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Mandela’s invisible hand is with us – Graca Machel, widow

Speaks on Mandiba, women and newborns

By Sola Ogundipe

Graca Machel needs no introduction. Her commitment and leadership achievements to maternal and child health stand her out from the crowd. A humanitarian, renowned international advocate for women’s and children’s rights, and a social and political activist, Graca is an icon.

Graca-MandelaShe is the only woman in global history to have been First Lady of two countries. She was First Lady of Mozambique from 1975 to 1986 and the First Lady of South Africa from 1998 to 1999.
She has also been widowed twice. She is widow of former Mozambican President Samora Machel, and also widow of former President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela.

Ranked among the top 100 women, activists and campaigners and the top 100 most influential people, Graca is a key player in the post-2015 development agenda. Currently she is Chair of the Partnership for Maternal and Newborn Child Health, PMNCH, Board.

In a recent encounter with the legendary activist, Graca spoke about salient issues of maternal and newborn health. It was on June 30, 2014, during the opening of the PMNCH 2014 meeting in Sandton, Johannesburg. She also opened up on her late husband, Nelson Mandela, for the first time in public.

Since the late sage passed on, Graca had maintained a stoic silence.
There was never a doubt she loved her husband and loved him deeply.
Even in the bid to achieve the MDGs, she truly cared for the world’s icon, and was with him till the end.

“This is the first time I stand on a stage like this after what has been the most disheartening event of my life. I want to take this opportunity to say thank you, thank you and thank you,” she began.
Graca said her thanks was particularly to the millions of children who took the trouble to write to Madiba while he was sick and to the millions of people who took the trouble to pray in every corner of the globe for him to be better.

“We received countless messages of love kindness and appreciation for his love. Finally when he passed on, I’m told, that literarily every TV station focused on his life and legacy. I know if Madiba had been here, he would have said thank you to every single gesture that was made on his behalf.”

Expressing thanks, appreciation and value for them all, she remarked: “I want to thank the world for him and also to thank everybody on my own behalf. Of course he was under my own level of love and support, yet so much valued your love as well. I’m thanking everybody in this country, in Africa, and all over the world.

“On behalf of our family, children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, we say thank you. It is appropriate to do it while we are discussing women and children who have been so close to his heart and it was when he turned 90, addressing a crowd in London, he already told each one of us that now, it is in our hands.

“So I want to say while we are doing this on our own behalf, we are also having an invisible hand that is supporting our efforts. Because that is a gathering and a partnership he would very much want to support and work with.”

On the PMNCH agenda, which she described as a unique partnership, Graca said she joined it in the belief that when we care enough to act together we can   achieve better results and a greater impact.
“Partnerships have helped us halve the number of children under-fives who die from largely preventable diseases each year and almost halved the number of children out of school.”

In her view, it has taken almost 25 years to achieve the current level of success. “But it is not good enough. There are still six million children dying each year from preventable diseases. Education is important for good health and wellbeing, yet there are still 60 million children out of school.”

She argued that what we can only describe as an epidemic of violence against girls and women across the globe is creating a gender disparity that undermines future generations and physical, political and social gaps of our nations.

“We see these preventable tragedies day after day. The contribution this partnership can make in making the world a better place, is the responsibility of each and every one of us. As we gather, we draw on the lessons learned from the MDGs to date, we strategise on what we must do in the 500 days ahead remaining to realise the MDGs and in the vision of the UN Secretary General,   every woman every child initiative.

“We continue to build consensus for our transition from the MDGs to new development agenda that ensure that women, newborns, children and adolescents are at center of our post 2015 framework.”
She said, using learning from the MDGs to strengthen   impact in proudut to launch at this forum, the Every newborn action plan and the Countdown 2014 Report:

“This is our vision around the continuum of care, putting necessary focus on quality of care at birth. The 5.5 million deaths and stillbirths occurring every year make up the single largest group of deaths in the unfinished MDG agenda.

“With all our knowledge, technology, resources, that we have at hand, how on earth can we continue to allow the youngest and most vulnerable of our societies to die as if they do not count?”
Graca explained that the plan uses home-grown knowledge and experience to address what needs to be done by whom and how. In her view, partnership is at the heart of the plan developed by more than 50 organisations, using evidence to lead advocacy putting a spotlight on the most urgent issues and promoting accountability.

“Today we can achieve a world in which there are no preventable deaths of newborns, where every pregnancy is wanted, every birth celebrated and women, babies and children survive, thrive and reach gainful potential.”
Her insight into the Countdown 2015 Report is revealing.

It contains good news, and the unfinished businesses on maternal and newborn health. “There is too much of that for us to continue with business as usual. Less than half of the countries will achieve MDGs 4 and 5 as well as highlights the inequities and means of reaching the unreached.”

Nevertheless, Graca sees more determination in the world working together to end preventable deaths and promote healthy life.
“We have 500 days to reach the MDGs, to build on the leadership such as high impact health investments, family planning, nutrition, promotion of adolescent health, among others. We need to keep the new development framework as people centered.

We should make it a reality in our lives, countries and regions. We have to create that social; pact, to save every single life possible in every country, nobody should be left behind. It is my hope that when we go back home we will focus on how each of us will make a real difference   everyday. We must do more and do better. Each of as individuals, organisations and as collective actors, must push, and push and push some more. We still have 500 days to make a difference, everyday counts, every action counts, every life counts. We have achieved a great deal but there is so much more to do. We need more action because every action counts.”


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