As the world observes Nelson Mandela’s centenary year, it is equally important to also observe the centenary year of a woman who dedicated her life to South Africa and its people.
They year 2018 also marks the centenary of the birth of Albertina Sisulu, who was fondly known as "MaSisulu" — "Ma" is a traditional way of respecting and referring to a mother.
MaSisulu passed on in the year 2011, after a lifetime dedicated to nursing, and political and community activism.
In observing her centenary year, MaSisulu is remembered under the theme “a woman of fortitude” — recognising her courage, discipline, integrity, and love for her country.
"In the face of imprisonment, torture and even death, MaSisulu's courage was unwavering," her granddaughter Tumi Sisulu told the crowd gathered for Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100, presented and hosted by the Motsepe Foundation. "Her lasting legacy is the fierce collective she birthed, the MaSisulu Women of Fortitude."
She added that, despite the numerous obstacles and discrimination she faced, MaSisulu "successfully broke barriers organising a collective of formidable women."
“In her centenary year we honour and celebrate her legacy of charity,” she added, to cheers from crowd of the tens of thousands of Global Citizens at Johannesburg’s FNB Stadium on Sunday.
MaSisulu’s work in standing for the people and contributing efforts to address injustices in the then-apartheid South Africa dates back to the 1950s, when she played a significant role in women-led movements to demand change for the people.
She played a leading role in the 1956 women’s march against pass laws — a passport system that segregated South Africa’s population during apartheid. Today, South Africa observes the month this event took place (August) as Women’s Month.
At the beginning of this year’s Women’s Month, young women carried the baton in standing against gender discrimination in South Africa through #TheTotalShutdown march, during which thousands of women took to the streets to demand change.
Such movements demonstrate the great compassion and courage of South African women, and women around the world, who have fearlessly stood up and called out injustices.
In honouring MaSisulu at Global Citizen Festival: Mandela 100, Tumi emphasised that the whole Sisulu family stands behind movements that aim to address inequality and recognise the vital role women play in all areas of society.
“Recognising that women are the bedrock of society we align ourselves to the #SheIsEqual campaign towards a just and equitable society,” she said.
Inspired by the centenary year of MaSisulu, her granddaughter Ayanda also called on South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to "shine a light" on the MaSisulu Women of Fortitude campaign by “recognising, promoting, and supporting 100 more women each year.”
“This is a network of women who have achieved excellence in their chosen field despite considerable challenges, yet actively build another generation of women to awaken the MaSisulu in them,” she continued.
Ayanda also called on the South African government, along with its commercial partners, to provide the necessary resources and financial support to the Women of Fortitude campaign — as well as supporting the UN’s Global Goal for gender equality.
The Global Goals aim to empower all women and girls by addressing key issues such as: diversity and equal opportunities; access to sexual and reproductive healthcare; access to good nutrition for women and girls; and getting women into leadership.
Granddaughter Ntsiki added: “We are confident that you, Mr. President, together with the 2018 Women of Fortitude are capable of raising R250 million over five years, linked and aligned to Sustainable Development Goal No.5 [for gender equality]."
“MaSisulu said ‘Ubuntu is a case of action, and not words,’” she continued. “It is our duty, therefore, to take collective action to ensure gender equality.”
She finished: “Together with you, Mr. President, and you Global Citizens, we can create a future in which all women can say with pride and conviction that victory is ours!”
They chanted together: "That victory is ours! That victory is ours! That victory is ours!"
But continuing the work of MaSisulu is not only about achieving female empowerment, it is also about ensuring children’s wellbeing.
MaSisulu also dedicated her life to motherhood and to caregiving, opening up her home to children other than her own.
It was this caregiving that inspired the establishment of a foundation named after MaSisulu’s husband, the Walter Sisulu Pediatric Cardiac Foundation.
Launched in honour of Albertina Sisulu and her husband and fellow anti-apartheid activist Walter, the foundation aims to raise funds to heal children with congenital heart disorders.
The purpose of the foundation, according to Tumi, is to “heal the hearts of Africa’s children, providing heart surgery to the most vulnerable.”
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.