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Sunday, July 19, 1998 Published at 00:41 GMT 01:41 UK

World: Africa

Mandela weds on his 80th birthday

Nelson Mandela and Graca Machel: a happy couple

South African President Nelson Mandela has married his long-term companion, 52-year-old Graca Machel on his 80th birthday.

BBC News' Jeremy Vine on a double celebration
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 said.

Private ceremony

People on the streets of Johannesburg wish the couple well
The marriage took place inside President Nelson Mandela's private home in Johannesburg. It was a multi-denominational service in the presence of friends, relatives and senior government ministers.

[ image: The ceremony was conducted by a Methodist minister]
The ceremony was conducted by a Methodist minister
Well-wishers gathered outside singing wedding songs as they tried to get a glimpse of the newly-wedded couple - the bride in a long white dress and the president wearing a floral shirt.

A BBC correspondent outside Mr Mandela's says the official order of service for the marriage showed a Methodist minister officiated, while Archbishop Desmond Tutu gave a blessing.


Nelson and Graca: An enduring friendship
It is Nelson Mandela's third marriage. His new wife is the former First Lady of Mozambique and an international stateswoman in her own right. Her former husband, Samora Machel, died in a plane crash in 1986 while he was president of Mozambique.

Graca Machel is known to have resisted marriage up until now as she felt it would have been wrong to marry President Mandela while he was still head of state in South Africa.

Editor of South African Sunday Independent, John Battersby: wedding has been a dream of Mr Mandela's
But President Mandela is known to have been keen to marry and his withdrawal from political life over the past six months could be a sign that he came to a compromise.

He says he will retire from the presidency at next year's election to spend the rest of his life with the woman he loves.

His role in South Africa is now largely ceremonial. The Deputy President, Thabo Mbeki, is very much in control of day to day matters of state and is likely to step become president at next year's elections.

[ image: Flowers arriving at Mandela's Johannesburg home]
Flowers arriving at Mandela's Johannesburg home
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.

This year, the South African media stoked rumours that a wedding would take place to coincide with Mr Mandela's birthday celebrations. The prospect of a matrimonial match undoubtedly contributed to interest in the event both inside and outside South Africa.

Haircut sir?

Mr Mandela's spokesman, Parks Mankhlana: "Couple were elegantly dressed"
There has been blanket coverage of his birthday and it has led to a huge increase in the number of products and souvenirs bearing his name and image - some more bizarre than others.

A barber in the southern Indian city of Bangalore is celebrating by giving away 3,000 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 100 other barbers volunteered to help with the work.

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