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On the occasion of the centenary of Albertina Sisulu and Nelson Mandela, two heros of the anti-apartheid struggle, the South African Embassy to France organised on Friday 22 June at UNESCO a conference and the screening of the film “A Long Walk to freedom”.

In his commemoration speech, the Ambassadeur of the Republic of South Africa to France H.E. Rapulane Molekane recalled the exceptional lives of these two heroes and especially the one of Albertina Sisulu may by less familiar to the general public.

“It is with great humility and a feeling of inadequacy that I have to speak about these two giants of our revolution; Mama Albertina Sisulu and Tata Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela. Had these two stalwarts of our struggle, been alive today in a few months, they would have turned 100 years old.

It is fitting that the Governing Party in our country, the African National Congress (ANC) has declared this year as the year of Mama Sisulu and Tata Mandela in their honour and recognition of the enormous role and sacrifices as well as influence, dedication and contribution to humanity. Their life’s spanned a finite period beginning in 1918 and lasting 95 years for Mandela and 94 years for Mama Sisulu as she passed on a few days to her 95th birthday, in the same year as Tata Mandela in 2013. The meaning, impact and influence of their well lived life’s will continue to be a torch bearer for many generations to come.

A talk about their life’s as much as it is about the past it is also about the present and the future, especially the type of society they dreamed of.

I need to emphasise from the onset that these two icons are dyed-in-the-wool ANC members and their life’s cannot be separated or usurped away from the ANC. I say this because it has become fashionable to try and relate and narrate their life stories away from the ANC by some in our country and globally who seek to divorce them and usurp them for their own narrow ambitions. Saying so does not mean they do not belong to all of humanity, yes we have donated them to the world, however it must always be remembered that they are products and were members of the ANC till their last breath.

Who are we talking about here, who were these giants? Let me begin with Mama Sisulu. This woman of fortitude, a fearless fighter and champion of women rights and democracy was born on 21 October 1918 in Tsomo district Transkei, Eastern Cape Province. She became an orphan at 15 years old and left to fend for her four siblings being the 2nd born. Her ambition was to be a teacher but ended up becoming a nurse because training as a nurse included getting an income so she could continue supporting her siblings. This Mama is grateful and thanks to the Missionaries of the Catholic Church. Mama was a midwife nurse employed by the Johannesburg City Health Department from 1954. Mama suffered the indignity of having to service her patients in the dusty townships travelling on foot carrying her tools of the trade in a big suitcase on her head more like in the rural areas where people carry buckets of water on the head. It was in 1941 that she got married to Walter Sisulu who was also active in the ANC. Mama Sisulu was the only woman present at the formation of the ANCYL in 1944 in Johannesburg, she became an active member of the ANCWL and the ANC. She was a smart organiser and sharpened her skills taking care and great interest in issues pertaining to children’s rights and education especially at the time when the racist regime under the architect of apartheid Hendrik Verwoerd implemented Bantu Education in 1953, thereby getting rid of “Equal Education” and entrenching separate development for different races in South Africa. The Nationalist Party and Verwoerd philosophy is captured aptly in this quotation “Blacks should never be shown greener pastures of education especially science and maths. These Bantus must know that their station in life is to be hewers of wood and drawers of water”.

Verwoerd was the devil incarnate, he entrenched everything that the erstwhile colonisers in our country did not have the courage to do. It was under Verwoerd that the western powers turned a blind eye to injustice, expansionism and occupation. The West looked on in indifference and tacitly supported apartheid being entrenched in our part of the world, in the name of containing communism and the Soviet Union.

Verwoerd was emboldened by this indifference and support and he expanded these policies of apartheid as he became prime Minister in 1958 until his death in 1966. He introduced and implemented new laws including the prohibition of mixed marriages, Immorality Act, Group Areas Act, Pass Laws, and Reservation of Separate Amenities etc… these are the laws that shaped and made Mama Sisulu intolerant of apartheid and made her determined to fight and destroy apartheid. Mama Sisulu in 1954 was among the founders of the Federation of South African women, which galvanised many women organisations under this umbrella body to resist and fight the unjust laws of apartheid. She was amongst the leaders of the 30 000 strong Women’s March to the Union Buildings against extension of a law to force Women to carry the hated pass books. She was present at the launch of the Freedom Charter in Kliptown. Her house was a hive of activity, even partly becoming a classroom for kids as part of alternative and resistance to Bantu Education.

Her husband was the Secretary General of the ANC and therefore the engine of the movement and more often away from home, so she had to raise the children, practice as a nurse and also pursue the struggle. She was in and out of jail, her house was raided more often and it became worse when the ANC was banned and even worst when the leadership of the ANC was imprisoned for treason in 1964 including her husband Walter Sisulu.

This woman saw all the aggression and brutality of Apartheid. She was in prison with her son; her daughter was also arrested under the so-called suppression of communism act and the terrorism act as well as the internal security act, which led her to decide that the kids should go to exile.

With the high command of MK, the ANC Military wing in prison and all liberation movements banned, mama Sisulu continued to organise women and youth and was a great source of strength and hope, a fountain of knowledge and encouragement. She, together with all the wives of the High Command of Umkhonto We sizwe and the ANC kept the name of the ANC alive and continued to inspire and show the way to the young generations, their efforts together with other factors sparked the 1976 youth uprising. She was at the time a banned person who was not supposed to attend gatherings, not to be near educational institutions and other state institutions, she was a “single parent” and “breadwinner” not just for her immediate family but for the nation. She risked everything including possibility of her professional certificate being revoked. Fortunately, this did not happen despite being in and out of detention, imprisonment and harassment, including being charged for treason.

Mama Sisulu’ s life is an embodiment of what is righteous and bravery at its best. She was quite unassuming yet very intelligent and strategists like her husband. Thousands of young people including her own found themselves in the ranks of the people’s army Umkhonto We sizwe and the ANC. Due to her tenacity in organising, many young people got involved in the underground struggle to support or even be active in combat with the apartheid enemy and its agents.

We can say without fear of contradiction that Mama Sisulu was a true revolutionary. As a member and leader of the ANC and its women’s section she was in the forefront of the reestablishment of the ANC Women’s League, of which she became the Deputy President.

In 1994, she was among the first MP’s of the ANC and was honoured to nominate Nelson Mandela as the 1st Democratic President of South Africa in a parliament that had been occupied by the racists for ages. This marked the first steps to transform parliament and end and repeal all apartheid laws.

Mama’s love for children and their rights was rewarded when she spearheaded the founding of the National Children’s Rights Committee in 1990 as a response to the apartheid humiliation, repression, detention without trial, torture and violence against children. She continued this work in parliament and worked for a child friendly dispensation.

We remember Mama Sisulu for being a dignified, disciplined, unifying and all-embracing humble leader. She did not segregate or isolate especially the oppressed black masses on the basis of ideology or political formation, hence her working with Dr Asvat of AZAPO. She taught us to unite and be disciplined to achieve our goals. That is why at the time of her departing even those who supported apartheid like George W. Bush, Margaret Thatcher and a host of other western backers of apartheid paid special tribute to her as a woman of fortitude and a real leader of the struggle against apartheid.

We honour her and thank her for the selfless and ethical leadership she has displayed throughout her life and we pledge to live her example and emulate her attributes.

Tata Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela needs no introduction or long essay about him. Many of us know something about him. I will not say much about him especially because we will watch a movie by Anant Singh that tells and tries to capture his life story “The Long Walk to Freedom”. I believe that the movie captures Mandela adequately. Let me just remind you of a few facts about this giant of our revolution. He is from a royal family of the Tembu people in Transkei, a lawyer by profession, founding member of the ANCYL in 1944, a volunteer in chief of the Defiance Campaign in 1952 and the first Commander-in-Chief of the ANC military wing Umkhonto we Sizwe in 1961. Accused number one in the treason trial of the high command of Umkhonto we Sizwe where he said before his sentencing in 1964 “during my lifetime I have fought against white domination and have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal which I hope to live for and achieve, but if needs be it is an ideal I am prepared to die”. Fortunately, Mandela did live to realise this ideal.

He became the first President and Commander-in-Chief of free democratic South Africa in 1994 after the demise of apartheid, having served 27 years in apartheid prison. Without bitterness he forgave his jailers and appointed some of them in his first cabinet including racist F.W. De Klerk. Nelson Mandela served as President for one term and retired until his departure in 2013. He was indeed a great leader who was honoured in his country and globally. We have indeed been lucky to have had such a great leader and founding father of our democracy. Mandela and his prison mates on Robben Island were sustained intellectually by the only publication apartheid authorities allowed; UNESCO’s own courier which is 70 years old now.

The great lessons we have learnt from Madiba may be summarised as that you must believe in an ideal and that the greatest act of humanity is to be selfless, servant leadership and ethical.

The greatest tribute for Madiba is for all of us to work for the achievement of his ideals a free, non-racial, non-sexist and prosperous South Africa and a world at peace with itself. This ideal is not yet achieved and we pledge to realise it in our lifetime

Let us enjoy the movie as we search for the Madiba spirit within us”

Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom” is a 2013 British-South African biopic directed by Justin Chadwick from a script written by William Nicholson. The film is based on the 1995 autobiographical book “Long Walk to Freedom” by anti-apartheid and former South African president Nelson Mandela. It is chronicling the life of the South African lawyer who campaigned restlessly against apartheid in the 1940s before becoming one of the greatest leaders of the modern age: From his journey from childhood in a rural village, to prominent figure in a political movement striving for equality, to 27 years of imprisonment, and finally to his inauguration as South Africa's president. Release date: 2013 , 2 hours, 18 minutes

Nelson Mandela and Albertina Sisulu Centenary Commemoration at UNESCO - 22 june 2018

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