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Nontsikelelo Albertina Sisulu 21 October — 2 June  was a South African anti- apartheid activist, and the wife of fellow activist Walter Sisulu — She was affectionately known as Ma Sisulu throughout her lifetime by the South African public. Born Nontsikelelo Thethiwe in the Tsomo district of the Transkei on 21 October , she was the second of five children of Bonilizwe and Monikazi Thethiwe.
Sisulu's mother survived the Spanish Flu, but was constantly ill and very weak because of this. She had to stay out of school for long periods of time, which resulted in her being two years older than the rest of her class in her last year of primary school. She adopted the name Albertina when she started her schooling at a Presbyterian mission school in Xolobe. Her leadership qualities and maternal instincts underlined the respect she earned during the struggle when she was referred to as the 'Mother of the Nation'.
Sisulu excelled at school in cultural and sporting activities and she showed leadership skills at an early age when she was chosen as head girl in standard five. Her classmates did not seem a major inconvenience at the time she finished primary school, later when Sisulu entered a competition to win a four-year high school scholarship this counted against her as she was disqualified from the prize even though she had come in first place.
Angered by the unfair treatment the competition rules had set no age limit on the prize Sisulu's teachers wrote to the local Xhosa language newspaper, Imvo Zabantsundu , making a strong case for Sisulu to be given the prize.
The article caught the attention of the priests at the local Roman Catholic Mission who then communicated with Father Bernard Huss at Mariazell. Father Huss arranged for a four-year high school scholarship for Sisulu at Mariazell College. The Mnyila family was very happy and celebrated Sisulu's achievement with the entire village, Sisulu recalls that the celebration saying "you would have thought it was a wedding".
In Sisulu left for Mariazell College in Matatiele in the Eastern Cape and although very nervous she was excited to find that a local girl from Xolobe was a prefect at Mariazell. The school's routine was rigid and strict, pupils were woken up at 4am to bath and clean their dormitories, they would then proceed to the chapel for morning prayers.
Although Sisulu's scholarship covered her board and lodging, she had to pay it back during the school holidays by ploughing the fields and working in the laundry room. Sisulu only went home during the December holidays but she found this a small price to pay for the opportunity to attend high school.
With high school ending in Sisulu had to decide what she would do after school. She decided that she would not marry but rather become a working professional so that she could support her family back in Xolobe. Whilst at Mariazell Sisulu had converted to Catholicism and, because she had resolved never to marry, she decided that she would become a nun, as she admired the dedication of the nuns who taught at the college.
However, Father Huss advised Sisulu against this, as nuns did not earn a salary nor did they leave the mission post, so she would not have been able to support her family in the way she wanted to. Instead he advised her to consider nursing, as trainee nurses were paid to study. Attracted by the practical solution nursing offered Sisulu took his advice and applied to various nursing schools. She was accepted as a trainee nurse at a Johannesburg "Non-European" hospital called Johannesburg General.
After spending Christmas with her family in Xolobe she left for Johannesburg in January After being orphaned as a teenager, she was obliged to help provide for her younger brothers and sisters. Abandoning her ambition to train as a teacher, she left the Transkei to train as a nurse at Johannesburg's Non-European Hospital in , as nurses were paid during training. She graduated from Mariazell College in , and chose a career in nursing. Sisulu started work in Johannesburg as a midwife in , often walking to visit patients in townships.
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," she said. Sisulu first met Walter Sisulu in while working at Johannesburg General Hospital; at that time he was a young political activist. They married in The Sisulus — a lawyer and a nurse — married in at a ceremony in which Nelson Mandela was the best man. Also present were Anton Lembede and Evelyn Mase. They were married for 59 years, until he died in his wife's arms in May at the age of Sisulu said of her marriage: "I was told that I was marrying a politician and there was no courtship or anything like that.
It was for you who I woke up in the morning, it was for you who I lived You were taken away by the evils of the past the first time, but I knew you would come back to me. Now the cold hand of death has taken you and left a void in my heart.
Her husband, Walter Sisulu was found guilty of high treason and sabotage, but was spared the death sentence. While her husband was on Robben Island, Sisulu raised the couple's five children alone. She spent months in jail herself and had her movements restricted. Sisulu scraped and saved for her children to attend good schools in Swaziland outside the inferior Bantu Education System.
Several of the Sisulu children have themselves become leaders in the democratic South Africa. Adopted daughter Beryl Sisulu is South Africa's ambassador in Norway; Lindiwe was from to the minister of defence; Zwelakhe who died on 4 October , was a prominent businessman; and daughter-in-law Elinor Sisulu, married to Max, is a well-known author and human rights activist.
Her life is detailed in a biography by her daughter-in-law Elinor Sisulu , Walter and Albertina Sisulu: In our lifetime. Sisulu did not display an interest in politics at first, only attending political meetings with Walter in a supporting capacity, but she eventually got involved in politics when she joined the African National Congress ANC Women's League in , and took part in the launch of the Freedom Charter the same year.
Sisulu became a member of the executive of the Federation of South African Women in On 9 August , Sisulu joined Helen Joseph and Sophia Williams-De Bruyn in a march of 20, women to the Union Buildings of Pretoria in protest against the apartheid government's requirement that women carry passbooks as part of the pass laws. We are not going to carry passes and never will do so. She spent three weeks in jail before being acquitted on pass charges, with Nelson Mandela as her lawyer.
Sisulu opposed Bantu education, running schools from home. Sisulu was arrested [ when? The act gave the police the power to hold suspects in detention for 90 days without charging them. Sisulu was placed in solitary confinement for almost two months until 6 August.
From till his murder in , Sisulu worked for prominent Soweto doctor, Abu Baker Asvat who allowed her to continue with her political activities while employed by him, and she was present when he was murdered. Sisulu regarded her relationship as being that of a "mother and a son", and the two never allowed the rivalry between the UDF, and Azapo , of which Asvat was the Health Secretary, and a founding member, to interfere with their friendship or working relationship.
In London, she addressed a major anti-apartheid rally to protest against the visit of National Party leader FW de Klerk. In , she was elected to the first democratic Parliament, which she served until retiring four years later. At the first meeting of this parliament, she had the honour of nominating Nelson Mandela as President of the Republic of South Africa.
That year she received an award from then-president Mandela. For more than 50 years, Sisulu committed herself to The Albertina Sisulu Foundation, which works to improve the lives of small children and old people. She was honoured for her commitment to the anti-apartheid struggle and her social work when the World Peace Council, based in Basel, Switzerland, elected her president from to She recruited nurses to go to Tanzania, to replace British nurses who left after Tanzanian independence.
It was founded under the auspices of the Albertina Sisulu Foundation, which is a non-profit organization that was established by the Sisulu Family. She became a trustee for the centre and helped fundraise for it. Sisulu and her family were residents of Orlando West, Soweto , South Africa, when it was established. Sisulu has witnessed first-hand the development of the community where the Sisulu family lived, sorely lacking in social services and despite enormous obstacles, has committed herself to alleviating the hardships of the community.
In , she was called before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission , established to help South Africans confront and forgive their brutal history. Sisulu testified before the commission about the Mandela United Football Club , a gang linked to Mandela's then-wife, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela , accused of terrorizing Soweto in the s.
She was accused of trying to protect Madikizela-Mandela during the hearings, but her testimony was stark. She said she believed the Mandela United Football Club burned down her house because she pulled some of her young relatives out of the gang. She also testified about hearing the shot that killed her colleague, a Soweto doctor whose murder has been linked to the group.
Sisulu, a nurse at the doctor's clinic, said they had a "mother and son" relationship. Sisulu said the following in , referring to Soweto , the urban area southwest of Johannesburg constructed for the settlement of black people. Sisulu died suddenly in her home in Linden, Johannesburg at age 92 on 2 June at around 20h00 in the evening while watching television with her grandchildren.
According to news reports, she suddenly fell ill, coughing blood, and paramedics who rushed to the scene were unable to revive her.
At the time of her death, Sisulu was survived by five children, Max, Mlungisi, Zwelakhe, Lindiwe and Nonkululeko, her adopted niece and nephew, Gerald and Beryl, and 26 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Her family expressed their sorrow at her death, but said that it comforted them to know that she and her beloved husband of 59 years were no doubt together again. President Jacob Zuma paid tribute to Sisulu in the wake of her death saying "Mama Sisulu has, over the decades, been a pillar of strength not only for the Sisulu family but also the entire liberation movement, as she reared, counselled, nursed and educated most of the leaders and founders of the democratic SA", Zuma said.
She became national co-president of the liberal United Democratic Front at its inception in Later she joined the ANC Women's League and was elected deputy president, and in she became a member of Parliament before retiring in From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
Albertina Sisulu. The University of Johannesburg confers an honorary doctoral degree Doctor Litterarum et Philosophiae honoris causa on Albertina Sisulu in acknowledgement of her revolutionary role in pre South Africa. Verwoerd B. Vorster Jacob Zuma. Related topics. The New York Times. The New Age. Archived from the original on 2 February Retrieved 4 August New Africa Books. Abu Baker Asvat". Business Day Live. The Namibian. Archived from the original on 7 June South African Government.
Retrieved 25 February
Biography of Nontsikelelo Albertina Sisulu, South African Activist
The wife of the well-known activist Walter Sisulu, she provided much-needed leadership during the years when most of the ANC's high command was either in prison or in exile. Her father Bonilizwe arranged for the family to live in nearby Xolobe while he was working in the mines; he died when she was She was given the European name of Albertina when she started at the local mission school. At home, she was known by the pet name Ntsiki. As the eldest daughter, Albertina was often required to look after her siblings. This resulted in her being held back for a couple of years at primary school , and initially cost her a scholarship for high school.
Albertina Sisulu obituary
Nontsikelelo Albertina Sisulu 21 October — 2 June  was a South African anti- apartheid activist, and the wife of fellow activist Walter Sisulu — She was affectionately known as Ma Sisulu throughout her lifetime by the South African public. Born Nontsikelelo Thethiwe in the Tsomo district of the Transkei on 21 October , she was the second of five children of Bonilizwe and Monikazi Thethiwe. Sisulu's mother survived the Spanish Flu, but was constantly ill and very weak because of this.