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Tribute to South African Icon Ma Albertina Sisulu

Nontsikelelo Albertina Sisulu was born on 21 October 1918 in the Transkei and died on 2 June 2011 at home in Soweto. These few words encompass the lifespan of one of the most important women of the later day South African history.

She was known as a wife, a mother, a struggle icon, an anti-apartheid warrior, but mostly as Ma Sisulu, the mother of the Nation.

When she passed on peacefully at home on 2 June 2011 watching television, the people of South Africa mourned as if their own mother had died. Outpourings of grief came from people young and old, across the board for Mama Sisulu and support and condolences were poured on her family and loved ones.

Sacrifices of the entire Sisulu Family

In paying tribute to MaSisulu, people also realised the sacrifices that the entire family had made during the Struggle and the enormous contribution the Sisulu family made towards our Freedom as part of liberation movement.

MaSisulu was not only the loving wife of ANC stalwart Walter Sisulu (who died on May 5 2003) she was also a loved and respected leader in her own right who suffered cruel and vengeful persecution by the apartheid regime which included a series of gaolings. But surely for her as a mother, the worst must have been the fact that children were frequently detained and held incommunicado.

But nothing intimidated this woman of she has refused to be intimidated and never wavered in her commitment to the struggle for freedom and non-racialism.

MaSisulu's Working Life

In an autobiography MaSisulu wrote in 1991 she gives an account of her working life:

Got my Midwifery in 1954, came back to Johannesburg and was employed by the City Health of Johannesburg as a midwife. In those days we were doing our work on district. We used to visit our patients in the townships with difficulties, because we used to do that on foot. You know what it means to be a midwife? You have got to carry a big suitcase full of bottles and for your lotions that you are going to use, and bowls and receivers, and we used to carry those suitcases on our heads. And if you are lucky enough to have transport in that area, you take either a bus or a taxi to reach your patient. I did that from I946Up to 1980. Nineteen-eighty I was appointed a senior nurse running a small hospital in Orlando East. I would say I was appointed a matron of that little cottage.

Launch of the Freedom Charter in Kliptown

In her own Words MaSisulu tells about meeting her future husband and about the pass laws being extended to women in 1957:

In I941 I met Mr Sisulu and I was the First Lady, the only first lady who was present in their first meeting when they were forming ANC Youth League that in 1949 had a program of action. After I got married in 1944 to Mr Sisulu I joined the Women`s League. And in 1953 the government decided to give our children what they call Bantu Education. We as women wouldn`t take this. We organised other women against the Bantu Education and we closed the schools. We thought of forming an organisation that will put all the women together, so that at least our fight will be easy if we speak with one voice. Now we formed an organisation which was called Federation of South African Women in 1954. In 1955 we joined, as Federation of South African Women, the launching of the Freedom Charter in Kliptown. In 1956 we organised twenty thousand women to go to the Union Building and protest against Bantu Education to our children. Having closed the school, we decided to have volunteers that are going to teach the children. We gave out some rooms in our houses to be classrooms. This first room was one of the classrooms of Grade One. But that failed because the government wouldn`t register our schools. That now meant that the two years are wasted because the children would not be examined at the end of every year. Now we gave that up. Bantu Education was introduced to the children.

In 1957 the government decided to extend the pass laws to the women. We said, nothing doing. We are not going to carry passes. We organised women to protest and go to jail. Mark you, I`m a nurse now. And the law of the nursing profession is that if you are sentenced by a court of law you are struck off the roll. But that didn`t really worry me much, although I was already then a breadwinner in the house, because my husband was just for ANC then. He was the General Secretary of the organisation. And most of the time he is all over. He is overseas, he is with the regions. Well, I led the second batch against the extension of passes. We went to jail. We had two thousand women in one jail here at Number Four. We stayed there for three weeks awaiting trial. It was almost a month when our case ended, and Nelson Mandela was our lawyer. We were all discharged. We were found not guilty. So I was saved from being struck off the roll.

Read the rest of MaSisulu’s autobiography

In 1994 she was elected to the first democratic Parliament, which she served until retiring four years later. She was a deputy president of the ANC Women's League, a nurse and a midwife, and took part in the formation of the United Democratic Front, the 1956 anti-pass march to the Union Buildings and the launch of the Freedom Charter.

Official State Funeral

President Zuma instructed that Sisulu would have an official state funeral and that the national flags should be flown at half-mast at every flag station in the country and all South African foreign missions abroad from Saturday, June 4 until the evening of the burial.

MaSisulu made her final journey to the Orlando stadium in Soweto from her home in Khumalo Street accompanied by members of uMkhonto weSizwe. The coffin was draped in an ANC flag and replaced by the national flag when the coffin arrived at the stadium.

Albertina Sisulu is survived by seven children, 25 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.

Image of Mama Albertina Sisulu - Proudly Afrikan