Mandela has been married three times, has fathered six children, has 17 grandchildren, and a growing number of great-grandchildren.
Mandela’s first marriage was to Evelyn Ntoko Mase, who was also from the Transkei. The couple broke up in 1957 after 13 years, and divorced. They had two sons, Madiba “Thembi” Thembekile (1946–1969) and Makgatho Mandela (1950–2005), and two daughters, both named Makaziwe Mandela (known as Maki; born 1947 and 1953). Their first daughter died aged nine months, and they named their second daughter in her honour. Mase died in 2004, and Mandela attended her funeral. Makgatho’s son, Mandla Mandela, became chief of the Mvezo tribal council in 2007.
Mandela’s second wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, also came from the Transkei area. They met in Johannesburg, where she was the city’s first black social worker. They had two daughters, Zenani (Zeni), 1958, and Zindziswa (Zindzi) Mandela-Hlongwane, born 1960. Later, Winnie would be deeply torn by family discord which mirrored the country’s political strife, while her husband was serving a life sentence.
The marriage ended in separation (April 1992) and divorce (March 1996). Mandela was still in prison when his daughter Zenani got married to Prince Thumbumuzi Dlamini, elder brother of King Mswati III of Swaziland, in 1973. In July 2012, Zenani was appointed ambassador to Argentina, becoming the first of Mandela’s three remaining children to enter public life. Mandela remarried on his 80th birthday in 1998, to Graça Machel, widow of Samora Machel, the former Mozambican president and ANC ally who was killed in an air crash 12 years earlier.
Within South Africa, Mandela is widely considered to be “the father of the nation”, “the founding father of democracy”, “the national liberator”, “the saviour” and many more accolades.
He has also received several kinds of international acclaim. In 1993, he received the joint Nobel Peace Prize with F. W. de Klerk. In November 2009, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed Mandela’s birthday, 18 July, as “Mandela Day”, marking his contribution to the anti-apartheid struggle. It called on individuals to donate 67 minutes to doing something for others, commemorating the 67 years that Mandela had been a part of the movement.
He has been awarded the US Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Order of Canada, becoming the first living person to be made an honorary Canadian citizen. He was also the last recipient of the Soviet Union’s Lenin Peace Prize from the Soviet Union. In 1990 he received the Bharat Ratna award from the government of India, and in 1992 received Pakistan’s Nishan-e-Pakistan. In 1992 he was awarded the Atatürk Peace Award by Turkey. He refused the award, citing human rights violations committed by Turkey at the time, but later accepted the award in 1999. Queen Elizabeth II awarded him the Bailiff Grand Cross of the Order of St. John and the Order of Merit.
The Obamas, inspired by Madiba’s example, have described his story as one of “unbreakable will, unwavering integrity, and abiding humility”. In a statement celebrating Mandela’s 94th birthday Barack Obama enthused that “Nelson Mandela had changed the arc of history, transforming his country, his continent and the world”. Another former US president, Bill Clinton, and his wife Hillary Clinton, are close friends and regular visitors at Mandela’s house in Johannesburg and Qunu.
But the larger-than-life global icon that is Mandela has had this to say: “There is no passion to be found in playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”
Best of all, he had a dream: “I dream of an Africa that is at peace with itself.” That dream will be fulfilled when the fight for economic freedom is won. A new hero will arise to continue where all the great African leaders signed off. And Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, among the pantheons of great illustrious Africans, will join his ancestors in peace, while his dream is realised by the next generation.
When asked to sum up what her memories of her father have been like as the family comes to terms with what the future inevitably holds, Maki Mandela says: “For the most part his life has been a dedication to the liberation of South Africa, a commitment to his continent and a stance against discrimination, black or white; 27 years of it was in prison where visits were rare. In his latter years, he has spent most of his life with his family.
It was that gap in his narrative that was missing. And he has largely fulfilled it in his old age. We, as a family, have had the pleasure of his company and wisdom. We are grateful to God that He extended his life to make this possible.”