The inspirational love of Nelson and Graca

2013-12-09 08:14

As the endless tributes to Madiba pour in, I have not seen as many mentions about Graca Machel, the faithful wife to our great hero. As writers and bloggers try to put into words what he meant to the world, we realise that as hard as we try, he was beyond words. “Great” and “hero”, amongst many others, are always used when describing Tata, but I wish that the narrative would reflect that for Graca too. Their love also seemed to defy description, but truly inspirational.

Many still feel that Winnie is the mother of the nation – the unwavering companion through all twenty seven years of his incarceration, and rightly so. With all her flaws, one cannot deny her contribution to the struggle. However, we should not forget the woman who was there throughout the rest of the golden years.

There must be a specific feeling of grief when losing a partner, and to have lost two, both high profile leaders, makes the heart yearn for what Graca must be feeling right now. If we have shed tears during the past four days, one can only imagine how many she must have shed, even absent from the memorial service in Bryanston yesterday, attended by President Zuma and Winnie.

What Nelson Mandela proved to me was not only an incomparable capacity for forgiveness, but especially for love. With the many documentaries on television, we are reminded of what his life must have been like, because no one can really know what went through his head all the time. He said in one interview that being deprived of children was a terrible thing, and he spent the rest of his life making up for that.

But the man who could charm the enemy and the world was not immune to rejection. He even proposed to friend and activist Amina Cachalia after his divorce from Winnie, but she, loyal to the memory of her late husband, declined his proposal.

If there were any more proof needed that he was as human as the rest of us, it was his need for love. It’s comforting knowing that he was just another person who loved love, a man who, like the rest of us, simply yearns for another to share his happiness with, and to ease his loneliness.

It has been well documented that this loneliness they both felt was a contributing factor to their union. Graca, in an interview, said “We were both very, very lonely. We both wanted someone you could talk to; someone who’d understand ... It just happened; I can’t explain it”

Despite their former troubles, Winnie was there, not after he passed, but by his side, along with Graca. To be able to share this moment of grief with others takes a heart of immeasurable size.

As we mourn the loss of a spirit unrivaled, it’s worth remembering the woman who was by his side through the really difficult years.


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