Shakespeare, in one of Nelson Mandela's favorite lines, now strangely apposite, says that "the valiant never taste of death but once." As the world waits for Mandela to make his final rendezvous with history, one woman — his third wife — who has been at his bedside throughout his illness, and now keeps vigil there, is almost perfectly cast for her role. Graca Machel (pronounced Mah-shell) has, after all, been here before.

In 1986, Machel was tragically widowed when the Russian Tupolev jet carrying her husband, Samora Machel, the first president of independent Mozambique, ploughed into a remote hillside just inside the South African border. The apartheid regime denied involvement, but suspicions of a political assassination linger.

As the nation rallied in grief, Graca Machel, a young mother, was dubbed Mozambique's Jackie Kennedy. It's not an implausible comparison. She has the same easy, cosmopolitan self-confidence, natural presence, and command of languages (English, Portuguese and French).