Exclusive: Graça Machel breaks her silence

2014-06-29 03:00

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The black is gone. The scarf and shawl, the widow’s ­identity, is packed away. But her eyes, usually commanding and curious, remain sad. Graça Machel enters a room to capture it. She has a leader’s tall, determined gait, similar to that of her late husband.

She speaks of Madiba in the present tense, in words and sentences that linger in the air like she is checking in with him. “Madiba is?...?a lot of things to me. He means a lot of things to me. He is that very good friend you feel you connect with even if you don’t talk. It’s not only because of what you say. Just looking into the eyes...”

And she breaks off.

What does she miss about the man she married at the age of 53 when he was 80? Madiba died last year, aged 96. The two had a ­marriage that was both fairy tale and old school.

For the last two years of his life, Madiba was often ill. Machel undertook a vigil of love, caring for him at their Houghton home, which was turned into a hospital, and also at the Pretoria Heart hospital, where he spent 12 weeks last year.

“I miss sitting with him in the lounge. I miss feeding him. I’d be holding his hand with one hand and feeding him with the other,” she says, imitating the gesture, honed through regular practice – an act of love and nurturing, not of nursing.

“The communication and intimacy from that was so profound. When I stopped feeding him, because there was no need to feed him [when the elder statesman was fed intravenously], I felt ‘how will I communicate with him?’”

» Get City Press newspaper today for Ferial Haffajee's full interview with Machel.

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