7 Quotes in Honour of Albertina Sisulu as the World Celebrates Her 100th Birthday
Ma Sisulu, one of the most important anti-apartheid leaders, would have just turned 100 years old.
Albertina Sisulu, affectionately known as Ma Sisulu, would have turned 100 years old this weekend, and her life and her legacy is being honoured across South Africa.
Sisulu, an activist and nurse, became one of the most important leaders of the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, and a key advocate for women’s rights.
On Sunday, 100 years since Ma Sisulu’s birth, she was remembered at a church service and wreath-laying ceremony in Soweto by her family and senior African National Congress (ANC) politicians.
“She became one of the distinguished torchbearers during apartheid,” said parliament spokesperson Moloto Mothapo, at Sunday’s ceremony. “She was a voice against injustice and a rock upon which her family and many struggle activists leaned on.”
“Mama Sisulu embodied tenacity, fortitude, strength, and became a beacon of hope during the darkest period of apartheid, and she was a phenomenal leader,” he added.
Energy Minister Jeff Radebe said at the ceremony that she can act as an inspiration for women today, who are still fighting for equality, and for an end to disproportionate violence against women.
“Women of fortitude are not armchair critics, but activists who get their boots dirty in the mud to work to build a better society for all our people,” he said.
Sisulu was born in 1918 in Xolobe village, in what was then the Transkei, and had become a trainee nurse by 1940. She was introduced to a fellow student’s brother Walter Sisulu and, when the pair were married in 1944, Nelson Mandela was best man.
In the same year, Ma Sisulu attended the first conference of the ANC Youth League, were she was the only woman present. In 1948, she joined the ANC Women’s League, and by the mid-50s she was at the forefront of the movement, playing a pivotal role in the 1956 Women’s March.
Both she and her husband were jailed multiple times for their activism — and she was also the first woman to be arrested under the General Laws Amendment Act, which gave police the power to hold suspects in detention for 90 days without charging them.
Later in life, she became an envoy for the ANC, reported the BBC, visiting world leaders to raise awareness about the anti-apartheid struggle. In 1994, she took up her said in South Africa’s first democratically-elected parliament.
Throughout her life, she also became a close friend of Mandela and, when he was taken into hospital in 2011, she was one of the few people allowed at his bedside.
When Ma Sisulu died in 2011, aged 92, she was celebrated for her lifelong commitment to bringing democracy to South Africa, fighting for her nation’s women, and for never giving up.
Here are a selection of our favourite quotes from Ma Sisulu herself, and from others honouring her life’s work.
1. “Women are the people who are going to relieve us from all this oppression and depression. The rent boycott that is happening in Soweto now [in the 1980s] is alive because of the women. It is the women who are on the street committees educating the people to stand up and protect each other.”
- Ma Sisulu
2. “We are each required to walk our own road and then stop, assess what we have learnt, and share it with others. It is only in this way that the next generation can learn from those who have walked before them. We can do no more than tell our story. Then it is up to them to make of it what they will.”
- Ma Sisulu
3. “She had remarkable dignity and courage.”
- Archbishop Desmond Tutu
4. “While we mourn her loss, we must thank her most profoundly for the selfless service to all South Africans and humanity at large, for her generosity of spirit and for teaching the nation humility, respect for human dignity, and compassion for the weak, the poor, and the downtrodden.”
- Zwelakhe Sisulu, her son
5. “Thinking about my earliest memory of her, the most striking thing about her to me when I was a small boy was that she was very tall, very distinguished. Everyone would know who she is. She had presence. If she walked into a room, you would know she is there.”
- Achmat Dangor, head of Nelson Mandela Foundation
6. “She represented the very best that South Africans can be. She had strength, courage, and deep commitment in the face of adversity and suffering.”
- Floyd Shivambu, ANC Youth League spokesperson
7. “She has been a very brave and powerful woman in South African politics. The first time I met her I was from prison, we met her so she could take us through what to expect, she was so motherly. She spoke to us like a politician, but she mostly spoke to us like a mother. She was a very loving person.”
- Bantu Holomisa, opposition United Democratic Movement leader
The Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100 is presented and hosted by The Motsepe Foundation, with major partners House of Mandela, Johnson & Johnson, Cisco, Nedbank, Vodacom, Coca Cola Africa, Big Concerts, BMGF Goalkeepers, Eldridge Industries, and associate partners HP and Microsoft.