Graca Machel

The Honorable Graca Machel, delivered the 139th Commencement Address at Morgan State University on May 16, 2015.

Graca MachelGraça Simbine Machel Mandela (b. October 17,1945), is a Mozambican political and social activist for human rights and mostly for children’s rights. She is the widow of the late Mozambican president Samora Machel who died in 1986, she is now married to Nelson Mandela , the former South African president.

She is President of the Foundation for Community Development (FDC), a not-for-profit Mozambican organization she founded in 1994. The FDC makes grants to civil society organizations to strengthen communities, facilitate social and economic justice, and assist in the reconstruction and development of post-war Mozambique.

As Minister of Education in Mozambique, Graça Machel worked to implement Frelimo’s goal of universal education for all Mozambicans.

She has facilitated greater community access to knowledge , technology and patterns of sustainable human development. She was major force in increasing literacy and schooling in Mozambique and has spoken of the needs and rights of children , families from platforms all over the world. She is recognized for her leadership in organizations devoted to the children of her war-torn country.

A pragmatic woman who firmly believed that education is an essential first step to progress, Machel has spent a lifetime teaching. She has dispensed information and advice to schoolchildren, to rural Mozambicans bent on improving their communities, and since the start of the 1990s, to an international community appalled by the toll that adult warfare had taken on the world’s children. To all Mozambican women and to many in foreign countries, the self-confident, compassionate Graca Machel is a revered role model–the quintessential Woman of 1990s Africa.

As President of the Foundation of Community Development, Graca has increased community access to information and technology necessary for development, and as Chairperson of the National Organization of Children of Mozambique, she has worked to place orphans in comfortable homes, empower Mozambican women, and teach reconciliation.

“It is the meaning of what my life has been since a youth — to try to fight for the dignity and the freedom of my own people.”(Graça Machel).

Graca Machel was born in 1945 in rural Mozambique. She was sent to a Methodist mission school at age 6 and later went to university in Portugal on a mission scholarship. There she mingled with students from other Portuguese colonies and developed her liberation politics. Upon returning to Mozambique in 1973, Graca joined Frelimo (Liberation Front of Mozambique). 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. Following independence in 1975, Graca 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 two children. President Machel was killed in a plane crash in 1986; the Truth and Reconciliation Commission in South Africa is now inquiring into the plane crash, in which many believe the South African apartheid government to have been involved. Graca has entered the global spotlight as a result of her July 1998 marriage to South African President Nelson Mandela. The couple commute between South Africa and Mozambique, and Graca continues her work with multiple organizations in Mozambique and at the U.N.

Graca 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 UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali appointed Graca the independent expert in charge of producing the U.N. Report on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children, and Graca spent 1994-96 traveling to investigate the plight of children in countries beset by war. The subject had never before been studied in depth and Graca’s report was ground-breaking. 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.

For her myriad achievements, Graca Machel has received many awards. She received the 1992 Africa Prize, awarded annually to an individual who has contributed to the goal of eliminating hunger in Africa by the year 2000. In recognition of her outstanding contributions on behalf of refugee children, Graca received the 1995 Nansen Medal from the United Nations and the 1997 Global Citizen Award of the New England Circle. In 1998, she was one of the two winners of the North-South Prize.This prize is awarded annually by the Council of Europe to two individuals who have shown both achievement and hope for the future in relation to human rights.

Graca is much loved in her home country and increasingly gaining world recognition. She has focused on the issues most critical to her home country, issues of development and particularly women’s and children’s rights, and she has widened her scope to effect change worldwide. Graca has already created a substantial legacy and her work continues.