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Albertina Sisulu, a nurse, midwife, matriarch and beloved wife, spent many years fighting apartheid. She kept the flame of freedom alive while her husband was locked in prison.

Albertina Sisulu played a significant role in our journey to freedomAlbertina Sisulu played a significant role in our journey to freedomPOLITICAL activist Nontsikelelo Albertina Sisulu was not only a nurse; she was also an instrumental leader in the anti-apartheid struggle. She lived most of her life in Johannesburg, and it is here that she is buried.

Sisulu is buried at the Newclare Cemetery, in Bosmont.

It is in this year, 2014 as we celebrate 20 years of democracy that we take time to reflect on the path to that freedom and on those who played a significant role in the that journey.

Albertina Sisulu was born Nontsikelelo Thethiwe in the Tsomo district of Transkei on 21 October 1918, to Bonilizwe and Monikazi Thethiwe.

The second of five children, Sisulu took on motherly duties at a young age since she was the oldest daughter and her mother was sickly. This affected her education, as it meant she was absent from school for long periods – she was two years older than the children in her class in her last year of primary school. Albertina was adopted as her name when she started school at a Presbyterian mission school in Xolobe.

Education

Albertina Sisulu was laid to rest beside her beloved husbandAlbertina Sisulu was laid to rest beside her beloved husbandDespite missing much school to take care of her siblings, Sisulu excelled at academics and was awarded a four-year high school scholarship at Mariazell College in Matatiele in Eastern Cape. After completing her years at the college in 1939, she opted to go to work, to help support her family. Following the death of both her parents, Sisulu had to provide for her siblings.

A Roman Catholic Mission priest, Father Bernard Huss, who had arranged for her scholarship, advised Sisulu to consider nursing since trainee nurses were paid to study. She was accepted as a trainee in 1940 at Johannesburg General, a hospital for non-European people. Her career as a midwife began in 1946, and she often visited patients in various townships.

Life and politics

A peaceful haven in NewclareA peaceful haven in NewclareOften referred to as the "Mother of the Nation", she first met the man she would marry, Walter Sisulu, in 1941 while working in Johannesburg. At the time, he was a young political activist. The couple married in 1944; Nelson Mandela was their best man. They had five children – Max Vuyisile, Mlungisi, Zwelakhe, Lindiwe and Nonkululeko – and adopted four others.

Following in her husband's footsteps, Sisulu became involved in politics. In 1954, she was named a member of the executive of the Federation of South African Women. She joined the African National Congress Women's League (ANCWL) in 1955 and in the same year took part in the drawing up and ratification of the Freedom Charter.

On 9 August 1956, Sisulu was part of a group of more than 20 000 women who marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria to protest against the apartheid government's requirement that women carry passbooks. After that, Sisulu spent three weeks in jail on pass charges, before she was acquitted.

She was again arrested in 1963 after her husband skipped bail and fled underground. She was the first woman arrested under the General Laws Amendment Act of 1963, enacted in May. This Act allowed the detention of people for 90 days without being charged. Sisulu was placed in solitary confinement for almost two months, until 6 August. In and out of jail for her political activities, she continued to resist apartheid and was banned for most of the 1960s.

United Democratic Movement

Cemeteries in the City
For information about Johannesburg's cemeteries contact 011 712 6602 or email Nooreena Hendricks on nhendricks@jhbcityparks.com

She was also a key member of the United Democratic Front (UDF) in the 1980s, and in 1983, Sisulu was elected co-president of the huge passive resistance movement. In 1986, she was awarded honorary citizenship of Reggio nell'Emilia, Italy, and in 1989 obtained a passport. This allowed her to lead a UDF delegation overseas; the group met then British prime minister Margaret Thatcher and United States president George HW Bush. Sisulu also addressed anti-apartheid rallies in these countries.

Throughout these years, her husband was in prison. He was arrested at Liliesleaf farm in Rivonia, Johannesburg on 11 July 1963, and was charged in what became known as the Rivonia Trial in October. On 11 June 1964, the Rivonia Trialists were convicted of planning acts of sabotage. They were sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island the next day. On 15 October 1989, after 26 years in prison, many, including her husband, were released. On 2 February 1990, the ANC was unbanned.
In 1994, Sisulu was elected into the first democratic Parliament of South Africa.

On 2 June 2011, she died at her Linden home in Johannesburg, aged 92.

Sisulu was laid to rest beside her beloved husband and struggle stalwart, Walter Sisulu.

Locals refer to the cemetery as "Croesus".

It was opened in 1934, and is one Joburg's 35 "passive" cemeteries. This means it can only accommodate second and third burials.

Johannesburg City Parks and Zoo is responsible for all the City’s cemeteries and crematoria.