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Graça’s grief: ‘There were times where I would wake up and I wouldn’t know what to do’

June 30th, 2014
12:28 PM ET

By Mick Krever, CNN

Graça Machel, in her first TV interview after six months of mourning for her late husband, Nelson Mandela, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour on Monday that she still has not grappled with the full meaning of “this huge loss.”

“I have to tell you that there were times where I would wake up and I wouldn’t know what to do,” she said. “Somehow he would expect me to carry on.”

“During the time of his active live, we knew that people loved him. But it was beyond my imagination to see when he got sick, people who would send us messages, people who would write, people who would pray for him.”

When he died last December, after months of grave illness, Machel did not follow the outpouring of support from around the world.

“I was consumed with my sense of loss. But I have been told that for days, every single TV station, every single radio would be talking about him, celebrating his life.”

“I wanted really to take this opportunity to say thank you. Thank you. And thank you so, so much to every single person – old and young, men and women from all over the world who really took the time to think of him, to celebrate his life, and to send him so much love.”

Sheltering Madiba

In the waning two years of his life, Machel said, she purposefully sheltered her husband from South Africa’s woes.

“I would say he was aware of – about all these things, maybe until about two years back.”

“But I decided to save him, to protect him, from getting involved and knowing in depth what was going on, because he was such a sensitive person.”

Amanpour had asked Machel whether Mandela knew about his country’s “struggle,” such as the “growing inequality” and “oppression against women.”

“How aware,” she asked, “was he that the dream still needed a huge amount of work in order to make it really come true?”

Bringing light to Mandela’s life

Mandela’s long-time personal assistant, Zelda la Grange, told CNN’s Christiane Amanpour last week that it was Machel herself who brought light to Mandela’s life.

“She brought him about to understand or to appreciate the different things in life again – beautiful music, look at the flowers, walking hand in hand in the street early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Ordinary things that we take for granted,” la Grange said.

“Well,” Machel said with a laugh, “Christiane, I'm sure you have fallen in love sometime in your life. And you know what it means? That simple connection, which you have with a human being with whom you have a special affection.”

“After coming out of jail, and with obligations he had as a head of state, it was only when he stepped down where he really began to concentrate on family matters.”

“I think because he was calm, he was not under the pressure of huge responsibility, both of us, we just enjoyed being together, spend time together as human beings. And I think that's what he enjoyed in the sunset of his life.”

After her period of mourning, Machel is dedicating herself to Mandela’s dying cause.

“In the sunset of Madiba's life, he was confronted with an experience of a child who died because he did not have the qualified services which were required to save this boy,” she explained.

“That has enacted in him a real commitment to say we cannot allow this to continue. And that's when he started to say, we have to build a specialized hospital for children.”

She is working now, as chair of the Partnership for Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health to work for women’s’ and child’s health in Africa.

Two of Africa’s greatest

Mandela, of course, was not Machel’s only parter; she was also married to Samora Machel, president of Mozambique, who died in a mysterious plane crash in 1986.

“You know, Christiane, these incidents of life, which we never plan for it – it just happens. If you ask me how I ended up being loved and loving these two extraordinary human beings, I wouldn't be able to explain. But it did happen.”

“So my response to you is really I am humble, and I would like people to expect to see in me more than that rural girl who happened to have some responsibilities in my own country and somehow globally, trying to do my best.”

“But let me tell you something: Personally, they were just my husbands. You can call them – I mean, icon; you can call whatever. But the relationship I had with them, it was the relationship of husband and wife.”

“We shared any detail of life as any other family. … And of course I draw inspiration in those two human beings. But I'm too small. And I'm not going to try to feel that I have a special responsibility to building their legacy.”

MORE: Graça Machel on her hope for South Africa

Filed under:  Christiane Amanpour • Latest Episode • South Africa
soundoff (16 Responses)
  1. Dicky30

    This article is one emotional mess. I am not getting one word she is trying to say!

    June 30, 2014 at 2:53 pm | Reply
    • Choppa300

      Work on your reading skills idiot!

      July 1, 2014 at 8:42 am | Reply
    • Choppa300

      @Dicky30, Work on your reading skills idiot!

      July 1, 2014 at 8:44 am | Reply
  2. Kagiso Zwane

    Reblogged this on Kagiso Zwane and commented:
    Mrs Machel's first interview since Madiba passed away last year, graceful and dignified...

    June 30, 2014 at 4:30 pm | Reply
  3. bobo

    What South African Woes???

    June 30, 2014 at 9:38 pm | Reply
    • Nasdaq7

      High violence against women.

      June 30, 2014 at 9:46 pm | Reply
  4. Terry Reagan

    I hope that in a not too distant future we will have a full, studied biography of this exceptional woman. I wish her well for the future. The world needs more people like her.

    June 30, 2014 at 10:28 pm | Reply
  5. Nel Hosiwa

    It's really emotional appealing to hav a great woman like her. I hav liked hr character.

    July 1, 2014 at 4:37 am | Reply
  6. Dre Edwin

    Wow! What an amazing woman. She appears so lovable indeed.

    July 1, 2014 at 5:06 am | Reply
  7. diambere

    Reblogged this on diawaradiambere and commented:

    July 1, 2014 at 6:29 am | Reply
  8. Bale Barnaba

    The first woman to be first lady in two countries, Amanpour can you make interview with her about legend Samora Machel. I'm interested!

    July 1, 2014 at 8:23 am | Reply
  9. Erhmmanuel

    She has a special gift in her that aids the manifestation of the gifts of great men.

    July 1, 2014 at 11:36 am | Reply
  10. gailcornhill

    Mama Graca, not only were you an exceptional loving wife to Madiba, you are, and remain, an inspiration to Africa's women, regardless of coltour, we ask that in time, when you start to heal from your loss, you devote time to healing the gaping wounds in our country, we need you, thank you for the years of joy you shared with and gave Madiba, May he rest in peace.

    July 1, 2014 at 4:01 pm | Reply
  11. bolawa adesegun

    True one of Africa's finest lioness.

    July 8, 2014 at 1:48 pm | Reply
  12. bolawa adesegun

    Truely one of Africa's finest lioness.

    July 8, 2014 at 1:49 pm | Reply
  13. bolawa adesegun

    Truely one of Africa's finest lioness. A woman of substance and one of high pedigree.

    July 8, 2014 at 1:50 pm | Reply

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