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Saturday, July 18, 1998 Published at 14:50 GMT 15:50 UK

World: Africa

Mandela weds on his 80th birthday

Nelson Mandela and Graca Machel: to wed?

South African President Nelson Mandela has married his long term companion, Graca Machel - the former first lady of Mozambique - on his 80th birthday.

BBC News' Greg Barrow reports
Deputy President Thabo Mbeki confirmed that the marriage had taken place at Mr Mandela's Johannesburg home on Saturday afternoon.

"I have a very short statement to make and a very happy one. President Nelson Mandela and Graca Machel got married this afternoon," he told reporters.

A BBC correspondent at Mr Mandela's official residence has seen an official order of service for the marriage which has a Methodist minister officiating - Archbishop Desmond Tutu gave a blessing.

There had been intense media speculation that the wedding would take place and the rumours, though officially denied were further fuelled when journalists and camera crews were summoned to a news conference by Mr Mbeki to discuss what he called an issue of "national importance".

The birthday celebrations are being followed closely both inside and outside South Africa. There has been blanket coverage of the event in the media. It has led to a huge increase in the number of products and souvenirs bearing his name and image.

Haircut sir?

And a barber in the southern Indian city of Bangalore is celebrating by giving away three-thousand free haircuts to children and poor adults.

He said he revered Mandela alongside Mahatma Gandhi -the champion of India's non-violent campaign to win independence from Britain. More than a-hundred other barbers volunteered to help with the work.

The anniversary comes as President Mandela continues to make his withdrawal from political life and take steps towards retirement.

His role in South Africa is now largely ceremonial. The Deputy President, Thabo Mbeki, is very much in control of the day to day matters of state and is likely to step into President Mandela's shoes after elections due next year.

Nelson Mandela became known as the world's most famous political prisoner. Throughout the decades of his incarceration, anti-apartheid activists used his birthday to focus on the wrongs of the apartheid government.

The BBC correspondent in Johannesburg says South Africans are making sure that his 80th birthday will make up for all those he missed while he was in prison.

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