The Presidential Years

Mandela’s friend George Bizos saw from close up how transforming the relationship was.

I do know that Graca Machel has made a very important difference to his life. ... I am happy for him. I am happy for Graca, because whether he goes to Qunu with her or he stays in the Johannesburg home, ... although he is on the other end of a telephone and just concerned about all sorts of things, he nevertheless is for the first time in his life able to lead what one may describe as a normal life, where he doesn't have to be on his guard, he doesn't have to address matters of state. He can talk about his children and particularly his grandchildren ... and talk about Graca's children. She, herself, has had a life in a struggle. ... But they can identify in relation to that. He can give her comfort because I don't think that the hurt of the killing or death of her husband has really left her. So they have much in common, much to talk about. And they walk around like young lovers.789

Though Mandela remained reticent, the depth of feeling was evident in an interchange with David Dimbleby of the BBC in 2002, who asked him, ‘What drew you to Mrs. Machel?’

You are too young for me to discuss those questions with you. [CHUCKLES] Questions of that nature I must discuss with my age group. But as you represent the BBC empire, I must reply to it. She is a wonderful lady and I was friendly to her before I was attracted to want a more permanent relationship with her. I admired her qualities and I still do.

DD: She says you were both lonely and needed someone to talk to

Well that’s an aspect of it, but it was the qualities in the lady that really made an impact on me and I felt that life together with her would be bliss for both of us in the proper sense of the word.

DD: How has she changed your life?

Well she is part of all those people who have influenced my life. Before I went to jail I was a reckless young man but when I came out I had, to a very large extent, I believe, matured and she helped me in that process of maturity. ...

DD: Many people describe it as a romantic love story, the perfect ending to the story. Is that the right way to see it?

When Graca Machel was asked about whether they found time to be together when both were so busy, she was emphatic:

No, we do, we do. And this is an important part of our life. It’s exactly to give ourselves special time. And that’s also the other thing which makes this relationship so special. We don’t even live together in the sense we are every week and month together. We make time to be together. And you know what it means? You throw away all the other concerns and you concentrate in having quality time. ... And we know how precious it is because we have lost it before. And now that we have regained it we give it so much value. ...

The second element is he’s aware that he’s supporting me. And it’s something which gives him special pleasure to know that he’s helping me to make real, things I believe in. So it complements what he is doing but also to make me feel good, because I’m doing good to people too. I think this helps him very much: to be engaged … with fundraising and giving scholarships to young people from Mozambique to get to this country and to somewhere else.791

Graca Machel