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Evelyn Mase
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Celebrity's Relative
    (May 18, 1922-April 30, 2004)
    Born in Engcobo, South Africa
    Nurse, midwife, and grocery store owner
    First wife of Nelson Mandela (1944-58)
    Took the last name Rakeepile after her second marriage (1998)
    Her devotion to the Jehovah’s Witnesses and Nelson’s growing political activism put a strain on their marriage.
    She allegedly presented Mandela with an ultimatum: if he did not give up politics, she would leave him.
    She disapproved of her oldest son, Thembekile, becoming a bootlegger and running an illegal bar, but she accepted the money his activities generated.
    Shortly before Mandela’s release from prison, she complained, ‘The whole world worships Nelson too much. He is only a man.’
    She recalled about first meeting Mandela, ‘I think I loved him the first time I saw him.’
    For much of their marriage, she supported the family on her nursing salary while Mandela studied law.
    Her first daughter died at nine months of age from meningitis.
    The apartheid regime denied her a passport, so she was unable to visit her children when they attended boarding schools in neighboring Swaziland.
    Later biographers believe that her accusations that Mandela was conducting extramarital affairs – with Ruth Mompati, his secretary, and with Lillian Ngoyi, an African National Congress activist – were true.
    Mandela said, ‘[She] was a very good woman, charming, strong and faithful, and a fine mother. I never lost my respect for her.’
    When Mandela was elected President, she said ‘His strength has come from God,’ adding, ‘God uses people to do his work even if they are not righteous.’

Credit: C. Fishel

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