Sunday, August 18, 2013

Why is she Mrs Graca Machel and not Mrs Graca Mandela?

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Why is she Mrs Graca Machel and not Mrs Graca Mandela?

Graca Machel.

It is one of life’s little curiosities that the wife of arguably the world’s most famous man should not go by his name. Actually that she is called the name of her first husband.
Graca, a woman of grace, and a woman of substance, has been married to Nelson Mandela since 1998, and has the unique feat of having been First Lady of two countries – South Africa, between 1998 and 1999, when Mandela declined to stand for a second term of office, and Mozambique from 1975 to 1986 when her first husband, Samora Machel, died upon his presidential plane crashing in suspicious circumstances.
In all the 15 years she has been married to Mzee Mandela, she has been studiously referred to as Graca Machel. Why? (As if that is not enough, in those same years Winnie, whom Madiba divorced in 1996, kept the Mandela name, only inserting in between the Winnie and the Mandela her maiden name Madikizela).
Women’s names have always presented a quandary when the lady gets married. Very many happily take up their husband’s names on the wedding day, though a complication comes with issues like certificates (a couple of classmates in my post-graduate class kept juggling between their present names and those on their earlier academic transcripts).
Others struggle with as mundane a challenge as whether, upon marriage, to change their email addresses to reflect their married name. Maybe it is not so mundane.

Of course a few, certainly in Uganda, skirt the issue entirely by keeping their maiden names. My mentor William Pike’s wife, the equally wonderful Cathy Watson, springs to mind, as do my old schoolmates Dr Sylvia Tamale and her husband Prof Joe Oloka Onyango, law teachers both at Makerere University.
These two couples are entirely at peace with the status quo-ante which is the status quo. And so they should be.
But some have it in reverse. The last I heard of one of my lecturers at journalism school in Britain, an Englishman called Paul, was that he had immigrated to the US, married an American woman and taken up her surname.
It is a similar story of a former Japanese diplomat in Kampala, who had facilitated a trip for me to tour his country back in 1999. Diplomatic sources here told me that when he returned to his homeland, he got married and took up his wife’s name.
Pragmatic reasons
Most women readily take up their husband’s name, dropping their maiden and/or father’s name, because it is the accepted thing in most societies. Others take up hubby’s name for pragmatic reasons.
Take the next President of the United States (I prophesy). When she married Bill Clinton in 1975, she stuck to being called Hillary Rodham for about seven years till her man started campaigning for big office among conservative people. She then became Hillary Clinton, while a few times referring to herself as “Mrs Bill Clinton.”
The Russians have simplified it a bit. When a man and a woman get married, the suffix ‘a’ is added to the man’s surname and given to the woman.
Thus if Maria gets married to Mr Gorbachev, she becomes Gorbacheva; when Irina marries Mr Yeltsin, she will be known as Yeltsina. In Uganda Opolot’s wife would be Opolota and Amin’s would be Amina.
In Uganda, the Banyarwanda community, in contrast to the Russians, just add the prefix ‘Muka’. And so Mrs Nkusi will be Mukankusi, and Mrs Ndori will be known as Mukandori.
In the Kiganda culture, ‘muka’ also means ‘wife of’, though Baganda will keep it as a generic title, a general noun, unlike Banyarwanda who append it to the name. (The Kinyarwanda prefix has steadily evolved to be integral to the names themselves, thus it is now common for a single girl to be known as Miss Mukarwego, yet she is not married to Mr Rwego. She could have inherited the name from an ancestor of many generations ago).
What do you do when you move from being married to the world’s most powerful man to wedding one of the world’s richest men? Well, you keep both names. After she was widowed following President John F Kennedy’s assassination in 1963, Jacqueline (nee Lee Bouvier) kept the presidential name in marrying the Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, and she became Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
Others will simply hyphenate maiden name with hubby’s name: Philippines’ last President, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, kept her father’s name Macapagal (also a former President) but hyphenated it with her husband’s, Mr Arroyo.
We also have our own Janet Kataaha Museveni, though not hyphenated, but still keeping father’s name while using hubby’s as well.
None of which explains why Graca is still called Machel when she has been married to Mandela for all this time.


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