Graça Simbine Machel

Graça Simbine Machel

Graça Simbine Machel is a phenomenal leader who has done an incredible amount to improve the lives of the people of southern Africa. She was born on 17 October 1945, in Gaza, Mozambique. She was awarded a scholarship to attend Lisbon University in Portugal to major in languages, but due to her liberation struggle political activities, she was forced to abandon her education and flee to Switzerland.

In 1973, she joined the Marxist-based Mozambican Liberation Front (FRELIMO) and underwent military training. She spent a short period in Mozambique's Cabo Delgado Province, where she met Samora Machel, the FRELIMO commander who later became her husband and the first president of independent Mozambique.

FRELIMO formed the country’s first government in 1975 and Machel became a member of its Central Committee and the Minister of Education and Culture. She worked hard to implement FRELIMO's goal of universal education. From 1975 to 1985, the number of students enrolled in primary and secondary schools rose from about 40% to over 90% for males and 75% for females. By the time she left this role, she had reduced illiteracy in Mozambique by 72%.

Over the years, Machel has gained international recognition for her achievements. Her many awards include the Laureate of Africa Prize for Leadership for the Sustainable End of Hunger from the Hunger Project in 1992 and in 1995 the Nansen Medal in recognition of her contribution to the welfare of refugee children. She has received the Inter Press Service’s (IPS) International Achievement Award for her work on behalf of children internationally, the Africare Distinguished Humanitarian Service Award and the North-South Prize of the Council of Europe, among many others.

She has served on the boards of numerous international organisations, including the UN Foundation, the Forum of African Women Educationalists, the African Leadership Forum and the International Crisis Group.

Among her many commitments, she is Chair of the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunization Fund, Chancellor of the University of Cape Town, South Africa and a Panel Member of the African Peer Review Mechanism.

Photo credit: Fronteiras do Pensamento

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