Supervisor Elham AbolFateh
Editor in Chief Mohamed Wadie

Mandela Day…How Women Influenced Nelson Mandela’s Life

Sat 17 Jul 2021 | 12:17 AM
Omnia Ahmed

Sunday, 18 July, marks "Mandela Day" when we honor and celebrate birthday of Nelson Mandela, the greatest African that ever lived.

The former South Africa President was an anti-apartheid revolutionary who devoted his life to the service of humanity.

Mandela did not just focus on ending South Africa’s notorious apartheid system, but ending oppression wherever it existed. In particular, he worked to end the global oppression of women through his policies as president and his advocacy as a human rights icon.

Nelson Mandela

"The women were courageous, persistent, enthusiastic, indefatigable and their protest against passes set a standard for anti-government protest that was never equalled," Mandela wrote in his biography.

He recognized women in a time when the contributions of women have been forgotten or overlooked in the major civil rights movements.

After he became president in 1994, he established Women’s Day on Aug. 9 to celebrate the women who fought to end apartheid.

“As long as women are bound by poverty and as long as they are looked down upon, human rights will lack substance,” he famously said in a speech on World Women’s Day in 1996.

“As long as outmoded ways of thinking prevent women from making a meaningful contribution to society, progress will be slow,” he added.

In light of his outstanding achievements in regard to calling for women's rights, here is how Mandela fought for women in multiple ways.

Nelson Mandela

Passing Laws

Mandela fought for laws that could protect and paved the way for women once he came into power.

In this manner, he expanded women’s access to social services by introducing free prenatal and postnatal care to mothers in the public health system as well as free healthcare to children up to the age of six.

Advancing Global Women’s Rights

In 1979, the UN ratified the United Nations Convention to End All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, but it wasn’t until Mandela was in office in 1995 that the treaty became the rule of law in South Africa.

Among other things, the groundbreaking document states that it “affirms the reproductive rights of women and targets culture and tradition as influential forces shaping gender roles and family relations.”

Moreover, it asserted “women's rights to acquire, change or retain their nationality and the nationality of their children.”

Getting Women Into Office

In 1990, women accounted for 10% of legislative positions in the world, according to the UN, and in South Africa, women held a mere 2.7% of posts.

When Mandela was swept into power in 1994, the number of women in government rapidly rose in 27%, thanks to his empowerment of women in the African National Congress.

Nelson Mandela

Women in Mandela’s life had a significant role in reinforcing his thoughts and beliefs. His biographer Anthony Sampson once said he was a "ladies' man and proud of it". Among those women were his three wives; Evelyn Mase, Winnie Madikizela, and Graça Machel.

Evelyn Mase

Evelyn Mase & Nelson Mandela

Mandela married Evelyn Mase, a cousin of his political mentor Walter Sisulu, three years after arriving in Johannesburg to avoid an arranged marriage in the rural region of Eastern Cape. He was 26 and she was 22.

"I think I loved him the first time I saw him," Mase is quoted as saying in "Higher Than Hope", a biography of Mandela. "Within days of our first meeting we were going steady and within months he proposed."

Evelyn Mase & Nelson Mandela

The couple got married for 13 years, and had four children. The death of their second child aged nine months had a devastating effect on Evelyn, who became more religious, while Mandela became more political.

Accordingly, their marriage started to crumble, and Evelyn eventually filed for porce after claiming that he had been unfaithful.

''I could not give up my life in the struggle, and she could not live with my devotion to something other than herself and her family,'' Mandela wrote in his autobiography "Long Walk to Freedom".

Winnie Madikizela 

Winnie Madikizela & Nelson Mandela

Mandela's romance with Winnie Madikizela blossomed during his treason trial. Madikizela was a 22-year-old social worker back then, 16 years younger than him and she would become a political firebrand.

"I was both courting her and politicising her," Mandela said in his autobiography.

Winnie Madikizela & Nelson Mandela

In 1983, she stated in an interview with filmmaker Kevin Harris that to all intents and purposes she was marrying a prisoner.

"He had to get permission to get married because he was not only a prisoner, he was banned and the trial was on in Pretoria at the time. So he was given four days in which to go to the Transkei and get married."

The couple got married and had two daughters, but spent little time together as a family. Also, they had less than four-years together before Mandela was captured and imprisoned for sabotage in 1962 for five years.

During his imprisonment, Winnie took up the mantle of fighting for freedom and eventually carved her own well-known legendary path.

However, they tried to reconcile after he was released in 1990 but the couple privately separated as early as 1992, but they eventually porced in 1996.

Graça Machel

Graça Machel & Nelson Mandela

Graça married Mandela on 18 July 1998 while he was still serving as President.

"It's just wonderful that finally we have found each other and can share a life together," Sampson quoted her as saying two years before their marriage.

Graça Machel &Nelson Mandela

"He can love very deeply, but he tries to control it very well in his public appearance," she told the author," she said. "In private he can allow himself to be a human being. He likes people to know he is happy.

The couple shared a relatively quiet life together after he retired from politics and together they worked on various goodwill projects including the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund.