Sunday, September 2, 2012
While she was in nurse's training, South African Albertina Thethiwe met and married a young lawyer named Walter Sisulu who warned her that he was a political activist and that their lives would be sacrificed to that fact. Nelson Mandela was the best man at their wedding and there was no courtship or honeymoon, but despite having five children in fairly rapid succession (and adopting four more), Albertina Sisulu slowly but surely became committed to political activism in the African National Congress herself.
By 1955, she had helped to launch the Freedom Charter (a set of principles demanding that all the people of South Africa should govern the nation rather than just the White ones). The following year, she and in-your-face woman Sophia Williams DeBruyn organized a march of 20,000 women against the government. And from then on, she was in and out of jail for more than a decade and spent most of the 1960's even when she wasn't in jail on what amounted to house arrest.
When her husband was sentenced to life in prison with Nelson Mandela in 1964, Albertina could have withdrawn from public life, afraid and concerned for her family, but she didn't. Instead, she set up The Albertina Sisulu Foundation to improve the lives of the very young and the very old. She recruited and smuggled South African nurses into Tanzania when the British nurses left after independence. And she served as President of the World Peace Council in Switzerland in the mid-1990's.
When she died at the age of ninety-two, the President of South Africa said: "Mama Sisulu has, over the decades, been a pillar of strength...for the entire liberation movement, as she reared, counselled, nursed and educated most of the leaders and founders of the democratic South Africa." Though it was through her husband that Albertina Sisulu first became involved in these activities, she said of her role and the role of other in-your-face women in her country: "Women are the people who are going to relieve us from all this oppression...It is the women who are...educating the people to stand up and protect each other." The in-your-face women, that is.