Melissa Cohen Biden (far right), with her inlaws, Joe and Jill, as well as her husband Hunter and son on stage this weekend as Joe Biden gave his victory speech following the US presidential election. Photo: Getty

  • The new American president elect has a South African daughter-in-law.
  • Melissa Cohen, 34, hails from Johannesburg and married Hunter Biden last year.
  • Cohen studied interior design in SA and moved to Los Angeles in her early twenties.
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On Saturday evening, a 34-year old South African appeared with the Biden family on stage in Wilmington, Delaware, as the new US president elect thanked the nation in his victory speech.

Melissa Cohen, from Johannesburg, married Joe Biden’s 50-year old son Hunter last year – within a week of meeting him.

Hunter Biden told the New Yorker that after the ceremony (in her small Los Angeles flat), “I called my dad and said that we just got married. He was on speaker, and he said to her, ‘Thank you for giving my son the courage to love again.’ 

READ | Meet the family of Joe Biden, president-elect of the United States

Earlier this year, she gave birth to their son, who took centre stage with Biden at this weekend’s celebrations.

President-elect Joe Biden with his grandson on stage this weekend. (Photo by Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)

The seven-month old is reportedly named Beau, after Hunter Biden’s brother, who passed away from brain cancer in 2015.

Who is Melissa Cohen?

Last year, Joe Biden's wife Jill shared this family photo, which included her new daughter-in-law Melissa Cohen Biden (in blue, second to left.) Photo: Jill Biden/Twitter

According to reports, Cohen was adopted into a Johannesburg family, the youngest of four siblings and the only girl. Her mom, Zoe, is a social worker who specialises in adoption.  But according to the Daily Mail, Cohen has claimed in the past that she was raised by an isiXhosa woman, who took her for frequent visits to the Transkei, and that she only learned to speak English when she was six.

Business Insider contacted one of her brothers, Garyn Cohen, a podiatrist in Sandton, but he declined to comment.

According to the SA Jewish Report, Cohen matriculated from King David High School Victory Park, and started studying at the University of Johannesburg before moving to the Greenside Design Center College of Design, where she received a qualification in interior design.

She moved to the US when she turned 21, reportedly to do a course in horticulture in Los Angeles, where she met local entrepreneur Jason Landver.

They married in a ceremony at Stellenbosch in 2012, but divorced within two years.

From her social media accounts, previous reports have gathered that she spent some time travelling in Bali, Europe and Africa in recent years, ending up visiting the Himba indigenous people in Namibia.

She tried, unsuccessfully, to raise money through a crowdfunding website for a documentary called “Tribal Worlds”, which sought to explore “the past present & future of humanity told through the lens of African tribal communities”.

Garyn Cohen told the SAJR that his sister was a “champion for nature conservation and the environment, as well as the underprivileged and people from all walks of life. She is truly remarkable, intelligent, and has a special neshoma [soul].”

Hunter Biden

Hunter Biden’s history of drug abuse and business dealings have provided his father’s opponents with fodder during a harsh election campaign.

READ | Meet Hunter Biden, the often scandal-plagued middle child of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden

A law graduate, he worked as a banker and later lobbyist before starting his own consulting firm when his father became vice president. The firm’s business ties in the Ukraine and China during his father’s vice presidency raised eyebrows, but he was not formally found guilty of any wrongdoing.

His personal life has been messy.

In 2014, the Navy Reserves discharged him after he tested positive for cocaine and Biden admitted to the New Yorker that he went on a drug-fuelled binge after his brother's death, which saw him buying crack cocaine from homeless people. 

He also started dating his brother’s wife, Hallie – while officially still married to the mother of his three daughters, Kathleen. They divorced following an acrimonious battle, which saw his former wife accusing him of “spending extravagantly on his own interests (including drugs, alcohol, prostitutes, strip clubs, and gifts for women with whom he had sexual relations) while leaving the family with no funds to pay legitimate bills”, the AP reported.

While still with Hallie, a night-club dancer Lunden Alexis Roberts claimed that he was the father of her newborn, which he denied. DNA results later confirmed that the child was his.

According to reports, he ended the relationship with Hallie Biden shortly before meeting Cohen.

The tabloids have been closely following his relationship with the South African since then:

Biden told the New Yorker that within a few days after their first date last year, he had the word “shalom” tattooed in Hebrew letters on the inside of his left bicep, to match a tattoo that Cohen has in the same spot. 

Last year Cohen told the SA Jewish Report that she was looking forward to “introduce Hunter to my beautiful family, magnificent country, and congregation”.

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