Speech by the Chairperson of the National Council of Provinces, Hon Mninwa Johannes Mahlangu, on the Occasion of the Memorial Service for the Late Mrs Nontsikelelo Albertina Sisulu
St Georges Cathedral, Cape Town, 9 June 2011
All the world is a stage,
One of the pioneers of the first democratic Parliament in South Africa, Albertina Nontsikelelo Sisulu, was a giant among giants. A nurse by calling, she has nurtured us as a nation and has left us to continue her good work.
Many speakers and authors have called her “mother of the nation” and I could not agree with them more. As a midwife she helped to bring many babies to this world. She was the only woman at the birth of the ANC Youth League and the list goes on to show that she really deserves this title: mother of the nation.
As we pay homage to MaSisulu, as the parliamentary community and residents of the legislative capital of our country, we would also like to extend words of comfort to her children Max, Mlungisi, Zwelakhe, Lindiwe and Nonkululeko, as well as friends and relatives.
On behalf of Parliament, we would like to convey our condolences to the Hon Max Sisulu, the Speaker of the National Assembly, on the occasion of the loss of his mother and political guardian.
A true African, whose life embodied the true spirit of ubuntu, MaSisulu is one of the veterans of the struggle who established South Africa’s first democratic Parliament. Others included the late Adelaide Tambo, the late Ellen Kuzwayo, the late Dorothy Nyembe, Ruth Mompati and Lydia Komape to mention but a few. As the first generation of Members of Parliament in a free South Africa, they participated in the writing of the history of our new country. They were part of the assembly that crafted the Constitution, which was adopted by the first-ever democratically elected Constituent Assembly in 1996. This celebrated moment in our history was the fulfilment of the aspirations of generations of oppressed South Africans.
Albertina Sisulu served Parliament as a representative of the newly enfranchised from 1994 to 1999 with nobility. This was true to the meaning of her name “Albertina” which means “Noble”. She carried herself with dignity and integrity, apparently alive to the fact that building a new society needed new rules and ways of doing things. She was always an inspiration to all of us, a fountain of wisdom and a pillar for steadying the ship that was charting a new course for the nation.
From 1997 she unfortunately had to take guidance from her son Vuyisile Max Sisulu who became the second Chief Whip of the Majority Party (the ANC). The role of the Chief Whip is to ensure party discipline among Members, including attendance in the Chamber. This must have been an invidious position that even somebody as warm and charming as MaSisulu would have found herself in.
Her other name “Nontsikelelo” means “Mother of Blessings” and as Parliament we were really blessed to have her as one of the first parliamentarians of the first democratic Parliament of South Africa.
Having had the opportunity to work with this towering giant of the struggle, in hindsight I am fully convinced that there was no better generation to put the foundation for a united, democratic South Africa that is able to take its rightful place in the family of nations, than the generation of Albertina Sisulu. This was a point in the history of our country where we committed ourselves to healing the divisions of the past and to establishing a society based on democratic values, social justice and fundamental human rights.
Our Parliament is indeed highly indebted to MaSisulu and the many leaders of her generation. They laid the foundation for the building of an organ of people’s power that is in touch with the people. They contributed to the transformation of the culture and values of our national legislature.
For the first time in the history of the South African Parliament, the first democratic Parliament that was ushered in 1994 had a large number of women MPs, who provided different perspectives on the day-to-day business of Parliament. However, they also demanded that the legislature structure its work to accommodate both the personal and public demands on the time of an MP. Work sessions had to take into account that many MPs were parents with young children to care for.
I remember a motion being passed to explore the provision of permanent child care facilities within Parliament, something we were told was unheard of in the history of the institution.
Because of the likes of MaSisulu, Parliament was altered into an environment that accommodates the diverse needs of its workers – a far cry from the dreary corridors that gave birth to the most horrendous of laws.
From a deeply divided society characterised by strife, conflict, untold suffering and injustice, Albertina Sisulu’s legacy should remain etched in our memory. She braved difficulties, from raising her children on inadequate means in the absence of her husband. She forged ahead to take part in establishing a nation founded on human rights, democracy and peaceful co-existence. Fortunately, she lived long to witness our democracy maturing; giving hope that tomorrow will be better than yesterday.
A woman of exceptional talent, MaSisulu lived a life of endurance. She had profound determination, inexhaustible courage and foresight.
She was loved by those who cared for children and the needy, for she was a pillar of strength, a source of hope that the universe can be a better place.
She was admired by those who espoused the principles of justice, for she believed that an unjust world was inconsistent with human solidarity.
Her passing marks the end of an era. It presents a time for renewed reflection. A time to ask ourselves whether we have learnt enough from the leaders like MaSisulu whose simple quest in life was “to do what is right”.
A generation is passing on, leaving the baton to succeeding generations.
As Lord Byron, in his poem Fare Thee Well, wrote:
These are words of deeper sorrow
Let us salute the mother of the nation. May her loving soul rest in peace. Sithi lala kakuhle ntombi yakwa-Thethiwe.