Graca Machel says she won't marry Mandela

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In a rare interview Graca Machel, President Nelson Mandela's "girlfriend", yesterday dashed the hopes of romantics all over the world. Despite persistent rumours, she would not, she said, be marrying President Mandela, even though people - including Archbishop Desmond Tutu - claimed they were setting a bad example.

But the disappointment for those who like a happy ending was tempered by Mrs Machel's public declaration of love. It was in marked contrast to her initial coyness when their relationship became public just over a year ago, after the president divorced his second wife, Winnie.

"I think we are okay like this," she said, blushing, in an interview in the Johannesburg Star. "I know many people are concerned that we are sending the wrong message to young people. But we are two grown-up people who love each other."

Mrs Machel, 52, touchingly describes the gulf between the myth and reality of Mandela. The man with the tough public face she said had been her hero. But she fell in love with a man who was really "simple, humble and soft."

During separations the couple phone each other every day. Mrs Machel is looking forward to Mandela's retirement as president in 1999. "He never had a normal family life," she says. "I want to help him do all the things he loves as a human being and not what he is expected to do."

"You see, we don't have so much time ahead of us so we try to spend as much as we can together."