Graça Machel

Chairperson,
Graça Machel Trust

Graça Machel was sent to a Methodist mission school at age six and later went to university in Portugal on a mission scholarship. While in Portugal, she mingled with students from other Portuguese colonies and developed her philosophy of liberation politics. Upon returning to Mozambique in 1973, Ms. Machel joined FRELIMO, the Mozambique Liberation Front that came to power in Maputo in 1975 after the country gained its independence from Portugal. Though she received military training, she worked with women and children and taught school. In 1974, she was appointed Deputy Director of the FRELIMO Secondary School at Bagamoyo, Zanzibar. Following independence in 1975, Ms. Machel became Minister of Education and Culture and a member of FRELIMO’s Central Committee. During her tenure (she resigned in 1989), the percentage of children enrolled in primary and secondary schools doubled. She married Samora Machel, the first President of Mozambique, in 1975, and they had three children. President Machel was killed in a plane crash in 1986. Recently, Ms. Machel has entered the global spotlight as a result of her July 1998 marriage to South African President Nelson Mandela. The couple commutes between South Africa and Mozambique, and Ms. Machel continues her work with multiple organizations in Mozambique and at the United Nations. Ms. Machel has been very active internationally and is world-renowned for her commitment to children’s and women’s rights, education, and development. She served as President of the National Commission of UNESCO in Mozambique, as a delegate to the 1988 UNICEF Conference, and on the steering committee of the 1990 World Conference on Education for All. In 1994, U.N. Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali appointed Ms. Machel to serve as the independent expert in charge of producing the U.N. Report on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, and she spent 1994-96 traveling to investigate the plight of children in countries beset by war. As a result of her report, the General Assembly authorized the Secretary- General to appoint a Special Representative on the impact of armed conflict on children. She received the 1992 Africa Prize, awarded annually to an individual who has most contributed to the goal of eliminating hunger in Africa by the year 2000. In recognition of her outstanding contributions on behalf of refugee children, Ms. Machel received the 1995 Nansen Medal from the United Nations and the 1997 Global Citizen Award of the New England Circle.