08/03/1998 at 01:00 AM EDT
After almost four decades battling apartheid, South African President Nelson Mandela knows the value of persistence. So when Graça Machel, the 52-year-old widow of Mozambique's late president Samora Machel, kept turning down his marriage proposals, Mandela just kept asking. Two months ago he finally got the answer he wanted, and on Saturday the couple marked his 80th birthday by marrying.
The two treated their marriage—her second, his third (he was divorced from second wife Winnie in 1996)—like a state secret, denying it would take place right up to the ceremony, which was held in their Johannesburg mansion. The next day South Africa celebrated. Mandela's televised birthday party became a star-studded wedding reception with 2,000 guests, including Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Lethal Weapon 4's Danny Glover and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who in the past has gently chided the couple for living out of wedlock. "She's made a decent man out of him," Tutu commented. "Now you won't shout at me," Mandela laughingly told his old friend.