Programme Director Ms Khutsang Maroba
Minister of International Relations: Ms Lindiwe Sisulu
Charlotte Maxeke Foundation
Female Veteran Prisoner
Moses Kotane Foundation
Nelson Mandela Foundation
OR Tambo Foundation
Fellow South Africans
It is truly a privilege for me to speak on this occasion when we celebrate the life and times of uMama Albertina Nontsikelelo Sisulu.
Programme Director, today, we meet here to celebrate the centenary of one of the most illustrious daughters of the African soil. Had she lived, uMama Albertina Nontsikelelo Sisulu, affectionately known as Ma Sisulu would have turned 100 years old this year.
Ma Sisulu is now regarded one of the greatest South Africans of the 20th century. During her life, she was hounded by the apartheid authorities, repeatedly jailed, and “banned”—a penalty that limited her movements and her visitors. But she lived to experience the end of the Apartheid white-minority rule, serving one term in the new non-racial parliament herself. But the most heartening moment is that Ma Sisulu lived long enough to see her children rise to top positions in government and civil society. I am privileged to have work with her children, and I continue to do so. The Sisulu’s children have continued the proud tradition of their parents by providing intellectual clarity and moral uprightness to the ANC and society at large.
At the time of her birth, no-one could have predicted that both the legendary Madiba and Ma Sisulu’s path will cross as they both became activists and leaders of the ANC. History records that even at a young age Ma Sisulu took care of her younger siblings.
She showed strong maternal instincts and this continued throughout her illustrious political career. Ma Sisulu leadership qualities and maternal instincts underlined the respect she earned during the struggle when she was referred to as ‘Mother of the Nation’. At her funeral, Madiba praised our heroine, Ma Sisulu, as “the mother of all our people.”
Ma Sisulu played a pivotal role in guiding South Africa from the shackles of apartheid to a non-racial and constitutional democracy - as a stalwart of the anti-apartheid Struggle, as a poster girl for non-sexism and women emancipation. Thus she came to embody the struggle for justice beyond our borders.
Ma Sisulu’s example, dear South Africans, of dedication to her family and nation is unparalleled in the annals of our history. We should as a nation say to thank you to MaSisulu and her family for teaching us many things but most importantly; the meaning of love, of service to humanity and, of courage in the face of adversity.
As South Africans we owe it to this pedigree of revolutionaries who defined the course and tempo of our struggle. Indeed we can without equivocation say that as South Africans, we today enjoy the freedom and democracy because of her selfless contribution. As a country at the crossroads today, we must be encouraged to follow her wider example of public service in return for freedom not personal gain and/or glory.
Hence, in his eulogy at the funeral service of Ma Sisulu, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba said, she was, “a woman of enormous principles, of enormous moral strength. I must say, I am still in awe of her.” He added: “She was a fighter for family and women's rights and indeed the rights of all South Africans.”
In its announcement of Ma Sisulu’s passing, her liberation movement, the African National Congress (ANC) said, she died after, “a fulfilling life as a people's servant coupled with her unwavering commitment and leadership to the liberation of our people. The ANC added: “MaSisulu epitomized the struggles of the poor, the women and the disenfranchised.”
In his eulogy read at her funeral Madiba said, Ma Sisulu, “provided leadership and exercised power with quiet dignity. Madiba added that through her selflessness and dedication, and moral authority and sincere humanity, during and after the struggle Ma Sisulu rightly earned the title to be called, “the mother of all our people.”
Seven years after her departure from this mortal world, we have come to appreciate that in fact Ma Sisulu was really a true servant of the downtrodden. She embodied grace and humility. She was truly our lodestar.
Through her remarkable life and outstanding contribution, she defined what it means to be a freedom fighter, a leader and a diligent and disciplined servant of the people. Through her leadership, she embodied the fundamental link between national liberation and gender emancipation. As we mark her centenary, we reaffirm that no liberation can be complete and, no nation can be free until its women are free.
Ma Sisulu, who is a founder member of the UDF (United Democratic Movement) and Fedsaw (Federation of South African Women), led the struggle on many fronts.
At the height of repression characterized by bannings, arrests and killings she emerged steadfastly and filled the void that was left by the forceful exiling and imprisonment of leaders like Mandela, Tambo and her husband, the affable, Walter.
In her leadership role, she gave guidance to young activists and leaders of progressive organizations including COSAS, SAYCO, AZASO, civic formations, and many women's organization throughout the country. She did not only give political guidance but she was also a mother figure to all activists.
It was a combination of these two qualities, political and parental roles that made it possible for her as a leader of the UDF to sustain a concerted rejection of the tri-cameral apartheid parliamentary system by all South Africans.
In her 92 years on this earth, Ma Sisulu like her husband Walter before her – left a legacy of leadership with moral authority because there was complete consistency in her public and private life. She never preached what she did not practice, and told people what they needed to know, not what they wanted to hear. She did no pander to any constituencies to boost her own political popularity.
Ma Sisulu made many outstanding contributions to the struggle but of course the history making epoch was her participation as an organiser and a participant in the famous march of 20 000 protesters to the Union Building on 9 August 1956.
Despite her remarkable charm and hard work for the movement, Ma Sisulu had no sense of self-importance, and seldom blew her own trumpet. Yet she was inordinately proud of her role in mentoring generations of women activists. Comrade Jessie Duarte, Nomvula Mokonyane and Cheryl Carolus were among a group of young women referred as ‘Ma Sisulu’s girls.’
Programme Director, as the President Cyril Ramaphosa has said, we honour one of the great daughters of the African soil: “in a year of change, in a year of renewal, (and) in a year of hope.”
In conclusion, in celebrating the centenary of Ma Sisulu, we are not merely doing so for its own sake but we are reclaiming the memory of the greatest in-order to build on it for the future generations. We should honour Ma Sisulu and others of her generation by putting behind us, “the era of discord, disunity and disillusionment.” As President Ramaphosa told the Sowetan newspaper during Ma Sisulu’s funeral, we shall use the lessons that she taught us to advance democracy and better the lives of our people.
I thank you.