Tributes to the veteran politician Walter Sisulu are pouring in from
all quarters of South Africa as well as the rest of the world. He
was a great man whose love for the country and people will be long
remembered by those who knew him.
Walter Sisulu with Soweto.co.za
tour guide director Denis Creighton
I had a brief but memorable
association with him in the early 90’s before the first democratic elections in 1994. He willingly
agreed to serve as an “external” trustee on the Etwatwa
Community Trust which had been set up by the residents of Etwatwa
and the “Perm” to facilitate development of Etwatwa,
now part of the Ekurhuleni Metro.
He was a very friendly and approachable man with a deep sense
of commitment to the poor and a desire to do his best to assist
communities to help themselves. He struck me as a man who had a
clear vision for the development of the country and was prepared
to roll up his sleeves in the quest.
A man who preferred to stay in the background, he was nevertheless
highly respected for his wisdom and insight. Other more prominent
politicians looked to him for guidance and for assistance in resolving
It is fitting that the “Freedom Square” in
Kliptown (where the Freedom Charter was signed in 1956) is being
redeveloped and has been named the "Walter Sisulu Square
of Dedication" in his honour.
Soweto.co.za adds its tribute to a great man and offers condolences
to his wife Albertinia, his family and friends. Hamba
Kahle Tata Sisulu.
A Profile on Walter Sisulu
He came to Johannesburg from Engcobo, Transkei in 1929.
He was only able to attend school until St 4 (Grade Six) after
which he studied on his own to improve his education.
Sisulu became a mineworker in Johannesburg, working a mile underground
in arduous and dangerous conditions, sleeping in the grim barracks
in one of the Reef compounds.
His next job was in East London as a "kitchen boy".
He then returned to Johannesburg to work in a bakery for 18 shillings
He picked up some information about trade unions and ended up
leading his fellow workers on a strike for higher wages. The strike
was defeated and he was fired.
Sisulu joined the ANC in 1940 and was among the group of radicals
who formed the Youth League in 1943/44.
The organisation's leadership had, in the late 1920s, split over
whether to co-operate with the Communist Party, and the ensuing
victory of the conservatives within the ANC left the party small
and disorganised through the 1930s.
In the 1940s the ANC revived under younger leaders who pressed
for a more militant stance against colour bars in South Africa.
The ANC Youth League attracted Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, and Nelson
Mandela, who in turn displaced the party's moderate leadership
in 1949 at what many view as the party's watershed conference.
Under Sisulu, Tambo and Mandela's leadership the ANC began sponsoring
non-violent protests, strikes, boycotts, and marches, in the process
becoming a target of police harassment and arrest. By the end of
World War II the ANC had begun strong agitation against the pass
laws, and when the largely white electorate voted in the National
Party in 1948, the ANC's membership grew rapidly, rising to 100
000 in 1952.
In 1944, he married Nontsikelelo Albertina, with whom he was to
have five children. Mrs Sisulu was a much-loved and internationally
respected activist in her own right. Her work earned her the title
Sisulu was elected ANC secretary general in 1949, a post he held
until 1954 when banning orders forced him to resign the position.
He served on the joint planning council
for the Defiance Campaign, and led one of the first batches of
passive resisters when the
campaign began in 1952. Campaigners refused to carry the notorious "pass
book" all native South Africans had to carry by law and hundreds
Sisulu was one of the accused in the Treason Trial, which began
In 1960, during a State of Emergency, he was detained without
trial. He was arrested six times in 1962 and placed under 13-hour
house arrest on October 26 and under 24-hour house arrest on April
Pending an appeal against a six year sentence, he forfeited bail
of R6 000 on April 19, 1963, and went underground. In July 1963,
Sisulu was arrested and detained under the 90-day law.
At the 1964 Rivonia Trial, he was the main defence witness and
was subjected to a fierce attack from the prosecutor, Percy Yutar.
Sisulu told him: "I wish you were an
African. Then you would know..."
He was charged with sabotage and other offences in the Rivonia
Trial and sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island. He was
released in October 1989 after 26 years in jail.
He was elected ANC deputy president at its national conference
of July 1991 and remained in that position until after South Africa's
first democratic election in 1994.
In January 1992, Sisulu was awarded Isitwalandwe Seaparankoe,
the highest honour granted by the ANC, for his contribution to
the struggle for liberation.
Sisulu remained active in the ANC following the
end of his term as deputy president in December 1994. For several
years he maintained an office in the ANC's Johannesburg headquarters
and undertook a number of responsibilities on behalf of the organisation.