age 77)
Incadine, Portuguese Mozambique
Political partyFRELIMO (1973–Present)
African National Congress (1998–present)
(m. 1975; died 1986)

(m. 1998; died 2013)
Children2 (including Josina Z. Machel)
RelativesMandela family (by marriage)
Alma materUniversity of Lisbon
OccupationTeacher, politician, activist

Graça Machel DBE HonFBA (Portuguese pronunciation: [ˈɡɾasɐ mɐˈʃɛl]; née Simbine [sĩˈbinɨ]; born 17 October 1945) is a Mozambican politician and humanitarian. She is the widow of former President of Mozambique Samora Machel (1975–1986) and former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela (1998–2013). Machel is an international advocate for women's and children's rights and was made an honorary Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in 1997 for her humanitarian work. She is the only woman in modern history to have served as First Lady of two countries, South Africa and Mozambique.

Graça Machel is a member of the Africa Progress Panel (APP), a group of ten distinguished individuals who advocate at the highest levels for equitable and sustainable development in Africa. As a panel member she facilitates coalition building to leverage and broker knowledge, and convenes decision-makers to influence policy for lasting change in Africa.

She was chancellor of the University of Cape Town between 1999 and 2019.

Early life and education[edit]

Graça and Samora Machel hosting Romanian Communist leader Nicolae Ceauşescu, Maputo, 1979

Graça Simbine was born 17 days after her father's death, the youngest of six children,[1] in rural Incadine, Gaza Province, Portuguese East Africa (modern-day Mozambique). She attended Methodist mission schools before gaining a scholarship to the University of Lisbon in Portugal, where she studied German and first became involved in independence issues.

Machel also speaks French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and English, as well as her native Xitsonga language.

Political career[edit]

Simbine returned to Portuguese East Africa in 1973, joining the Mozambican Liberation Front (FRELIMO) and working as a schoolteacher. Following Mozambique's independence in 1975, Simbine was appointed Mozambican first Minister of Education and Culture on 25 June 1975.

During her tenure, the number of students enrolled in primary and secondary schools rose from about 40 percent of all school-aged children to over 90 percent for males and 75 percent for females.[2]

Later career[edit]

Graça Machel received the 1992 Africa Prize, awarded annually to an individual who has contributed to the goal of eliminating hunger in Africa by the year 2000. Machel received the 1995 Nansen Medal from the United Nations in recognition of her longstanding humanitarian work, particularly on behalf of refugee children.[3]

In 1997, Machel was honored with the Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II for her contributions and services in the field of human rights protection. In the same year, she received the Global Citizen Award of the New England Circle. 1998, Machel was one of the two winners of the North–South Prize awarded by the North-South Centre of the Council of Europe.[4]

Machel was chancellor of the University of Cape Town from 1999 to 2019.[5][6] In 2009, Machel was appointed to the Commonwealth of Nations' Eminent Persons Group. She was named president of the School of Oriental and African Studies at the University of London in 2012.[7] In 2016, Machel was named chancellor of the African Leadership University, a role that she still holds today.[8][9]

In July 2017, Machel was elected an Honorary Fellow of the British Academy (HonFBA), the United Kingdom's national academy for the humanities and social sciences.[10] In 2018, she was awarded by the World Health Organization for her contributions to the health and wellbeing of women, children and adolescents.

On 17 July 2018, Machel attended the 16th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, which was located at the Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg, alongside South African President Cyril Ramaphosa and former US President Barack Obama. The event was visited by nearly 15,000 people, commemorating the 100th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's birth.[11]

In the lead‑up to COP 27, Machel advocates that Africa's youth should have a greater say in climate politics and warned that existing development aid programs covering, for example, education may well be cut and diverted to fund climate change adaptation instead.[12]

United Nations[edit]

Following her retirement from the Mozambique ministry, Machel was appointed as the expert in charge of producing the groundbreaking United Nations report on the impact of armed conflict on children.[13] From 2008 until 2009, she was a member of the High Level Taskforce on Innovative International Financing for Health Systems, co-chaired by Gordon Brown and Robert Zoellick.[14] She served as the Chair of The Partnership for Maternal, Newborn & Child Health (PMNCH) from 2013-2018. In January 2016, she was also appointed by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to the High-level Advisory Group for Every Woman Every Child.[15]

Machel during the WEF 2010

On 17 January 2016, she was announced by the UNESCO as a Sustainable Development Goals Advocate[16] alongside 16 others, all appointed by Secretary-General of the United Nations

The Elders[edit]

On 18 July 2007 in Johannesburg, South Africa, Nelson Mandela, Graça Machel, and Desmond Tutu convened The Elders. Mandela announced its formation in a speech on his 89th birthday. The group works on thematic as well as geographically specific subjects. The Elders' priority issue areas include the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, the Korean Peninsula, Sudan and South Sudan, sustainable development, and equality for girls and women.[17]

Machel has been particularly involved in The Elders' work on child marriage, including the founding of Girls Not Brides: The Global Partnership to End Child Marriage.[18][19]

Other activities[edit]

Corporate boards

  • Whatana Investment Group, chairwoman of the board of directors[20]
  • PME African Infrastructure Opportunities, senior advisor (since 2014), independent non-executive member of the board of directors (2007–2014)
  • Principle Capital Group, non-executive member of the board of directors (since 2004)

Non-profit organizations

Personal life[edit]

US President Barack Obama greets Graça Machel at the memorial service for her late husband Nelson Mandela, Johannesburg, 2013

Simbine married Samora Machel, the first president of Mozambique, in 1975. Together they had two children: daughter Josina (born April 1976) and son Malengane (born December 1978). Samora Machel died in office in 1986 when his presidential aircraft crashed near the Mozambique-South Africa border. Josina is a women's rights activist and in 2020 was listed as one of the BBC's 100 Women.[31]

Graça Machel Mandela married her second husband, Nelson Mandela, in Johannesburg on 18 July 1998, Mandela's 80th birthday. At the time, Mandela was serving as the first post-apartheid president of South Africa. Mandela died of pneumonia on 5 December 2013.[32]

Honors, awards and international recognition[edit]



Honorary doctorates[edit]


  1. ^ "Graca Machel: There Is Nothing Exceptional About Me..." This Day Live. 16 August 2014. Archived from the original on 13 July 2015.
  2. ^ "Graça Simbine Machel". sahistory. 2011. Retrieved 4 May 2020.
  3. ^ Refugees, United Nations High Commissioner for. "Nansen Refugee Award". Retrieved 13 December 2016.
  4. ^ "The North South Prize of Lisbon". North-South Centre. Council of Europe. Archived from the original on 15 February 2008. Retrieved 21 January 2008.
  5. ^ Kassen, Jarita (15 December 2019). "Graca Machel steps down as UCT chancellor". Eyewitness News. Retrieved 15 December 2019.
  6. ^ Davids, Niémah (13 December 2019). "I am not leaving UCT, I am taking UCT with me". University of Cape Town. Retrieved 15 December 2019.
  7. ^ "Graça Machel Appointed as President of SOAS". Archived from the original on 26 October 2020. Retrieved 22 August 2020.
  8. ^ "Evening with Graca Machel and Fred Swaniker". Evening with Graca Machel and Fred Swaniker. Ayiba Team. 4 November 2015.
  9. ^ "Our Leadership – ALU". ALU. Retrieved 1 May 2017.
  10. ^ "Elections to the British Academy celebrate the diversity of UK research". 21 July 2017.
  11. ^ Ella Wills (17 July 2018). "Barack Obama in coded attack on Donald Trump in his most significant speech since the end of his presidency". London Evening Standard.
  12. ^ Machel, Graça (6 September 2022). "Give Africa's youth a voice in shaping the climate agenda. It is their future at stake". The Guardian. London, United Kingdom. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 6 September 2022.
  13. ^ The impact of Armed Conflict on Children. Retrieved 7 November 2011.
  14. ^ High Level Taskforce on International Innovative Financing for Health Systems: Report released WHO, press release of 29 May 2009.
  15. ^ UN Secretary-General Announces Members of the High-Level Advisory Group for Every Woman Every Child Archived 28 August 2016 at the Wayback Machine Every Woman Every Child, press release of 21 January 2016.
  16. ^ "graca-machel". SDG Advocates. Retrieved 19 September 2020.
  17. ^ "The Elders: Our Work". Retrieved 7 March 2013.
  18. ^ Elisabeth Braw, Metro International (10 October 2011). "Graca Machel: Within Ten Years Women Will Have Changed Africa". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 7 March 2013.
  19. ^ Graça Machel and Desmond Tutu (1 August 2012). "Early marriage robs children of their opportunities". The Washington Post. Retrieved 7 March 2013.
  20. ^ Board of Directors Whatana Investment Group.
  21. ^ "Africa Progress Panel - Africa Progress Report 2012". Archived from the original on 9 January 2013. Retrieved 27 June 2013.
  22. ^ International Board of Trustees African Child Policy Forum (ACPF).
  23. ^ Graça Machel elected chair of ACCORD Board of Trustees ACCORD, press release 18 December 2008.
  24. ^ "Mrs Graça Machel". ACCORD. Retrieved 11 April 2018.
  25. ^ "Eminent Advisory Board". Archived from the original on 24 May 2013. Retrieved 20 September 2011.
  26. ^ "Reaching Every Woman and Every Child through Partnership" (PDF). World Health Organization. Retrieved 19 September 2014.
  27. ^ Board of Trustees Nelson Mandela Children's Hospital.
  28. ^ Board of Directors Synergos.
  29. ^ Board of Directors VillageReach.
  30. ^ Board United Nations Foundation.
  31. ^ "BBC 100 Women 2020: Who is on the list this year?". BBC News. 23 November 2020. Retrieved 3 January 2021.
  32. ^ "Nelson Mandela Has Died, A Look Back at His Legacy". Biography. Retrieved 6 May 2018.
  33. ^ "Graça Machel". United Nations. 2010. Retrieved 18 July 2018.
  34. ^ "Graça Machel was named The World's Children's Prize Decade Child Rights Hero 2009 for her long and courageous struggle for children's rights, mainly in Mozambique". worldschildrensprize. 2009. Retrieved 18 July 2018.
  35. ^ "Dignity of Women biography: Graça Machel". Retrieved 4 May 2020.
  36. ^ "Graça Machel (Mozambique)". Archived from the original on 4 July 2011. Retrieved 7 November 2011.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link). United Nations Foundation profile
  37. ^ "UMass honors Nelson Mandela with honorary degree". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 13 December 2016.
  38. ^ "Graça Machel to receive honorary doctorate from the University of Stellenbosch". University of Stellenbosch. 18 October 2007. Archived from the original on 12 June 2011. Retrieved 24 February 2010.
  39. ^ "Graça Machel, investida doctora honoris causa a la UB". Retrieved 18 July 2018.
  40. ^ "Registrar : Trinity College Dublin, the University of Dublin, Ireland". Retrieved 7 January 2020.
  41. ^ "Honorary doctorate for child rights activist Graça Machel". Retrieved 8 February 2021.

External links[edit]

Honorary titles
New title First Lady of Mozambique
Succeeded by
Title last held by
Winnie Madikizela-Mandela
First Lady of South Africa
Succeeded by