Hon Chair, hon Minister, Deputy Minister, special delegates, on behalf of the ANC in this august House, I must confess that it is not an easy task to speak of such a gallant fighter, especially sitting next to a veteran who would have better performed this responsibility.
Nevertheless, hon Chair, as the ANC we feel that Mama Sisulu's death has robbed us of a member of the generation that fought the greatest of all moral battles of the 20th century. With Nelson Mandela, she was one of the last of those leaders of the ANC who were young in the early 1940s, when her late husband, Walter Sisulu, the late Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela were fired with a conviction that would change the shape of South Africa.
Mama Sisulu was undoubtedly one of the most accomplished, dynamic and courageous servants who served the ANC and the liberation with distinction. She joined the illustrious list of dedicated leaders and cadres of the movement who played a pivotal role in helping define the political and social fabric of a postapartheid South Africa.
She was an embodiment of the principles and ideals of the ANC, in character and deed. She lived a life that was dedicated to serving the people of South Africa. Her character, of course, was moulded by the same difficult working-class and peasant circumstances and conditions that are facing many of our people, even today.
At a tender age, she was challenged with the responsibility of bringing up her siblings. Despite coming from an impoverished background and being orphaned as a teenager, she was still obliged to rise to the occasion and take care of her siblings. Eventually, having pursued other career interests that she had, she trained as a nurse in Johannesburg and qualified as one of the few qualified midwives in order to financially support her siblings at home.
This youthful self-denial and discipline manifested in her strength, steadfastness and courage through the devastating years of apartheid and struggle, not only for the liberation, but also for survival in her own surroundings.
She married the late Comrade Walter Sisulu, who was later elected full-time secretary-general of the ANC - of course, most importantly, with Nelson Mandela there as the best man. They settled in Orlando township in Soweto, where they stayed for 45 years. Being one of the greatest heroes of the liberation struggle was perhaps not a path that she chose for herself, yet she was such a force for good and a servant to the people, especially the poor and the working class, women, young people and the disenfranchised, that she plunged wholeheartedly into the struggle and emerged from years of hardship, detention, banning and arrest as a major political figure in her own right.
Her husband was imprisoned several times, banned, placed under house arrest and finally sentenced to life alongside Nelson Mandela and six other leaders. During those horrific years of hardship and apartheid as a single and devastated mother, she supported her children with the greatest of respect and dedication. Like her husband, she also suffered cruel and vengeful persecution by the racist apartheid regime, and was banned and jailed frequently, spending time in solitary confinement - more especially, as a woman after giving birth to a child. Like many other leaders of the ANC, Mama Sisulu spent most of her life in prison and serving our people.
Throughout this time she kept the embers of resistance and the dream of freedom alive. In 1983 she was the co-founder of the United Democratic Front and she was elected as co-president of the movement while in prison. In 1989 the United States and the British government invited her to visit President Bush and Prime Minister Thatcher as the patroness of the principal black opposition group in South Africa - a very interesting epoch.
She was a humble but forceful woman and kept her dignity throughout decades of government harassment. As Bishop Tutu said when he paid tribute to her, and I quote:
But try as they might, they could not break her spirit, they could not make her bitter, they could not defeat her love. She played an important role in the ANC Women's League and the Federation of South African Women in the 1950s. When the ANC Women's League was relaunched in 1990, she was elected deputy president.
In 1994 she was elected as a Member of Parliament, where she served until 1998, when she retired from active politics, though remained acting as a servant of the people and the working class. For 50 years she had committed herself to the Albertina Sisulu Foundation, which focused on the plight of small children and old women. For her commitment to the struggle against apartheid and her social work among women and children she was honoured by the World Peace Council in Switzerland, when she was elected president of the council. Two honorary doctorates were also bestowed on her for her dedication to the cause of democracy in our country.
She was a stalwart of the struggle against apartheid; a beloved member and leader of the ANC and other organisations; a professional nurse and caregiver; an activist for humanity, dignity, equality and nonracism; a Member of Parliament; a beloved wife, mother, grandmother and great- grandmother; and a mother of the nation.
Despite her hardships, she maintained the spirit of ubuntu and held no bitterness towards the whites of this country. Even the people who tortured her would always be welcome in her house, and she would always maintain that there was a clear distinction between the apartheid regime and the people who perpetuated the system. For this reason they remained in Soweto as a family and always said: "When they knock, we have to get up and see what we can do. We belong to the people. This is our work and it is better for us to be within their reach."
In conclusion, Chair, she and her husband lived on the edge of poverty most of their lives, yet their passion for liberation gave them a vision of a future that saw the ANC as the centre of events. In a tribute to Mama Sisulu and her husband, former President Nelson Mandela said, and I quote:
There can be no greater and more inspiring example in the history of our organisation and hence of our country than Walter and Albertina Sisulu: a couple whose every deed speaks of leadership that made the kind of difference that brought us to where we are today as a country and as a people ... It is time that the story of our nation be told.
I thank you very much, Comrade Chairperson.
The Council observed a moment of silence in honour of the late Mama Nontsikelelo Albertina Sisulu.