This year we celebrate the centenary anniversary of the life of Mama Sisulu who took on the mantle of leadership during our darkest hours and remained a selfless servant of the people throughout her life.
There are many remarkable men and women upon whose shoulders our nation has been built. Their powerful contributions to our struggle for freedom, charted the way for a country that belongs to all South Africans.
Among these revolutionary giants was stalwart Albertina Sisulu who played a formative role in the opposition to apartheid and in building a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa.
For her bold role in the fight for freedom, she suffered immensely at the hands of the apartheid regime. She was jailed several times for her political activities and constantly harassed by the apartheid’s security police.
Mama Sisulu became one of the first women to be arrested under the General Laws Amendment Act that gave the security police the power to hold suspects in detention for 90 days without charging them.
She was also placed in “solitary confinement incommunicado” when she refused to give information about her husband and fellow comrade, Walter Sisulu who had gone underground as part of the resistance movement activities.
As a result of constant persecution from police, the Sisulu family faced many difficulties including financial struggles. Her financial woes continued throughout the 1960s as she struggled to afford her children’s schooling in Swaziland.
To help meet her family’s needs Mama Sisulu sewed dresses and knitted jerseys, and baby clothes to sell for extra money when she was not working as a nursing sister. She also bought items wholesale to sell them for small profit to meet her family’s needs.
During these times of hardship she could easily have succumbed to the onslaught of pressure from the apartheid state but did not relent and forged ahead in the fight for the emancipation of black people.
Sisulu’s life and legacy teaches us that nothing is impossible when we remain true to our ideals. While she and countless others of her generation faced overwhelming obstacles, they remained steadfast and triumphed.
As a nation that is still reeling from our horrific apartheid past we would do well to allow her teachings and deeds to permeate us as we work together to build a non-sexist, non-racial and democratic country.
Our ideals as a nation are reflected in our world acclaimed Constitution which reminds us that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.
As our founding charter it provides the basis for genuine democracy, the rule of law and the enjoyment of fundamental rights. It explains our obligations to each other and encourages us to express our honest opinion on any issue and have vigorous debates. The same Constitution outlines the rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights to all South Africans.
Moreover, we can follow in the footsteps of Mama Sisulu by getting involved in building the country we envisioned through the Thuma Mina movement inspired by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his State of the Nation Address.
It is a call for self-sacrifice, individual responsibility and the importance of personal change in mind-sets to serve the nation and influence the country’s political landscape. It is a new era where we as individuals make it our personal responsibility to confront our challenges and accelerate progress in building a prosperous society.
All South Africans as individuals, groups or communities must roll up their sleeves and work towards our future. We are motivated by the legacy of Albertina Sisulu who throughout her life worked for betterment of all South Africans.
She had a passion for community development, advocacy and the mobilisation of community structures. While working as a doctor’s nurse she provided much needed help to people in the poorest communities.
For example at McDonald’s Farm informal settlement in Soweto where people at the time were living in abandoned cars, Mama Sisulu set up a surgery and installed 20 toilets that were shared by 150 people. She also made space for a crèche and a feeding scheme was introduced that fed approximately 80 children twice a week.
Albertina Sisulu continued to work for South Africans as a member of Parliament under the new transitional government in 1994. She retired from Parliament and politics in 1999, but still continued to support many social causes.
The selflessness of Mama Sisulu links directly with our National Development Plan’s (NDP) objective of “Building an Active Citizenry”. The NDP emphasises the need for South Africans to unite around a common goal, ensure citizens are active in their own development, and build a capable and developmental state.
It foretells a country where through our collective efforts we have eliminated the triple challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment and enabled all South Africans to achieve a decent standard of living.
We will remain forever indebted to Mama Albertina Sisulu and her generation of freedom fighters. It is now in the hands of our generation to carry the legacy of our struggle heroes and move our country forward.
By-Comrade Pinky Kekana ANC, ANCWL NEC, Secretary General of the Pan African Women’s Organisation. She currently serves the Republic of South Africa as the Deputy Minister of Communications.