South Africa Mourns Albertina Sisulu

Political royalty and some of South Africa’s well-known elite descended on MaSisulu’s home this morning.

Shaka Sisulu, a grandson, spent the morning tweeting some of his fondest memories of the woman many know as a mother of the nation. He said he hadn’t slept, but was remembering some of his favourite gogo memories and asking people to tweet him some of theirs. He said the family would make a formal statement later today.

Lindiwe Sisulu arrived at the house, not saying a word, her face etched with sadness.

Sisulu died while watching television last night. Attempts to revive her by paramedics were unsuccessful.

The mood was sombre as members of the family gathered in and around the house last night, speaking in hushed tones as they comforted one another and mourned.

Max and Lindiwe Sisulu took the last flight out of Cape Town to be with the family. Meeting in the driveway just before midnight they embraced before entering the house.

In the garage a single white candle burnt in Sisulu’s memory.

President Jacob Zuma was expected to visit the Sisulu family at 4pm today to “mourn the passing of ANC stalwart Mama Albertina Sisulu”, the Presidency said.

ANC spokesman Jackson Mthembu said details for Sisulu’s funeral arrangements would be communicated once the family had decided and finalised the matter.

Minister in the Presidency Collins Chabane will deal with the funeral arrangements on behalf of Zuma. More details on this will probably come after Zuma’s meeting with the Sisulus.

Since last night, Second Street in Linden has been packed with luxury vehicles as a steady stream of visitors have arrived at the house.

This includes the Sisulu children and grandchildren and ANC members such as Ahmed Kathrada, Barbara Hogan, Dali Mpofu and his wife Mpumi, Zuma’s political advisor Charles Nqakula, his wife Correctional Services Minister Nosiviwe Mapisa-Nqakula and the ANC’s national chairwoman Baleka Mbete.

Speaking after she was with the family for around half an hour, Mbete wiped a tear from her eye and said: “The loss of one of us is something we will never be ready for, but someone with as strong and admirable a character as MaSisulu was… we are still taking in. We are yet to come to terms with it.”

Mbete said a prayer service would be held at the house at 6pm every day till the funeral.

This morning next-door neighbour Dru Harvey braved the icy air to walk to the Sisulus’ house.

“I only heard the news this morning,” Harvey said. “It’s a great shock.”

He described Mama Sisulu as a “national treasure” and a “wonderful woman” who invited him to her 90th birthday celebrations where he met the family and Nelson Mandela. “It was a wonderful experience and the invite was quite unexpected, but that is what she was like,” he said.

A few relatives and staff bustled quietly around the house this morning, looking subdued. An electricity van pulled up because there was a trip in the house and they were trying to restore power.

Among the first mourners to arrive was secretary general of the MK Veterans Association Ayanda Dlodlo.

She said she was particularly saddened this morning because the association was planning a celebration for the last four surviving people from the Rivonia trial for June 12, the day they were sentenced.

Ma Sisulu was to be a main participant in those celebrations, which include Nelson Mandela, Andrew Mlangeni, Ahmed Kathrada and Denis Goldberg.

“It’s an extremely sad day,” said Dlodlo. “She exemplified love. Love for the people, love for her family and to the people of the world. When you think of love the first person who should come into your head is Ma Sisulu.”

Just after 8am Netcare brought Danishes, croissants and sausage rolls for the family, and were setting up a tea kitchen in the home. Neil Bowden, a project manager at Netcare, knew the Sisulus through Adelaide Tambo. He said he had been there when Walter Sisulu died and “felt this morning that they had to do something”.

Dali Tambo, son of Oliver, described the inside of the Sisulu home as solemn.

“Everyone, despite her age, feels shaken,” Tambo said. “It’s a sudden realisation that a whole era is passing.”

Tambo said he remembered a time when his mom and Lillian Ngoyi met Sisulu and said they were waiting for her to accompany her to see Walter Sisulu. “She gave me unconditional love. She called me ‘son’ and I called her ‘mother’.

“We will miss her but will celebrate a special life of one of the greatest women who has ever lived.”

On Twitter and Facebook South Africans also paid their respects. Poet and TV presenter Lebo Mashile said: “Mama Albertina Sisulu’s soul is resting probably for the first time since she was in the womb. God bless her family and her legacy. #RIPGogo.”

Columnist and social commentator Khaya Dlanga said: “RIP Albertina Sisulu, a legendary woman who created a legendary family which contributed to a whole nation.”

Iamsuede said: “Rest in Power. Mrs Albertina Sisulu.”

Blogger and social commentator, Sentletse Diakanyo wrote: “Albertina Sisulu is no more. The presence of her memory shall live with us until the end of days; because she struggled and fought for us.”

Other South Africans expressed their condolences on their statuses on Facebook. Albinity Chauke said of Sisulu: “True example of activist, Struggle icon and feminist who was comfortable being a mother and a cadre. Gentle spirit with undeniable strength RIP Nontsikelelo Albertina Sisulu her memories shall live with us until de end of tym!” The Star