We have gathered to celebrate the life of an outstanding patriot whose name has become synonymous with our struggle for freedom, justice, human rights and human dignity.
One of the most steadfast, dignified and disciplined pillars of our struggle has fallen, an era has ended, and the nation is devastated, but we are proud to be associated with Mama Albertina Nontsikelelo Sisulu.
We are laying to rest a stalwart and mother of the nation, who combined resilience and fortitude in fighting colonial oppression and apartheid, with compassion for the poor and the downtrodden.
We are bidding farewell to a national heroine who produced many cadres of the liberation movement, and shaped our political thought and action in many ways.
We are paying tribute today not just to the wife of our beloved leader Isithwalandwe Walter Sisulu, uXhamela. She was a leader in her own right – a founding co-president of the United Democratic Front and former Deputy President of the ANC Women’s League.
Compatriots and friends,
Scores of people attended memorial services throughout the country this week in Mama Sisulu’s honour. The high numbers indicate her standing amongst her people.
Many, including leaders of opposition political parties made the time to sign condolence books to declare their respect for this remarkable leader.
A lot has been said in these memorial services, prayer meetings and the condolence books. All messages confirm what our father, President Nelson Mandela said about Mama Sisulu.
She was “wise and wonderful”.
In just a few months, the liberation movement that was so dear to Mama Sisulu’s heart, the ANC, will celebrate its centenary, joined by the African continent and many friends around the world. The celebrations will remind the world of a century of selfless struggle.
When we speak of the organisation’s selfless struggle, Mama Sisulu’s name stands out as a shining example.
In the book “Long Walk to Freedom”, President Mandela recounts that ANC stalwart Anton Lembede, warned the young bride when she married Tata Walter Sisulu, that great man we are proud to call our leader, our father and our national hero was already married to the struggle.
Indeed, Mama Sisulu married the liberation movement.
Rather than be overwhelmed by her husband’s political role, she embraced her new found struggle family with open arms.
Many of today’s senior leaders in government, politics and business matured under her guidance, care and love. She was their mother and their pillar of strength.
Her neighbours here in Soweto have testified that she was their mother too, always available to assist, always ready to provide wise counsel and love.
And her neighbours in Linden have spoken fondly of her wonderful personality and her humanity. She was their mother too.
Women, workers, youth, the homeless, professionals, the rural poor, the nursing fraternity and ordinary folk – all declare that she was their mother and their leader.
Very few people can be said to have served their country and people with dedication, commitment, sacrifice, loyalty, respect, selflessness and patriotism like mama Sisulu has done.
Very few can hope to attract such an outpour of love nationwide, which demonstrates that she was unique in every respect.
She taught us so much about leadership and ubuntu. She upheld many values that we must internalize in our own lives and behaviour.
From her we learned that you can be a leader and still respect others in actions and deeds regardless of their station in life or status.
When we say working together we can do more, we are endorsing lessons from leaders such as Mama Sisulu.
She was inclusive in her leadership style and believed in bringing together all structures of the mass democratic movement to consolidate the fight against apartheid.
She worked closely with the legal fraternity and counted people like George Bizos, Arthur Chaskalson and others as close friends.
She worked closely with the clergy in the fight against apartheid.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Sister Bernard Ncube and leaders in the South African Council of Churches and Catholic Bishops Conference can testify that indeed, here lies a woman who has left an indelible mark in the history of our nation.
She also supported families of detainees through the Detainees Parent Support Committee.
The labour movement and education sector also enjoyed her unwavering support. She was active in the establishment of the National Education Crisis Committee and supported the emergence of the national health workers union.
She also applauded and supported the formation of Cosatu.
Indeed, she was wise, and wonderful.
She taught us that women have an important role to play in the struggle.
She played a significant role in the formation of the Federation of the South African Women in 1954, which brought women from all walks of life together, black and white.
Mama Sisulu also played a leading role in the historic Women’s March on the Union Buildings in 1956, joining 20 000 women in protest against the oppressive pass laws.
She was an accomplished political strategist. During the period 1979 to 1981, she recruited a group of young women and directed them to revive the Federation of South African Women.
During the time of the release of Dorothy Nyembe from prison, Mama Sisulu convened a meeting of Francis Baard, Florence Mkhize, Amina Cachalia, Nellie Jebeliza, Mildred Lesia amongst others and began the process of establishing provincial women’s organizations.
This was a strategic move to ensure that in the event of the banning of one structure, others would continue to operate.
She wanted to prevent a total collapse of women’s organizations.
Mama Sisulu also viewed motherhood as strength and used it to organize women.
We recall that when there was talk of conscription for Indian and Coloured youth into the apartheid South African Defence Force, she remarked:
“It (apartheid regime) can have as many armies but the time is up, the patience of the people has been exhausted now. We have mothers here, black and white, mothers who know what it is to bring a child into this world, mothers who know what hardships they have endured. Are we as mothers going to allow a government to plunge our country into a bloodbath?”.
We must learn from Mama Sisulu the need to continue promoting non-racialism, social cohesion and inclusiveness.
Having been part of the drawing up of the Freedom Charter in 1955, Mama participated in the cementing of the seeds of non-racialism in our country and in the congress movement.
The clause that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white, later found its way into the country’s Constitution, making it the responsibility of every South African to promote non-racialism, social cohesion and unity.
It is a heartrending coincidence that we are bidding farewell to Mama on the first anniversary of the start of the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup.
On this day last year, the country displayed what Mama Sisulu had been striving for all her life. South Africans, black and white, joined hands to ensure the success of the soccer tournament.
We witnessed unprecedented explosions of patriotism and endless national celebrations. We all felt very proud to be South Africans, and we have no doubt that as a nation, we made our mother very proud as well.
Indeed the nonracial, prosperous and equal society described in the Freedom Charter, which Mama Sisulu so believed in, is achievable if we work together.
Compatriots and friends,
We will always remember Mama Sisulu’s love of children. When government-sponsored violence broke out in the townships during the 1980s, she became the voice of children who were affected.
In 1990 she was instrumental in the formation of the National Children’s Rights Committee.
The committee contributed immensely to ensuring the inclusion of children’s rights in our country’s Constitution. It is not surprising that she took a keen interest in children’s health, and promoted the Walter Sisulu Paediatric Cardiac Unit at a Johannesburg hospital.
Indeed there are many lessons that this wise and wonderful stalwart has left for us.
She taught us to rise above political differences and focus on the good of the country and its people.
Mama Sisulu, a UDF co-president, worked as a nurse at Dr Abu Asvat’s surgery here in Soweto, a doctor who was a well-known black consciousness activist.
She was devastated when he was gunned down at the surgery in 1989. She regarded him as her son. We learned from her that we are one people, regardless of political affiliations.
Fellow South Africans,
The release of political prisoners, including her husband, was a most exciting period for Mama Sisulu. She was reunited with the love of her life and they could be a proper family again.
We appreciate the fact that both Mama and Tata Sisulu lived on to vote on the 27th of April 1994, ushering in a new democratic order.
Mama Sisulu, a humble leader who never campaigned for positions in her life, agreed to serve as a Member of the first democratic Parliament in 1994.
She performed a significant and historic task in the National Assembly on the 9th of May 1994, when she nominated Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela as the first president of a free and democratic South Africa.
The nomination symbolized our final victory over apartheid divisions, hatred and racism.
It was a fulfillment of what she had said during the first anniversary of the United Democratic Front in 1984.
She had stated: “I am very happy to be one of those in the UDF because in all these years I’ve been banned, it has been my wish that one day I would get to such a gathering, a multiracial gathering,
a gathering that gives me hope that this South Africa, one day, will be a just South Africa for everybody”.
Fellow South Africans,
A most powerful lesson from Mama Sisulu’s life is that there is no force on earth that can stop any people who are determined to gain their freedom.
Mama Sisulu suffered persecution, banning orders, imprisonment and harassment by the security apparatus of the apartheid regime, but she never compromised her beliefs.
Her husband was sentenced to life imprisonment, and she and her children were constantly harassed and jailed.
But she continued the quest for freedom.
We have also learned from Mama Sisulu that the most powerful weapon one can have against detractors, is to rise above them.
Despite the persecution, Mama Sisulu remained an epitome of grace, dignity and discipline. She did not let bitterness engulf her heart.
She remained focused on the mission of achieving freedom and justice.
We must not lose sight of the fact that Mama Sisulu represents scores of women who had to raise children alone under difficult conditions while the fathers were imprisoned for long periods.
We can all confirm that Mama Sisulu did exceptionally well as a single mother. She produced some outstanding and committed cadres and leaders of the liberation movement, who now serve the nation in important portfolios and capacities.
There aren’t many political families in our country with that kind of achievement.
The Sisulu grandchildren are indeed fortunate to have such parents and grandparents. They have a huge responsibility to take that family legacy even further.
Comrades and friends,
The passing of Mama Sisulu, soon after that of Ntante Henry Makgothi, is a stark reminder that an outstanding, dedicated, committed and illustrious generation of leaders is departing.
They have played their part and led us to freedom. In their memory and honour, we have to realise the vision of building a truly non-racial, non-sexist, democratic and prosperous South Africa.
We must also continue building an African continent that is united, and which is free of poverty, disease, deprivation and conflict.
The Heads of State of SADC, East African Community and COMESA are meeting today and tomorrow to discuss economic integration to promote trade and economic development.
This is but one major step towards achieving economic freedom in our lifetime in the continent.
In a few days time we will be marking the 35th anniversary of the June 16 uprising, which is the most powerful symbol of youth resistance against apartheid.
The message of the 2011 youth month is that the political freedom that has been achieved must now translate into economic emancipation, so that we can eradicate inequality, poverty and unemployment that continue to afflict our people.
In memory of Mama Sisulu, our youth must use the available opportunities to obtain education and skills that will enable them to take forward the struggle for true economic and social emancipation.
Our youth must strive for excellence and progress so that they can be rightful beneficiaries of Mama Sisulu’s legacy and that of all heroes of the South African national democratic revolution.
We also urge the youth to learn from Mama Sisulu the values of respect for the next person, selflessness, patriotism and commitment to making this country a better place.
On behalf of Government and the people of South Africa, we extend our heartfelt condolences to the Sisulu family. Your loss is our loss, your pain our pain.
Few countries are blessed with a mother of the nation of the calibre of Mama Sisulu.
We also extend condolences to the African National Congress, the ANC Women’s League, COSATU, SACP, SANCO and the entire mass democratic movement, who have dipped their banners in honour of this dignified revolutionary.
In bidding farewell to this remarkable, selfless pillar of our struggle, let us borrow from the words of St John in the New Testament.
“I have fought a good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”.
Hamba kahle Mama Wethu!
Siyohlale sikukhumbula njalo.
May Her Soul Rest In Peace, but her spirit must live on amongst us!
I thank you.
Issued by The Presidency