Journey to understanding SA’s departed heroes

 Albertina is buried beside her husband Walter in the Newclare cemetary in Johannesburg. <em>Photo: <a href="http://www.joburg.org.za" target="_blank">City of Joburg</a></em>Albertina Sisulu, South Africa’s mother of the nation, is buried beside her beloved husband Walter in the Newclare cemetery in Johannesburg. Photo: City of Joburg

 

Romaana NaidooBy Romaana Naidoo
19 May 2014

I might not have been born into a democratic South Africa but my parents sure did their best to shelter me from being ostracised solely based on my skin colour. Although this was probably instinctive on their part as parents innately try to protect their kids, I think it prevented me from being fully aware about issues surrounding the nation’s fight for a free and fair country.

Forging forward many years later and South Africa is celebrating 20 years of democracy. For me, a great way to understand the anti-apartheid struggle has been to find out about the lives of the country’s departed heroes, those who fought tirelessly for freedom, regardless of the sacrifices.

To walk into any one of Johannesburg’s cemeteries is to explore the country’s rich history through the stalwarts that lie resting there. Take, for instance,  Avalon Cemetery, the final resting place of many prominent individuals who were involved in the liberation struggle – among them Hector Pieterson and Tsietsi Mashinini, victims of the 1976 uprising.

It sends chills down my spine just thinking about the passion and selflessness of students and the driving force they embodied in a bid to abolish something as inhuman as apartheid, fighting til the death to see it eradicated.

As part of my job as a writer for Johannesburg City Parks, I have been researching South Africa’s fallen heroes – and I’m humbled by the sacrifices made by them and their young families to see a country unburdened from racial hate and intolerable cruelty. Johannesburg holds the the stories of many heroes and heroines, many of whom have been laid to rest in the 35 cemeteries throughout the city.

Political activist Nontsikelelo Albertina Sisulu (aka the “Mother of the Nation”) is just such an example. She was laid to rest beside her husband, Walter Sisulu, at the Newclare Cemetery. The couple fought tirelessly and spent years in prison or deep underground to help the people of South Africa. He joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1940, and along with Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo was part of the ANC Youth League.