Evelyn Ntoko Rakeepile

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Evelyn Ntoko Rakeepile (Mase)

Also Known As: "Evelyn Mandela"
Birthdate: (81)
Birthplace: Ngcobo, Transkei, South Africa
Death: April 30, 2004 (81) (Respiratory Illness)
Place of Burial: Johannesburg, South Africa
Immediate Family:

Daughter of NN father of Evelyn Mase and NN mother of Evelyn Mase
Wife of <private> Rakeepile
Ex-wife of Nelson Mandela 1st President of a democratic South Africa, Nobel Laureate
Mother of Madiba (Thembi) Thembekile Mandela; Makaziwe Mandela; Makgatho Lewanika Mandela and <private> Mandela-Amuah (Mandela)
Sister of Samuel Mase and Kate Mase

Managed by: Liivi Murumets
Last Updated:
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Immediate Family

About Evelyn Ntoko Rakeepile

Evelyn Mase

Profile Pic: Mase (right) with Mandela (left) on the wedding day of Walter and Albertina Sisulu, 1944.

  • Born 18 May 1922, Transkei
  • Died 30 April 2004 (aged 81)
  • Spouse(s): Nelson Mandela (m.1944–1958) & Simon Rakeepile (m.1998-2004; her death)

Evelyn Mase (18 May 1922 – 30 April 2004) was a South African nurse, who was the first wife of the anti-apartheid activist and future politician Nelson Mandela, to whom she was married from 1944 to 1958. She was the mother of four of his children, including Makgatho Mandela and Makaziwe Mandela. A Xhosa from the Transkei, she was orphaned at an early age, being placed in the care of her brother, political activist Sam Mase. Moving to Soweto, Johannesburg, she met Mandela through family friends Walter and Albertina Sisulu, subsequently marrying him at the Native Commissioner's Court. Living together as a family in Soweto, they raised four children, with Mandela's mother and sisters spending much time with them. However, their relationship came under strain as Mandela became increasingly involved in the African National Congress, organising the Defiance Campaign and Congress of the People, and being charged with sedition during the Treason Trial. Eschewing politics, she converted to the Jehovah's Witness religious movement. Accusing him of adultery, they divorced in 1958, and he went on to marry Winnie Mandela that year.

Taking the children, she moved to Cofimvaba and opened a grocery store, but continued to appear in the South African press, becoming a vocal critic of Mandela during the 1990s, when he was freed from prison and became President of South Africa. Although long insisting that her marriage to Mandela was still valid in the eyes of God, in 1998 she married a Sowetan businessman. Her funeral attracted international attention, being attended by Mandela, Winnie and his third wife, Graca Machel.

Early Life

A mineworker, Evelyn's father died when she was a child, leaving behind his second wife and their six children.[1][2] Three of these siblings died while still in infancy, while Evelyn's mother died when she was 12, leaving her and her sister Kate under the care of her older brother, Sam Mase.[1][2] A devout Christian, Sam had a close friendhip with his cousin, Walter Sisulu, with whom he went to school.[3][2] In 1928, Sisulu moved to Soweto, Johannesburg, obtaining a house in the Orlando East township, later to be joined there by Sam. Becoming politicised, he encouraged Sisulu to read left-wing literature and join the ANC.[3] In 1939, Evelyn joined her brother and cousin, in order to train as a nurse in the city's non-European hospital at Hillbrow, fulfilling the wishes of her late mother.[4] There, she befriended Walter's girlfriend Albertina, whom he had met in 1941; in 1944 she would become his wife.[3] Marriage

When Walter and Albertina moved to a larger house at 7372 Orlando West, they gifted their old house to Sam.[1] Evelyn and Sam continued to visit the Sisulus at their new house, meeting their lodger, Nelson Mandela.[1][5] She would later inform Fatima Meer that "I think I loved him the first time I saw him", and they started dating after a few days. Within several months, he proposed marriage to her, delighting Sam and the Sisulus.[1][5] The wedding took place on 5 October 1944 at Johannesburg's Native Commissioner's Court; they could not afford a wedding feast, with no traditional Xhosa elements in the ceremony.[1][5]

The newly married couple had little money.[7] They moved into a room at the house of Evelyn's sister Kate, where they lived alongside her husband Mgudlwa (a clerk at City Deep Mines) and two children. They didn't pay rent, but shared what money they had.[7][5] She would later claim that their relationship in these early years was happy,[7] commenting that "Everyone we knew said that we made a very good couple."[5]

She became pregnant, and on 23 February 1946, at Bertram's Nursing Home, she gave birth to a son, Thembekile. Mandela brought nighties and baby clothes to the hospital, and obtained a cot for when she brought "Thembi" home.[7][5] Requiring greater space, the couple moved to a two-roomed house at 719 Orlando East for several months before relocating to 8115 Orlando West circa early 1947, where they paid rent of 17s 6.[7][5]

"The house itself was identical to hundreds of others built on postage-stamp sized plots on dirt roads. >>It had the same standard tin roof, the same cement floor, a narrow kitchen and a bucket toilet at the >>back... It was the opposite of grand but it was my first true home of my own and I was mightily proud. A >>man is not a man until he has a house of his own."— Mandela, on 8115 Orlando West.[6]

Nelson's mother came to stay, and she got on well with Evelyn.[8] It was during this period that Mandela was becoming increasingly interested in political activism, adopting an African nationalist ideology.[9] Mandela's sister Leabie noted that she "didn't want to hear a thing about politics."[5]

Later life

Evelyn moved to Cofimvaba in the eastern Cape, where she opened up a shop, and pinned a notice to the gate asking media to leave her alone.[1] One reporter, Fred Bridgland, did manage to obtain an interview, in which he discussed the proposals surrounding Mandela's release from prison. She was angry at the situation, believing that it was being treated like the second coming of Christ and proclaiming "How can a man who has committed adultery and left his wife and children be Christ? The whole world worships Nelson too much. He is only a man."[1] She died on 30 April 2004. Mandela attended the funeral along with his second and third wives.[10]


  • ^ a b c d e f g h Smith 2010, p. 59.
  • ^ a b c McGregor 2004.
  • ^ a b c Smith 2010, p. 58.
  • ^ Smith 2010, pp. 58–59.
  • ^ a b c d e f g h Sampson 2011, p. 36.
  • ^ Smith 2010, p. 61.
  • ^ a b c d e Smith 2010, p. 60.
  • ^ Sampson 2011, pp. 36–37.
  • ^ Sampson 2011, p. 37.
  • ^ "Madiba bids final farewell to his first wife". Independent Online. 8 May 2004. Archived from the original on 25 February 2013. Retrieved 28 October 2008.


  • Mandela, Nelson (1994). Long Walk to Freedom Volume I: 1918–1962. Little, Brown and Company. ISBN 978-0754087236.
  • Meredith, Martin (2010). Mandela: A Biography. New York: PublicAffairs. ISBN 978-1586488321.
  • McGregor, Liz (5 May 2004). "Obituary: Evelyn Rakeepile". The Guardian.
  • Sampson, Anthony (2011) [1999]. Mandela: The Authorised Biography. London: HarperCollins. ISBN 978-0007437979.
  • Smith, David James (2010). Young Mandela. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 978-0297855248.



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Evelyn Ntoko Rakeepile's Timeline

May 18, 1922
Transkei, South Africa
Age 23
Age 24
June 26, 1950
Age 28
April 30, 2004
Age 81
Johannesburg, South Africa