10 June 2011
Mother of the nation, heroine, dignified leader of the struggle against apartheid. These were some of the phrases used to describe the late Albertina Sisulu during an official memorial service in Pretoria on Thursday.
African National Congress (ANC) struggle veteran Winnie Madikizela-Mandela, Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane, Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane and several government and religious leaders joined scores of people who attended the service at the Tshwane City Hall.
Many from the nursing profession also came to pay tribute to Sisulu, who spent most of her life practising as a health professional. Those who packed the hall sang struggle songs and clapped hands as they celebrated Sisulu’s life.
The 92-year-old MaSisulu, as she was affectionately known, died at her Johannesburg home last Thursday. She is survived by seven children, among them Defence Minister Lindiwe Sisulu and Speaker of the National Assembly Max Sisulu.
Basic Education Minister and African National Congress Women’s League President Angie Motshekga said the nation had not only lost a caring mother but a leader who fought for all.
“Together, we have lost a loving mother … MaSisulu was indeed a fearless leader, we indeed deeply share the pain and extreme sadness that has befallen the Sisulu family,” Motshekga said.
MaSisulu always led from the front, and her life had always been that of struggle for the liberation of her people, Motshekga added.
“We should find comfort that her name will forever evoke among us a deep feeling of respect and admiration. We shall not forget that this gallant figure also led the march against the pass laws in 1959 … She fought until the bitter end, and the women of this country must always respect her contribution to the struggle.”
ANC Secretary General Gwede Mantashe described her as someone whose leadership had helped produce a successful group of younger ANC women leaders, citing daughter Lindiwe Sisulu and Gauteng Premier Nomvula Mokonyane among others.
“That is reflected in the life of MaSisulu. She was given these responsibilities of leadership because of the capabilities she demonstrated, and in turn everyone who learned from her today is a leader in her own right,” Mantashe said.
He vowed that the ANC would continue to “draw lessons” from the leadership MaSisulu lived to symbolise throughout her life. “That is the only way we can celebrate the life of Mama Sisulu.”
Tshwane Mayor Sputla Ramokgopa said: “Mama Sisulu and her generation not only carried on with the revolution through difficult time, they ensured it continued … Her generation was a generation that laid a foundation of hope that led us to victory in 1994.”
The current generation can only accomplish “if we pay attention to what Mama Sisulu stood for,” Ramokgopa said.
South African Airways board chairperson Cheryl Carolus said Sisulu kept the struggle together even during the darkest days of apartheid. “Throughout the pain of her children, Mama has always been there, all in the name of making sacrifices to build the new South Africa. We say to all of us who are left behind, keep living the legacy,” she said.
MaSisulu is to be accorded an official funeral at a service at Orlando Stadium in Soweto on Saturday. She will be laid to rest next to her husband Walter at Croesus cemetery in Johannesburg.