Madiba 90

Madiba, Graca 'like newly weds'

2008-07-18 13:43

Special Report

Mandela: SA needs good leaders

Now as much as ever, South Africa needs disciplined leaders, Nelson Mandela has said at birthday celebration in Pretoria.

Johannesburg - Nelson Mandela, who turns 90 this week, has a double celebration as he marks 10 years of marriage to his third wife Graca Machel - the only woman in the world to have married two heads of state.

Veiled in secrecy, the ceremony took place on Mandela's 80th birthday despite the couple denying up until the last minute they were about to tie the knot.

To South Africans it was a fairy-tale romance for the former prisoner, who had undergone an acrimonious divorce from second wife Winnie Madikizela-Mandela two years after taking over as South Africa's first black president.

Machel, who had been married to the late Mozambican president Samora Machel - killed when his airplane crashed over South Africa in 1984 - is a strong social and political activist with countless humanitarian interests.

Loving the world's most loved man is only one of the roles of the former Mozambican education minister who once said Mandela was "a symbol ... but he is not a saint. He has weaknesses".

The couple, who first met shortly after Mandela's release from prison in 1990, spend most of their time in Johannesburg, but are also frequent visitors to Mozambique and Qunu in the rural Eastern Cape where Mandela grew up.

Hard to keep out of the limelight

"They are deeply in love like a newly married couple just back from honeymoon," Archbishop Emeritus Archbishop Desmond Tutu told AFP.

He recalls the couple's Johannesburg wedding, which he said took place after Mandela entered into traditional negotiations with Machel's family, even paying lobola (traditional bride price).

But for all his attempts to lead a normal life, Mandela, who stepped down as president in 1999, has found it hard to keep out of the limelight.

Although he retired from public life in 2004, his personal assistant of 14 years Zelda la Grange said the Nelson Mandela Foundation receives around 4 000 requests a month asking for appearances, contributions in writing or video.

"During a recent analysis of his diary over a period of 12 months, it was found that he conducted about 235 appointments. For a 90-year-old and someone that is supposed to be retired, that is way too much," she told AFP.

"Hopefully after his birthday celebrations, we may be in a position to ensure at last that all his time is now spent only on the things he chooses to do."

A 'cool' man

La Grange said Mandela spends most of his time reading and focusing on his charitable organisations.

In Mozambique, where the couple has a home in the capital Maputo, the two keep a low profile.

A police officer who guards the office of Mozambique's ex-president Joaquim Chissano in the same street as the Mandelas' house, said: "I have managed to see the old man (Mandela) only in the inside of the car."

The two are not likely to be found enjoying the typical peace and relaxation of retirement strolling on the beach or shopping.

Another police officer said he managed to speak to Mandela on one of his visits to Maputo.

"He is a very cool man. He came up to me and said 'Young man do you enjoy your job?'. I was too shocked to reply but I just grunted a 'yes'," said the officer who requested anonymity.

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