JOHANNESBURG: Nelson Mandela’s widow Graca Machel, who barely left her husband’s bedside in the final six months of his life, has hardly been seen in the wake of his death.
Machel maintained a near round-the-clock bedside vigil during the 84 days Mandela spent in a Pretoria hospital and the subsequent three months he spent at home before he died on December 5.
The Mozambican human rights campaigner had begun cancelling all but a handful of public engagements from June as Mandela’s condition deteriorated.
One of her rare public appearances came a month ago, when she was spotted at the premiere of the movie “Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” tracing her husband’s journey from prisoner to president.
The Sunday Times newspaper said Machel had been with Mandela when he died, along with the anti-apartheid icon’s ex-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.
Mandela’s close friend and lawyer George Bizos visited Machel a day after Mandela died and told AFP she was “very emotional,” but another family friend, Bantu Holomisa, praised her stoicism in grief.
“Graca is very strong. She is a polished woman, I didn’t see her break down,” Holomisa said
“She was giving directions and handing out tasks,” he added.
Machel was Mandela’s third wife, and he was her second presidential husband. She was the widow of Mozambican president Samora Machel who died in a plane crash in 1986.
She was 27 years younger than Mandela when they married on his 80th birthday in 1998.
“We make sure we spend time with each other because we were so lonely before,” she told Mandela’s authorised biographer after the marriage.
Mandela had been divorced from Winnie — his second wife — for two years when he re-married.
“When I am alone, I am very weak,” he said when discussing Machel in 2007. The couple marked their 15th wedding anniversary on July 18 as Mandela lay critically ill in hospital.
Machel met Mandela shortly after his release from prison in 1990.
The 27 years he spent behind bars had strained his marriage with Winnie and they became estranged, separating in 1992 before finally divorcing four years later.