ANTI-APARTHEID activist Albertina Sisulu, the widow of former president Nelson Mandela’s mentor Walter Sisulu, died in Johannesburg yesterday. She was 92.
One of her daughters, Beryl, a former ambassador to Norway, confirmed she had died in her Linden home. “I think I’m still in shock because I was talking to my sister, who was in the same room with her, and she said she was fine, and in the next 20 minutes you hear she has passed away.”
Her son, Mlungisi, said: “Mama was sitting in a chair watching the news as they prepared supper. And all of a sudden she slumped to one side.
“Paramedics were called. She was in the house with two of her grandchildren and the ladies who keep the house.”
ANC spokesperson Brian Sokutu said Sisulu had “dedicated all her life to the ANC and to the defeat of apartheid and ushering in of constitutional democracy in South Africa”.
Sisulu had little interest in politics when she met Walter, future general-secretary of the ANC who died in 2003 aged 90 and had spent 25 years in custody on Robben Island alongside Mandela.
But she plunged wholeheartedly into the liberation struggle and emerged from years of detention, bannings and arrests as a major political figure in her own right.
“All these years I never had, you know, a comfortable life,” she commented years later.
Albertina and Walter had five children. Sisulu was born Nontsikelelo Albertina Tetiwe in the Tsomo district of the Transkei on October 21 1918 and was the second of five children.
Sisulu, who trained as a nurse, campaigned against apartheid and for the rights of women and children. She was a leader of the United Democratic Front, a key anti-apartheid coalition in the 1980s which brought together religious, labour and community development groups. She was also a leader in the ANC and the ANC’s women’s wing. She was in and out of jail, including one stint with her son, then 17, who went into exile after that.
Once three generations were in jail simultaneously – her husband, her son and her grandson.
Sisulu took part in some of the iconic moments of the anti-apartheid movement, including the launch in 1955 of the Freedom Charter. She was a leader in 1956 of a march on Pretoria by thousands of women of all races opposing the extension to women of pass laws. The slogan was, “You strike a woman, you strike a rock.”