Graça Simbine Machel

Graça Simbine Machel

President, Community Development Foundation, Mozambique; Former Minister of Education

The 1992 Africa Prize honors Mrs. Machel for her dedication to educating the people of Mozambique, and for leading an organization devoted to the children of her war-torn country. She has been a major force in increasing literacy and schooling in Mozambique. When Mozambique won its independence in 1975, it faced the bleak legacy of Portuguese colonialism. Mozambique had one of the least educated populations in Africa and little infrastructure. Mozambique's first president, Samora Machel, promised to reverse the years of colonial neglect of the Mozambican people's welfare by instituting plans for universal health and education. In September 1975, Graça Simbine, who had become minister of education and culture, married President Machel. When President Machel was killed in a plane crash in 1986, Mrs. Machel vowed in a letter to Nelson and Winnie Mandela that she would fight to continue her husband's work. As minister of education until 1989, Graça Machel worked to implement Mozambique's goal of universal education for all Mozambicans. In the decade from 1975 to 1985, the number of students enrolled in primary and secondary schools rose from about 40 percent of all school-aged children to over 90 percent for males and 75 percent for females. The illiteracy rate dropped from over 90 percent for the total adult population at independence to 45 percent for men and 78 percent for women by 1985. For 16 years the Mozambique National Resistance (Renamo), with backing from white regimes in Rhodesia and South Africa, has waged war against Mozambique, leading to the displacement of some 2.4 million people, creating more than 250,000 orphaned children and destroying the majority of schools and health clinics. In response to the war's devastating effects on children, Mrs. Machel became president of the National Organization of Children of Mozambique, which has sought to place orphans in village homes, using the values of family and community to begin the healing process.