Sunday, June 05, 2011

A Tribute to Albertina Sisulu

Tribute to Albertina Sisulu

Ginny Stein reported this story on Sunday, June 5, 2011 08:24:00

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Tributes have been flowing in for anti-apartheid activist Albertina Sisulu who died at her Johannesburg home.

Sisulu and her late husband were key figures in the struggle against white minority rule in South Africa.

Our Africa correspondent Ginny Stein reports.

GINNY STEIN: Albertina Sisulu was one of the leading lights of the anti-apartheid movement. Her death at her home in a suburb in which once only white people were allowed to live, was sudden.

One of her sons, Mlungisi says Mama Sisulu, as she was affectionately known by all who knew her, was with two of her grandchildren watching the news on television, when she died.

MLUNGISI SISULU: We, it was really sudden. Because she was in good health, she was actually, it was only this afternoon, and at 92, she was fairly healthy. That's how it has happened, she has passed on.

GINNY STEIN: Albertina Sisulu's first career was as a nurse, a profession which helped support her family during the more than 25 years her husband Walter was jailed alongside Nelson Mandela.

While not from a political background, she quickly established herself as an anti-apartheid activist. In 1956, she was among those who led a march of more than 20,000 women protesting against carrying passbooks which prohibited people of different races moving between areas.

She was the first woman to be held under the regime's 90-day detention order.

The ANC's Valli Moosa.

VALLI MOOSA: She was also - many people have not realised that she was at the time the only woman that led a truly national movement. She was not just leader of the woman's league or the woman's federation, but she presided over the united democratic front and the mass democratic movement which was truly a national movement.

And she did this, I must say, with the gentleness of the nurse that she was. At the time when she became president, she still worked as a nurse in Soweto. But with the firmness and discipline that leadership in those difficult conditions needed and she commanded tremendous respect.

GINNY STEIN: In the 1980s Mrs Sisulu became an envoy for the ANC, visiting leaders overseas to draw attention to the anti-apartheid struggle.

In 1983, she led a delegation of activists, which included Azhar Cachalia, to the United States to meet US president George Bush.

Today, Mr Cachalia was amongst those paying his respects to a woman who he says played a crucial role in South Africa's development as a democratic nation.

AZHAR CACHALIA: She played the role of a unifying person in the 1980s and she was during that period without her husband, many of the members of her family were outside of the country, with one or two exceptions. And so she was wonderfully inspiring and in a sense was not only a leader but somebody you could get counsel from.

GINNY STEIN: You knew her personally, what did she mean to you?

AZHAR CACHALIA: Well you know, she was simultaneously a leader and kind of mother figure. She's a gentle person, you know, in fact, I never remembered her losing her temper. She had much reason to.

GINNY STEIN: In 1984, Albertina Sisulu took her seat in South Africa's first democratically elected parliament.

She was last seen in public in May when she cast her vote in local municipal elections.

Two of her children have followed their parents into politics. Her daughter Lindiwe is defence minister, her son, Max is speaker of the parliament.

A state funeral is expected to be held.

This is Ginny Stein for Correspondents Report.

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