Albertina Sisulu: Unicef pay tribute to her 'powerful voice'

The late Albertina Sisulu played a pivotal role in putting children's wellbeing at the top of the political agenda, the United Nations Children's Fund (Unicef) said in a tribute on Monday.

"She argued that children had already paid far too high a price in the country's struggle for freedom. She was a powerful voice for children who were displaced, maimed and victims of political violence," a statement read.

In 1990, she was at the forefront of setting up the National Children's Rights Committee (NCRC), which was supported with financial, administrative and humanitarian assistance from Unicef.

This body, an umbrella organisation for civil society groups working for children's rights, became instrumental in making sure the principles of the 1989 Convention on the Rights of Children were included in the country's democratic Constitution and Bill of Rights.

It also paved the way for Unicef to engage in the country and establish an office.

"As the NCRC's patron and moral leader, she was instrumental in ensuring that after the country's first democratic elections, it took centre stage, being transformed into the children's desk in the office of the president, as well as in all nine provincial premier's offices."

This work laid the foundation for the National Programme of Action for Children, which mapped out plans for the realisation of all South African children's rights.

"Today, as we join South Africans in mourning her loss, we remember the significant contribution Mrs Sisulu played in the liberation struggle and her tireless work to realise the rights of all South African children."

Sisulu died at the age of 92 at her home in Linden, Johannesburg, on Thursday.

Writing for the Sunday Independent in South Africa, journalist Maureen Isaacson suggests that Nontsikelelo “Mama” Albertina Sisulu's death was seen by many as the end of an era - and that as her generation take their leave, tributes may be 'read as obituaries of a way of being in the country she fought so hard to liberate'.

With Nelson Mandela, she was among the last of those in the ANC who were young in the early 1940s when the Congress Youth League was in the making, and when her late husband Walter, with Oliver Tambo and Mandela, was fired by a conviction that he would change the shape of things to come.

The return of Mandela to his Joburg home after a visit to his home village of Qunu, in the Eastern Cape on the day she died, lent a sad synchronicity to the event says Isaacson.

A tribute from the Mandela family called on “those of us remaining behind to heed the greatest lesson from her life: namely dedication, sincerity, humility and deep love for people, especially the poor”.

Albertina suffered for her beliefs.

On 19 June 1963 she became the first woman to be imprisoned under the notorious 90 Day Act which allowed the state to hold suspects for 90 days without being charged. She told Drum magazine that “the loneliness was unbearable” and she was threatened that the state would take her children from her.

She was banned in August 1964 for five years, confined to the magisterial district of Joburg, which complicated visits to Robben Island, where Walter was sentenced for life in the Rivonia trial.

She finally visited him on Robben Island for a 30-minute visit in September 1964. Albertina was banned for a continuous 18-year stretch, from 1963 until Walter’s release in 1989.

She spent time in and out of jail, the longest period being eight months after attending the funeral of ANC Women’s League veteran Rose Mbele.

The Albertina Sisulu Foundation
, a multi-purpose centre in Orlando, continues her work. The Walter Sisulu Paediatric Cardiac Centre in Sunninghill Hospital was closest to her heart. She was keen for people to come out about their HIV status and Aids education was vital, she said. She had lost family members to the virus.

Walter died on May 5, 2003, a few days before his 91st birthday, in Albertina’s arms.

It is 92 years since Albertina Sisulu was born in the Transkei on October 21, 1918. She leaves a chasm behind her.

She is survived by her five children with Walter, including Max, Mlungisi, Zwelakhe, Lindiwe and Nonkululeko. Also, by her niece and nephew, Beryl and Jongumzi. She leaves 23 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

Read the full article by Maureen Isaacson




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