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Mandela attends first wife's funeral
Updated: 2004-05-09 09:05

Couple had four children; divorced in 1955

Former South African President Nelson Mandela attended the funeral of his first wife, Evelyn, on Saturday, the South African Broadcasting Corp. reported.

Born Evelyn Mase, the 82-year-old was buried at West Park cemetery after she died of respiratory illness last week, SABC said.

Mandela, his current wife, Graca Machel, and former wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, were among the dignitaries who attended the funeral.

Evelyn was the deeply religious daughter of a mineworker and a cousin of the late Walter Sisulu, one of the giants of the liberation struggle who was imprisoned with Nelson Mandela.

She married Mandela in 1944, and the couple had four children. One daughter died in 1948 before she was a year old, and a son was killed in a car accident in 1969 while Nelson Mandela was in prison.

The couple divorced in 1955 because of what Nelson Mandela, in his autobiography, "Long Walk to Freedom," called irreconcilable differences between politics and religion.

He said he was not willing to give up his work in the antiapartheid struggle, and that she could not live with his devotion to something other than her and the family.

She raised their children largely on her own.

Nelson Mandela next married Winnie Madikizela; they divorced in 1996. He is now married to Machel, the widow of the former president of Mozambique.

In 1997, Evelyn married a retired businessman, Simon Rakeepile, though she kept the name Mandela. Rakeepile survives her.

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