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Speech by Hon. Dr Hunadi Mateme (MP) During the Debate of the Centenary of Nelson Mandela

26 June 2018

Honourable Chairperson
Honourable Minister Mokonyane
Honourable members
Respected guests
Ladies and Gentlemen

This year marks the centenary of the birth of Mama Albertina Nontsikelelo (Blessings) Sisulu, a fearless leader of the anti-apartheid resistance and courageous revolutionary who spent her entire life in the service of the people of South Africa.

Allow me, honourable Chairperson, to take this moment to pay homage and tribute to the lifelong indelible contribution that Mama Sisulu made to the struggle for freedom and the liberation of our people.

Honourable Chairperson, Mama Susilu lived a life depicted in The Pleasure of Serving, which is a poem written by Gabriela Mistral, who was a a Chilean poet-diplomat, educator and humanist who became the first Latin American author to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature for her lyric poetry when she says (I quote):

"Where there is a tree to plant, you be the one who plant it.
Where there is a mistake to undo, let it be you.
You be the one to remove the rock from the field,
The hate from human hearts, the suffering from the people;
And the difficulties from their problems."

Mama Sisulu was a living embodiment of the life depicted by Gabriela Mistral. Where there was a tree to plant, she planted it. Where there a mistake to undo, she was the one who corrected it because of the purposeful life she lived.

Mama Sisulu was the only woman to attend the launch of the ANC Youth League Conference in 1943 and would later join and assume leadership roles in the ANC Women's League in 1948 when it was formed. She was key to its formation having served on the committee that re-established the ANCWL.

Championing the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa, Mama Sisulu was undoubtedly one of the most accomplished and courageous women leaders of her time. She fought tirelessly to break the disempowering gender divide in our society and contributed through her entire life to the noble fight against racial segregation, class exploitation and gender inequalities.

Honourable Chairperson, Mama Sisulu is one of our heroines who will be remembered for her courageous contribution, who suffered immensely without ever flinching. In the days that followed the Rivonia Trial, she was one of the key links between the internal and external movement, and kept the fire of resistance alive.

The long and difficult struggle in South Africa has produced many leaders who have displayed great courage and determination in the face of adversity. Among them, Mama Sisulu has a special place of honour in her own right.

Mama Sisulu has been in the forefront of the struggle for almost half a century and suffered harsh and ruthless persecution by the racist regime - a series of imprisonments, as well as the anguish of a mother as her children were frequently detained with no form of communication. She refused to be intimidated and never wavered in her commitment to the struggle for the attainment of a National Democratic Society.

Mama Sisulu became a living symbol not only of the spirit of the liberation movement but of the crucial role which women play in it. She continues to be honoured by her status as the 'Mother of the Nation';

In 1983 she was elected, even while facing imprisonment, as one of the Co-Presidents of the United Democratic Front (UDF), the largest democratic organisation in the country, with more than 600 organisations affiliated to it at the time.

The 1950s were a decade of political unrest and upheaval. Mam Sisulu was elected National President of the multi-racial Federation of South African Women when it was formed in 1954 and led it with dignity and humility. She became the National Treasurer of the Women's League in 1959.

She was one of the leaders of the campaign to boycott 'Bantu Education', which was imposed on African children in 1954. During this time, alternative classes were held at her home until they were prohibited by law. She was one of the leaders of the national demonstration of 20 000 women in the women's march to the Union Buildings on the 9th August 1956, leading the protest against the extension of pass laws to African women. She was imprisoned after having led the women's demonstrations against the pass laws in Johannesburg in 1958. She recalls how she was imprisoned and separated from her ten-month-old daughter, Nonkululeko:

"I had to be in gaol for three full weeks without the baby and I was so sick - my breasts were swollen because I was breast feeding. I didn't mind that because it was part of the struggle."

Mama Sisulu was detained and held in solitary confinement for several weeks in 1963. As soon as she was released, she resumed leadership in the demonstrations against the trials of the Rivonia leadership.

Soon after her husband was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964, Mam Sisulu was served with a five-year banning order barring her from attending any gatherings of more than two persons, confining her to her location and preventing her from any political activities.

She had to struggle hard to support the family, working as a nurse and knitting clothes. In 1969, she was again served with another five-year banning order, this time confining her to her home at nights and on weekends. A third five-year banning order confined her to her home even on public holidays. In 1979, she received a two-year banning order, without house arrest.

Despite the trials and tribulations Mama Sisulu endured, she sought no pity. She told the press in one of the brief intervals between banning orders:

" ... Although politics has given me a rough life, there is absolutely nothing I regret about what I have done and what has happened to me and my family throughout all these years. Instead, I have been strengthened and feel more of a woman than I would otherwise have felt if my life was different"

After the unbanning of the ANC in 1990. Mam Sisulu was elected to the ANC's National Executive Committee (NEC) in 1991. Her selflessness and unwavering commitment to the women's struggle is discernible in the various positions she held, both in the ANC and the ANCWL.


Mama Sisulu is nothing less than a heroine and deserves nothing less than our commemorating her story and her efforts that helped us get to where we are today.

These centenary commemorations are important, not only to celebrate the achievements of Ma Sisulu, but also to mobilise women in the country, the continent and Diaspora and to focus their collective efforts.

In the words of former liberation leader of Burkina Faso, Thomas Sankara:

"The revolution and women's liberation go together. We do not talk of women's emancipation as an act of charity or out of a surge of human compassion. It is a basic necessity for the revolution to triumph".

Thus, the National Democratic Revolution cannot be realised in the absence of women, who must be at the forefront of advancing the struggle.

I thank you!

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