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Evelyn Mase; Mandelas first wife

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Nelson Mandela and Evelyn Mase (then his girlfriend) are seen here at the wedding of Walter and Albertina Sisulu in April of 1944.  Mandela was best man; Evelyn (who was Sisulu's first cousin) was a bridesmaid.  

On July 15, 1944, Evelyn and Nelson were also married.  Evelyn was the family's financial supporter, initially, while Nelson studied law at the University of the Witwatersrand.  At the same time, Mandela began to devote more and more time to politics.

Their differences in beliefs, and his growing dedication to politics, eventually caused the couple to divorce after thirteen years and four children.  (One child, a daughter, died at nine months old.)  Thereafter, Evelyn raised their children, alone, and supported them with the proceeds from her grocery store.

Evelyn died, of lung and respiratory problems, in May of 2004.  A South African newspaper (the Independent OnLine) published the following article, at her death:

"Do not throw me away in the time of old age. Just when my power is failing, do not leave me."

This is the scriptural verse, Psalm 71 verse 9, that Nelson Mandela's deeply religious first wife, Evelyn Rakeepile, asked her daughter to read to her on the day she died.

Makaziwe Mandela, the only daughter of Rakeepile and Mandela, said on Sunday her mother - who suffered chronic lung disease - had died at Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg on Friday.

Rakeepile, who was 82, was admitted on Tuesday.

Speaking from her Johannesburg home, Makaziwe Mandela said that when she went to the hospital on Friday, her mother had asked her to read to her from Psalms.

Mandela said she was in Rustenburg on Thursday, and on her return to Johannesburg, she heard there was nothing more that doctors could do to save her mother's life.

"I went to the hospital to see her and she was very bad."

"On Friday I visited her with my friend, and we talked about a number of things," said Mandela.

"She asked me to read her Psalm 71 verse 9. She could see I was not doing well and she asked my friend to read me Revelations 21 verse 4.  Both scriptures were her favourite."

The verse from Revelations reads: "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes: and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away."

Mandela said: "I will remember my mother for her tenacity and being true to her religious beliefs until the end."

Rakeepile was born in Umtata in 1922. Her mother and the mother of the late African National Congress veteran Walter Sisulu were sisters.

She married Nelson Mandela in 1944 and they were divorced in 1957. They had two sons and two daughters.

In 1998 she married Soweto businessman Simon Rakeepile, who is also very religious. They both were Jehovah's Witnesses and lived in Mzimhlophe in Soweto.


Audio Narration - Mandela and First Wife - Evelyn Mase

Mandela and Thembi Biographies Civil Rights Social Studies Tragedies and Triumphs World History Famous People

Thembekile (known as Thembi) was Mandela's older son (with his first wife, Evelyn) and his third-born child.  Because of his long working hours, Mandela did not spend much time with the boy and his siblings.  He tells us how Thembi responded to that situation:

One day...my wife [Evelyn] informed me that my elder son, Thembi, then five, had asked her, "Where does Daddy live?"  I had been returning home late at night, long after he had gone to sleep, and departing early in the morning before he woke.  I did not relish being deprived of the company of my children.  I missed them a great deal during those days, long before I had any inkling that I would spend decades apart from them.  (Mandela, Long Walk to Freedom, page 119.)

After his parents divorced, Thembi was upset.  Mandela tells us:

. . . Following the breakup, Thembi would frequently wear my clothes, even though they were far too large for him; they gave him some kind of attachment to his too-often-distant father.  (Long Walk to Freedom, page 209.)

While Mandela was imprisoned on Robben Island, Thembi was killed in a car accident.  His father was not allowed to attend the funeral of his twenty-five-year-old son.

Not long before Thembi died, Mandela had also lost his Mother.  The anguished prisoner wrote the following words to a friend:

I have lost both Thembi and Ma, and I must confess that the order that had reigned in my soul has almost vanished.



Mandelas first wife

Evelyn Mandela, Nelson Mandela's first wife, at her home in Cofimvaba, South Africa. Evelyn had four children by Mr Mandela.April 01, 1994 


Makaziwe Mandela, the only daughter of Rakeepile (Evelyn Mase) and Mandela

Evelyn Rakeepile

Evelyn Mase


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