Ma Albertina Sisulu, a soldier of love

June 27, 2011 § 1 Comment

*originally appeared on the Cape Times on 13 June 2006, two days after her funeral


One of the most moving moments for me at the funeral of Albertina Sisulu was the mourners spontaneously burst into song after Graca Machel read a message from Nelson Mandela who said that he would have loved to have been at the funeral but, “It would be too painful for me to watch you go.”

“The years have taken the toll on us, one-by-one friends and comrades have passed on and it feels like a part of oneself has been cut off.” He has lost many of his friends. He is seeing them pass one by one. “I want to bid farewell to a comrade and friend,” Machel read to the crowd. “You are part of my being, you and Walter…I want to express my deep gratitude to you.”  This is why I think the crowds started singing about Mandela; they knew it wouldn’t be long before we miss him. When Albertina died, she was the same age as Mandela.

She never sought glory for her role in the struggle. Humility is a kind of genius. Albertina Sisulu was that kind of genius. At one point, her husband, children and a grandchild were all in prison for their fight against apartheid, yet through it all she never lost her dignity and hope in human beings. Today, many of her children and grandchildren are in public service. One could call her family the Kennedys of South Africa.

Many people solely want to associate her with the struggle against apartheid, but there is something far greater that she showed young South Africans. Love. The resilience of that cheesy insipidity thing called love. Walter and Albertina’s greatest story is their obvious and apparent love for each other. Considering how skeptical the youth are about love, the lesson we should take from the Sisulus is that love is possible under any trying circumstance.

Walter and Albertina were not just the heroes of the struggle, but they were also heroes of love. In our broken societies today there are no greater role models than these two. Perhaps that is their greatest contribution to a youth that is constantly growing cynical about love. They search for it even though they no longer believe in it. Whenever we hear the story, or we see the a picture of Makhulu Albertina Sisulu, she makes us believe in love again.

As a relatively young person, I think that it is sad that we seem to forget the heroes of the struggle. Some times we forget them whilst they are still alive. Sadly.

We are running out of true heroes whose sole purpose was to serve the people. As we run out of them, our cups runneth over with self-serving “servants” of the people. Men and women who believe that they liberated the country to line their pockets with money and power. Albertina Sisulu was not one of those people. She felt that her duty was to teach her children to contribute to the nation. The duty of every grateful South African is to look for ways in which to serve the country. Let not those who struggled, have struggled in vain.

I love heroes. And I don’t mean the TV series. What I love about our heroes is the fact that they were all so human. What I love about Makhulu Albertina is that she was never trying to be hero. She was just doing what was right. It was for the right to be with her husband whom she loved so much. It was to free a country and a people which she loved so much. It was never about her, it was always about love.

She was a midwife. She delivered many children, so it was only fitting that she would also deliver a whole nation. May her memory never diminish. May we remember her always. Her quite dignity does not mean we ought to be quite about what she did for the country. There is nothing quite about it, there is every reason for us to brag about it, despite her humility.

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