Humanitarian, Graca Machel has devoted her life to fighting for African women and children. She was appointed as the first education minister for Mozambique’s first independent government in 1975, that same year she married then-president Samora Machel.
Throughout her decade as minister of education, Machel spearheaded the move to get children back in class after the country gained independence from Portugal. According to Teaching Tolerance, between 1975 and 1985, Mozambique recorded about a 50% increase in male pupils and 35% increase in female pupils in its schools.
Her leadership was put under immense pressure when anti-government forces who received funding from outside countries, including SA, targeted schools, destroying more than 1,800.
Later in 1986, Machel resigned as education minister, but she was just getting started on her work to preserve the rights of women and children. When the conflict ended in 1992, she was involved in the process to return thousands of Mozambican refugees who had fled the country.
Machel was honoured with the Laureate of Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger from The Hunger Project. Her work was noticed by the UN in 1994 and she chaired a study into the effect of armed conflict on children, which was released in 1996 and received global recognition.
She was honoured Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1997 and married to then SA president, Nelson Mandela, a year later. Machel was appointed as the University of Cape Town’s chancellor in 1999, a role she held for 20 years.
In 2007, Machel cofounded “The Elders” with Mandela and Desmond Tutu. The international organisation is a group of world leaders working on issues of peace and human rights. She has also shared her expertise with more than 10 international non-profit organisations.
In 2010, she founded the Graca Machel Trust, an organisation aimed at empowering women, influencing government policy and protecting children’s rights in Africa. Machel continues to use her voice, influence and power to promote and fight for the rights of the most vulnerable in society, women and children.