Here is the incredible story of how one woman became the first lady of two different countries

She is the only woman to ever do this.

Graça Simbine Machel's second marriage to Nelson Mandela makes her the only woman to be a first lady of two seperate countries

She was born on October 17, 1945, in Gaza Province, Portuguese East Africa, now modern-day Mozambique.

At six years old, she earned a scholarship to a high school in Maputo. From there, she studied and majored in Languages at the Lisbon University in Portugal in 1968.

After school, she went back to her birthplace where she met Samora Moisés Machel, the first President of Mozambique in 1973.


The two met after Graca joined Frelimo (Liberation Front of Mozambique), headed by Samora. There, she went through military training and trained as a guerrilla fighter.

They eventually started dating during the revolutionary war. They eventually exchanged wedding vows almost two months after Mozambique gained independence in August 1975.

Apart from being the First Lady, she also became Mozambique’s first minister of culture and education. Reportedly, there was a rise in school attendance and the number of enrolled students during her tenure as the minister.

Graca lost her husband in 1986 when he died in a mysterious plane crash. Following his death, she resigned and took to wearing black for five years.


She went back to work in 1991 when she launched a foundation to address poverty. Four years later, she won the UN Nansen medal for her work on children’s rights in refugee camps.

That same year, she was encouraged to run for secretary general of the UN, but she refused, saying: “There is no political will. So what would I do there?”

During this time, she was spotted around the late Nelson Mandela. They met during their first official meeting after his release from prison in 1990.


Following Mandela’s divorce with Winnie, the two become close. “We were both very, very lonely,” Machel once said. “We both wanted someone you could talk to, someone who’d understand.”

They eventually got married on Mandela’s 80th birthday on July 18, 1998. At 52, she became the only woman in the world to become the First Lady of two separate countries - Mozambique and South Africa.

Concerning her marriage to two different leaders, she once said, “It’s not two leaders who fell in love with me, but two real people. I feel privileged that I have shared my life with two such exceptional men.”


Graca has also made it clear that she has no desire to be defined by her marriages saying, “I’m not Samora’s wife. I’m me.”


Unblock notifications in browser settings.

Eyewitness? Submit your stories now via social or: