Albertina and Walter Sisulu
Former Deputy President, ANC
Former Member, National Executive Committee, ANC
Former Members, National Working Committee, ANC
• Brief Biography
• Biography distributed at the award ceremony of Isitwalandwe on the occasion of the 80th Anniversary of the ANC Bloemfontein, 8 January, 1992
• Speech at a Reception for the Presentation of the Award of Padma Vibhushan by the Government of India, Johannesburg, 15 July 1998
• Walter Sisulu, by E.S. Reddy, 1987
• Walter Max Ulyate Sisulu - Leader of the African National Congress and Man of the People, May 1982
• Walter Sisulu - A Profile, Sechaba, April 1981
• Statements in Court, Sun Will Rise, 1981
• Message to the Negro People of the United States of America, September 1952
• Tata Sisulu to be accoreded a special funeral
• We are the soldiers of Sisulu - From 'ANC Today Vol.2 No.19, 16 May 2003'
• A letter of gratitude from the Sisulu family
Messages of condolences - Walter Sisulu
Walter Sisulu - A Brief Biography
It is not widely known that Sisulu's mother Alice Sisulu was a domestic worker and his father, Victor Dickenson, was a white civil servant.
Born on May 18 1912, Sisulu and his elder sister Rosabella were brought up in Ngcobo, Transkei, by his mother, his uncle Dyantyi Hlakula and his grandparents. Sisulu learned a great deal about Xhosa culture and the laws of society from his influential uncle, who was the headman of the village and a lay preacher.
One of Sisulu's earliest childhood memories was the trip to Cofimvaba, a village town, to be vaccinated during the influenza epidemic. He also recalls playing football and tinte, a Xhosa variant of cricket.
Early political influences were Marcus Garvey, whose supporters preached the philosophy of Africanism - getting "back to Africa". History lessons at the Anglican Missionary Institute in Ngcobo also inspired Sisulu greatly. It was during these classes that he learned about Shaka,Moshoeshoe, Cetshwayo and General Mokana (Mokanda).
Another inspiring figure was David, the tiny man who slew the giant Goliath.
As a child he frequently visited the home of Dr Rubusana, an old man who had founded the Native Congress in the Eastern Cape. Rubusana was a direct political influence on Sisulu who later became a supporter of Clement Kadalie's ICU in East London when he worked there.
At 14 Sisulu left mission school to work. Between 1928 and 1940 he worked in a range of jobs: as a delivery man for a dairy; in the masonry and carpentry department, then as a miner, of the Rose Deep Mine in Germiston; as a domestic; as a baker for Premier Biscuits; as a paint mixer for Herbert Evans in Johannesburg; as a packer for a tobacconist; as a part-time teller at the Union Bank of South Africa, and after 1938 as an advertising salesperson and real estate agent.
In 1943, as a founder member of the ANC Youth League, he attended conferences of the Federation of Democratic Youth in Romania and the International Union of Students in Poland. He also travelled to the USSR, China and the UK. In 1949 he became ANCYL secretary.
He published a book on African nationalism commissioned by the government of India in 1954. In the '50s and early '60s he also wrote numerous articles for New Age, the Guardian and Liberation.
He was jailed for life along with the other Rivonia trialists in 1963. On Robben Island he completed a BA in art history and anthropology and read more than 100 biographies.
Sisulu's wife is Albertina Thetiwa Sisulu. They have five natural children who have all contributed to the South African struggle: Max, Anthony Mlungisi, Zwelakhe, Lindiwe and Nonkululeko. In addition they have four adopted children: Jonqumzi, Gerald and Beryl (whose biological mothers are Sisulu's sister and his cousin) and finally Samuel, a former Robben Islander who begged to be part of Sisulu's family and has now been formally adopted.
Sisulu was released from prison on 15 October 1989. He was elected Deputy President at the ANC national conference in July, 1991.
He became a patron of the UDF, the Omhle Trust and the Twa Twa Trust, and an honourary chancellor of the University of Venda. He holds four honorary doctorate degrees.
He has been awarded the Isitwalandwe by the ANC on the 80th Anniversary of the ANC, Bloemfontein, 8 January, 1992
Born in the same year that the ANC was founded, Walter Sisulu came to Johannesburg from Engcobo, Transkei in 1929, and worked as a labourer, miner, kitchen boy and a series of factory jobs. Only able to attend school to Standard IV, Walter Sisulu studied on his own to improve his education. Joining the ANC in 1940, the same year that Dr AB Xuma became its president. He was among the group of radicals who, in 1943-44, formed the Youth League, becoming its treasurer. Instrumental in bringing the ANC to the watershed 1949 conference, where the Programme of Action was approved and Sisulu was elected as ANC Secretary General, a post he held until 1954 when banning orders forced him to resign the position.
Sisulu served on the Joint Planning Council for the Defiance Campaign, and led one of the first batches of passive resisters when the campaign began in 1952. Jailed briefly as a resister, he was arrested and tried again with other leaders of the campaign in late 1952, being sentenced to nine months imprisonment suspended for three years.
In 1953 Sisulu travelled to Europe, Russia and China. In 1956 until 1961 he was a defendant in the Treason Trial, having been jailed for the duration of the 1960 state of emergency. In 1962 he was placed under 12-hour house arrest. Convicted in March 1963 of furthering the aims of the banned ANC and of helping to organise the 1961 May stay-at-home, Sisulu was sentenced to six years in jail. He was released on bail and placed under 24-hour house arrest.
On 20 April, 1963, he disappeared from his home to join the underground, and on 26 June broadcast to the nation on secret ANC radio transmitters. Among those arrested during the Rivonia Raid, Sisulu was sentenced to life imprisonment. Released in October 1989, Sisulu was a member of the Internal Leadership Core and elected ANC Deputy President at the national conference of July, 1991.
Biography distributed at the award ceremony of Isitwalandwe on the occasion of the 80th Anniversary of the ANC Bloemfontein - 8 January, 1992
By E.S. Reddy, 1987
As international attention has rightly been focussed on Nelson Mandela as the symbol of South African resistance, other eminent leaders of the freedom movement languishing in apartheid prisons are little known around the world.
Among them the most deserving of respect is Walter Max Ulyate Sisulu, a mentor of Nelson Mandela in his youth, the Secretary-General of the African National Congress from 1949 to 1954 and the organisational genius of ANC. He was the moving spirit behind all the great campaigns in the 1950`s, as well as the transformation of the ANC in 1960-61 for underground work and armed struggle.
The development of the ANC into a mass movement may be traced to the establishment of the ANC Youth League in 1944. The Youth League advocated militant action - including boycotts, strikes and civil disobedience - for freedom from white domination and the attainment of political independence. It was in tune with the popular upsurge during and after the Second World War. At the ANC Congress in 1949, it secured endorsement of its "positive action programme" and had its slate of officers elected. Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela were members of the Youth League who have played the leading role in the struggle for liberation since then.
Walter Sisulu was the Treasurer of the Youth League and it was in his office that the members met to discuss strategy and tactics of the struggle. He became the first full-time Secretary-General of the ANC in 1949.
Born in Engcobo, Transkei, on May 18, 1912, the year that the ANC was founded, he had to leave school after Standard 4. He worked underground in the gold mines on the Reef, as a "kitchen boy" for a white family in East London and then in a bakery in Johannesburg. He was sacked for leading a strike at the bakery.
As he went from job to job, he continued studies on his own and wrote articles for the Bantu World on African heroes. He managed to set up a small business as estate agent in the little freehold land that Africans were allowed to own in Johannesburg, and joined the ANC in 1940.
A year before his election as Secretary-General of the ANC, the National Party came to power, with apartheid as its policy, and began to enact a series of repressive measures. The African, Indian and Coloured people had become militant and there was a growing urge for unity. They saw that the regime`s repressive laws, ostensibly directed against the Communist Party, were in fact intended to suppress all struggles for freedom and equality. Walter plunged into organising mass action in implementation of the new ANC programme.
The Transvaal ANC, the South African Indian Congress (SAIC), the African People`s Organisation (mainly an organisation of Coloured people) and the Communist Party called for demonstrations, on May Day 1950, for the repeal of all discriminatory laws and for full franchise for all the people. The demonstrations were a great success, with 80 percent of the workers on the Witwatersrand going on strike. Police resorted to shooting in the evening: 18 Africans were killed and many injured.
The organisations then called for a National Day of Protest on June 26 - a date which became the South Africa Freedom Day. Again the demonstrations all over the country were impressive. It was estimated that 50 percent of the workers joined the national work stoppage.
Then, after extensive preparation, the ANC and SAIC, with the support of other organisations, launched the Campaign of Defiance against Unjust Laws on June 26, 1952.
Walter Sisulu was in the Joint Planning Council of the campaign, together with Dr. J.S. Moroka and J.B. Marks of ANC and Dr. Yusuf Dadoo and Yusuf Cachalia of SAIC. Nelson Mandela was appointed Volunteer-in-Chief and demonstrated his great qualities of leadership.
Over 8,000 people of all racial origins from all parts of the country went to jail defying a series of discriminatory laws. Walter Sisulu was arrested when he entered an African location in a group of volunteers led by Nana Sita, a respected Gandhian. He told the court before he was sentenced:
"I wish to make this solemn vow and in full appreciation of the consequences it entails. As long as I enjoy the confidence of my people, and as long as there is a spark of life and energy in me, I shall fight with courage and determination for the abolition of discriminatory laws and for the freedom of all South Africans irrespective of colour or creed."
After the suspension of the Defiance Campaign, he went abroad in 1953, on his only visit outside South Africa, to attend the World Festival of Youth and Students in Bucharest and toured some countries in Europe and Asia.
On his return, he was served with a series of ever more stringent restriction orders and was arrested numerous times. He was forced in 1954 to give up his office as Secretary-General of ANC. He was one of the principal accused in the treason trial which dragged on from December 1956 to March 1961 and was detained for five months during the State of Emergency in 1960. He was arrested six times in 1962.
But he could not be immobilised. He was behind every campaign of the ANC, often working clandestinely. He attended the meeting of the ANC leaders in Botswana (then Bechuanaland) in 1961 which decided on an armed struggle and the organisation of Umkhonto we Sizwe ("Spear of the Nation"), a military wing. He helped organise Umkhonto and set up regional commands as its Political Commissioner.
Repression increased as Umkhonto mounted scores of acts of sabotage all over the country from December 16, 1961.
Walter was placed under virtual house arrest in 1962. Charged with incitement of the May 1961 strike against the proclamation of a white racist Republic and with promoting the aims of the ANC after it was outlawed in 1960, he was sentenced to six years` imprisonment, but released on bail pending appeal. He went underground and on June 26, 1963, broadcast a message to his people from a secret radio transmitter, calling for united action and new forms of struggle to overthrow the apartheid regime.
A few days later, on July 11, Walter and other leaders were arrested at their secret headquarters in Rivonia. They were charged, along with Nelson Mandela who was already in prison, and sentenced in June 1964 to life imprisonment.
Reports from prison indicate that 23 years of confinement have not shaken the faith and spirit of Walter Sisulu. He continues to inspire his colleagues in prison and the people outside.
As inspiring as his own life is the steadfastness and sacrifice of his family in the freedom struggle.
Walter and Albertina, a nurse, were married in 1944. At the wedding, Nelson Mandela was his best man. The Chairman of the Youth League, the late Anton Lembede, warned the bride: "You are marrying a man who is already married to the nation." As Walter dedicated his life to the liberation struggle, it was Albertina who supported the family from 1949 - raising their five children as well as two children of her deceased sister. They have had hardly four or five years of normal married life.
Mrs. Albertina Notsikelelo Sisulu has also been active in the freedom struggle, becoming a symbol of courage and determination and is acclaimed by the people as "mother of the nation."
She joined the ANC Women`s League in the 1940`s and was elected its Treasurer in 1959. She was an executive member of the multi-racial Federation of South African Women when it was established in 1954, and was elected its Transvaal President in 1963 and national President recently. She was arrested in October 1958 in a demonstration of women in Johannesburg against pass laws.
In 1963, she and her 17-year-old son, Max, were detained for several months and held in solitary confinement as the Security Police tried to extract information on the whereabouts of Walter.
She was subsequently restricted under banning orders for 17 years from 1964 to 1981; for ten years she was confined to her home during nights and weekends and prohibited from receiving vistors. When the banning orders expired at the end of July 1981, she began speaking all over the country demanding the release of political prisoners and an end to repression. She was again banned, from January 1982 to July 1983, from attending any public meetings.
She was arrested in July 1983 and charged with furthering the aims of the ANC by singing ANC songs at the funeral of a leader of the Federation of Women. While in jail, she was elected Transvaal President of the newly-formed United Democratic Front and then Co-President of the national UDF. She was sentenced early in 1984 to four years in prison. While on bail pending appeal, she was arrested again in December 1984 and charged with treason. The charges were dropped after she spent several months in prison.
Her eldest son, Max, fled from the country after detention in 1963 for further studies and continues to work with the ANC external mission and other organisations.
Her second son, Mlungisi, was detained for two weeks in August 1984, during the elections for the segregated chambers of "Parliament" for the Coloured people and Indians, when there was a national protest by all the black people.
Her youngest son, Zwelakhe, became a prominent black journalist and was elected President of the Media Workers` Association of South Africa in 1981. He was soon prohibited from working as a journalist and from union activities, and then detained for 251 days until February 1982 without any charges.
He was a Nieman fellow at Harvard University in the United States in 1985-86. After return to South Africa he was again detained under the latest State of Emergency and is still in jail.
Lindiwe, older of the two daughters of Walter and Albertina, was detained after the Soweto massacre in 1976 when she came home on holidays from her university in Lesotho. She was held for eleven months and tortured. She left the country after release to work in the ANC external mission.
Undeterred by all this persecution, Walter and Albertina Sisulu, and their children, fight on with determination and unshakeable faith in the liberation of South Africa. They and many others like them, look to the world for genuine and effective solidarity at this critical time.
WALTER SISULU - Profile
Born on May 18, 1912 at Engcobo in the Transkei, of peasant origin, Walter Sisulu's formal schooling ended at the age of fifteen in standard four. Then he became a mineworker in Johannesburg, working a mile underground in arduous and dangerous conditions each night sleeping on wooden boards alongside the cruelly exploited miners in the grim barracks in one of the Reef compounds. His next job was in East London as a "kitchen boy". Then back to Johannesburg to work in a bakery for a miserable 18 shillings a week.
Having picked up some information about trade unions he led the workers on strike for higher wages. The strike was defeated and he was sacked. He went through a succession of factory jobs and clashed repeatedly with white bosses and his relief became a delving back into Xhosa history and writing articles about national heroes for the African press. As he went from job to job he studied for his senior school standard.
Sisulu joined the ANC in 1940, the same year that A.B. Xuma, also from Engcobo, assumed the position of President General of the ANC. In 1944 together with O.R. Tambo, Nelson Mandela, Anton Lembede etc. founded the ANC youth league and became its first national secretary. In 1949 he was elected the first full-time Secretary-General of the ANC. When Walter first took on the complex job of Secretary-General of the ANC he brought natural gifts, a deep political seriousness from a life of struggle as a youth, an unconcern with the usual status symbols of educational and social success - for he had none and learned that other qualities were more important — and a steel nerve for crisis situations.
As the ANC grew after the great African miners, strike of 1946, Walter grew too.
His political experience in the struggle against tyrannical white minority supremacist dictatorship taught him that simple nationalist slogans were inadequate; that behind the great repressive state in South Africa was a ruling class based on complex forms of class and colour exploitation, each supplementing the other to oppress the African as a worker, peasant or human being.
Walter Sisulu began to study and write, to plan mass campaigns and to formulate strategies. He was a leader of the Defiance Campaign in 1952 and together with Nanabhai (Nana Sita) President of the Transvaal Indian Congress led the first batch of African, Coloured and Indian defiers in breaking the law of entering Boksburg Location without a permit. The defiers led by Walter and Nanabhai, sang and shouted slogans. This had an electric effect on the residents.
Word seemed to have reached the inmates of "Blue Sky" prison in Boksburg about the Defiance Campaign so that when the defiers arrived at the prison the inmates gave the Congress volunteers a rousing reception. They sang freedom songs until the early hours of the morning.
The following day a furious superintendent arrived to give the prisoners a "dressing down" for upsetting his prison. Walter fearlessly stepped forward and announced he was the leader of the resisters and before he could continue any further, the superintendent ordered Walter removed and put into solitary confinement which lasted for three weeks.
In 1953, Walter Sisulu was the guest of the World Federation of Democratic Youth to its third World Youth Festival in Bucharest, Rumania. Included in the delegation of South Africans were several who left illegally amongst whom were Duma Nokwe, Alfred Hutchinson, Henry 'Squire" Makgothi, Paul Joseph etc.
Walter was most impressed with what he saw in the socialist countries, the highlight of which was his visit to the Soviet Union. Being of working class origin and a member of the most oppressed nationality, the Soviet visit was an unforgettable experience. He then saw the progress of the working people. Here he was meeting people of different nationalities who were once oppressed by Tsarist rule. He was invited to speak over Radio Moscow.
In the meantime at a rally in Johannesburg to mark the 36th anniversary of the October Revolution, Ahmed Kathrada made the announcement that Walter Sisulu and his colleagues were in Moscow celebrating the November 7, anniversary. The announcement caused a sensation to the packed Trades Hall and much annoyance to the Special Branch.
On his way back Walter stopped over in London where he immediately set about meeting political leaders, both British and from other parts of Africa. He addressed a rally on South Africa in the Holborn Town Hall.
On his return to South Africa he was enthusiastically received by a series of receptions and report-back meetings called by the South African Society for Peace and Friendship with the Soviet Union. Heavily armed police raided these meetings and made arrests.
Later Walter and his colleagues recorded their impressions in a publication called "South Africans in the Soviet Union" edited by Ruth First of which thousands of copies found their way throughout the country. The police made a point of confiscating and destroying this publication as was shown when they went on an orgy, smashing the literature stall at the Congress of the People.
Walter was one of the accused in the Treason Trial in 1956. In 1960, during the State of Emergency, he was detained without trial. The next year he faced prosecution twice. Sisulu was arrested six times in 1962 and placed under 13 hour house arrest on October 26 and under 24 hour house arrest on April 3, 1963.
Pending an appeal against a six year sentence, Walter forfeited bail of R6,000 on April 19 1963, and went underground. The next time the nation heard from Walter was when he spoke on our underground Radio Freedom on June 26, 1963 assuring the people that Umkhonto we Sizwe had decided to fight on an "eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth" basis.
On 11 July 1963, Walter Sisulu we. arrested and detained under the 90 day law. At the Rivonia Trial, Sisulu was the main defence witness and was subjected to fierce attack from the prosecutor, Percy Yutar. Sisulu told him: "I wish you were an African. Then you would know..."
An observer at the Rivonia Trial characterises Sisulu's performance in the following words:
"Once Sisulu had taken the measure of the prosecution, it was as if he forgot he was in the witness box. It must have been eleven years since he had last appeared on a public platform and now again he dominated the situation".
He was charged with sabotage and other offences in the Rivonia Trial and on 14 June 1964 he was sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island.
Walter Sisulu is a man of tremendous integrity, which made his communication with people of different political views very easy. He enjoyed a very high standing with our people of all nationalities and ethnic groups who not only loved him but sheltered and protected him from police persecution at great risks to themselves. The man's dignity, warmth and dedication have made him one of the most esteemed leaders. From all accounts his status remains much the same on Robben Island and in the country.
Walter Sisulu's outstanding contribution is also due to the sacrifices of his wife, Albertina Nontsikelelo Sisulu —a brave, militant comrade who throughout these difficult years, has acted like a rock of ages.
We demand Sisulu's unconditional release and that of an political prisoners in South Africa.
Sechaba, April 1981