South Africa has lost an anti-apartheid activist and icon. Albertina Sisulu, considered by many to be the “mother of the nation,” has passed away at 92.
A woman of incredible strength, Albertina was the wife of Walter Sisulu, who served as Deputy President of the first ever African National Congress session under Nelson Mandela. The two were good friends, with Mandela serving as best man at the Sisulu wedding. Close friends throughout their lives, the two men served over 25 years in custody Robben Island.
During the time her husband was away, Albertina raised their five children and continued to campaign against apartheid. A trained nurse, she led the United Democratic Front throughout the 1980s bringing together religious and labor groups. Always committed to the role of women in the movement, she was active in the ANC’s women’s groups serving in parliament.
According to The Associated Press:
Albertina Sisulu took part in some of the iconic moments of the anti-apartheid movement, including the launch in 1955 of the Freedom Charter, which proclaims, “South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.” 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 — which restricted the movement of black South Africans. The slogan of the 1956 march was, “You strike a woman, you strike a rock.”
Though her husband’s time in prison took its toll on her, it was seeing her children jailed that hurt her the most. She once said:
“Over the years I got used to prison, banning and detention. I did not mind going to jail myself and I had to learn to cope without Walter. But when my children went to jail, I felt that the (oppressors) were breaking me at the knees.”
Decades after the struggle against apartheid, Albertina was able to see all of her children serve as part of the ANC. Though her husband passed in 2003, she remained active in South African public life until her passing.