Tribute to Nontsikelelo Albertina Sisulu

Today the world celebrates the centenary of a life well lived. A woman that kept her African roots as a moral compass as she made her contributions to the fight against the most brutal regime that perhaps South Africa has ever seen.

If history was to be consulted, it would admit that a hundred years ago on this day, a town found in the Chris Hani district, 45 km East of Qamata and 45 km west of Ndabakazi, which originated as a military station known as Tsomo post, or just Tsomo as it is today known, never knew that a giant had been born to give the most necessary attention to the liberation of her people.

What is most inspiring about her story is that ‘she survived’. In actual fact, the paradox ‘survived birth and death’ most befits her existence. While in her mother’s womb, Monica Thethiwe (Albertina’s mother) caught a very dangerous flu at that time she was pregnant with her first daughter (Albertina) called “Umbathalala”, which was an epidemic that killed nearly 40 million people worldwide at the time, and still she survived a sickness which was supposed to infect her at birth. Today, as we celebrate a centenary since her birth, it is once again clear that even her history survived. She was banned, attacked, harassed and experienced the brutal sides of the apartheid atrocities and still she survived.

Perhaps inspired by the tragedy of her birth, Albertina Sisulu was both an educator and a nurse. She registered her existence as a mother, an activist and a worker. Her inspiring life is the umbilical cord that should feed the veins of our National Democratic Revolution towards a none-sexist society where women are recognized as an important component of our revolution, our economy and the political life of this country. Her life tells a tale that even during the most sexist times in history, women expressed their capacity as equal humans and not merely because they were women.

She became a nurse when it was unpopular amongst the youth of her generation. This was precisely because the manufacturing sector of the country’s economy was growing at that time because the goods that were initially produced in Europe were now produced in country due to the war.

She became a member of the African National Congress Women’s League when it was formed in 1948. Equally, she was amongst the women who formed the Federation of South African Women (FEDSAW) which for the first time in the history of this country produced the Women’s charter.

When she became a midwife in 1954, she visited patients at their homes and she would take FEDSAW pamphlets with her and would encourage the women to join the federation. This was her dedication to the struggle. Amidst a brutal regime, she never feared using her job to advance the struggle.

In 1958 she was arrested together with other 2000+ nurses who demonstrated against the intention of the racist regime to force pass laws unto workers. They did so to protect the rights of nurses but equally to ensure quality health care services to patients. The women were in jail for three weeks awaiting trial. They had Nelson Mandela as their legal representative and eventually they were all acquitted at the end of the trial.

Albertina Sisulu became the first woman to be arrested under the General Laws Amendment Act of 1963. The Act gave the police the power to hold suspects in detention for 90 days without charging them and in Albertina’s case she was placed in solitary confinement incommunicado for almost two months. As a true revolutionary in her own right, she refused to adhere to the instruction of the apartheid police to reveal Walter Sisulu’s whereabouts.

Her centenary comes during an epoch where the breeds of patriarchy has made it their duty to slaughter women, rape them and are hellbent on supressing their voice. Mama Sisulu should be an inspiration to many young women in our society that regardless of who stand in your way, advocate for what you believe is right. Women are not toys, neither were they backbenchers during the struggle for the liberation of this country.

There are men with the mentality of a guaranteed hegemony over women and their actions expresses their illusion of superiority over women. It cannot be correct that in places that are supposed to protect women and workers in general such as trade unions and trade union federations, women suffer sexual abuse at the expense of men who have made it their duty to enforce themselves on women. Such perverts in our society should be arrested and condemned and in honour of a revolutionary nurse and a revolutionary activist in the form of Mama Albertina Sisulu, such men should be declared a danger to society, in particular to women, and they should be properly rehabilitated.

LIMUSA joins workers in many parts of our society in honouring Mama Albertina Sisulu. We remain inspired by her life and we commit ourselves to preserving her legacy and keeping her fire burning.

Issued by LIMUSA General Secretary

Cedric Gina