As the world continues to mourn the death of Nelson Mandela, many of us are getting the chance to learn more about him and all the great work he has done throughout his life. We’ve also had the chance to learn about the women who have been in his life: His wives, the women who fought with him in the ANC and against apartheid, and the women in his life who were influenced by his activism and story to tell their own .
Mase was the first wife of Nelson Mandela. The two were married in 1944 after meeting through friends (and Mandela’s fellow activists), Walter and Albertina Sisulu. Though things became strained during their marriage as Mandela became more interested in African Nationalist ideologies (and accusations of infidelity arised), Mase had four children with him (all but one have passed on) before pushing away politics for Jehovah’s Witness work. They divorced in 1958.
The same year that Nelson Mandela and Evelyn Mase ended their marriage, he went on to marry Winnie Madikizela, the first black medical social worker in South Africa. At the time, Mandela was already the leader of the African National Congress, and she also became heavily involved in activism, especially when Mandela was targeted by the government and inevitably imprisoned in 1964 for life. She was so heavily involved while trying to raise their two daughters by herself that she wound up being jailed quite a few times for her anti-apartheid work. She became a controversial figure for believing in violent retaliation against black South Africans who supported the apartheid regime, and for future legal trouble (including being involved in acts of violence, as her bodyguards, the Mandela United Football Club, were infamous for kidnapping individuals, torturing them and even killing a teenager). But despite all that, she was known as the “Mother of the Nation.” She continued with her political pursuits and after the release of Nelson Mandela from prison, he made her his deputy minister of arts when he was elected (before being ousted in 1995), was president of the ANC Women’s League, and a member of South Africa’s Parliament. Nelson and Winnie Mandela would divorce in 1996.
Machel, an advocate for women and children’s righs from Mozambique, is the widow of Mozambican President Samora Machel. She wed Nelson Mandela in 1998 on his 80th birthday. But before that marriage happened, Machel was the Minister of Education and Culture in Mozambique, and later, was behind a major report for the United Nations on how children are impacted by armed conflict. She was awarded the Nansen Medal in ’95 for all her humanitarian work, and has been a member of the Elders, a group comprised of world leaders in 2007 to help find solutions to major world problems.