Albertina Sisulu was one of five children born to Bonilizwe and Monikazi Thethiwe in the Tsomo district in the Transkei on 21 October Early Life In September the Spanish Flu , a strain of the influenza virus that had killed 40 million people worldwide, reached South Africa and is estimated to have killed over 30 people in the Transkei. She would later become the primary caregiver to her four siblings. Education Nontsikelelo and her family went to live with her maternal family in Xolobe, because her mother was constantly ill after surviving the Spanish flu and her father went to work in the mines. She attended a local primary school in Xolobe that was run by Presbyterian missionaries, and it was standard procedure that Black learners had to choose Christian names from a list presented to them by the missionaries.
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Albertina Sisulu was one of five children born to Bonilizwe and Monikazi Thethiwe in the Tsomo district in the Transkei on 21 October Early Life In September the Spanish Flu , a strain of the influenza virus that had killed 40 million people worldwide, reached South Africa and is estimated to have killed over 30 people in the Transkei. She would later become the primary caregiver to her four siblings.
Education Nontsikelelo and her family went to live with her maternal family in Xolobe, because her mother was constantly ill after surviving the Spanish flu and her father went to work in the mines. She attended a local primary school in Xolobe that was run by Presbyterian missionaries, and it was standard procedure that Black learners had to choose Christian names from a list presented to them by the missionaries.
Nontsikelelo chose the name Albertina. Albertina excelled at school in cultural and sporting activities. She showed leadership skills from an early age when she was chosen as head girl of her school in standard five.
However, Albertina was forced to leave school on several occasions to take care of her younger siblings, because her mother was constantly ill, resulting in Albertina falling behind by two academic years. This two-year gap proved an obstacle later when she was disqualified, because of her age, from a competition that she had entered and won a four-year scholarship. The article caught the attention of the priests at the local Roman Catholic Mission who then communicated with Father Bernard Huss at Mariazell College, who arranged for a four-year high school scholarship for Albertina at Mariazell College.
Albertina only went home during the December holidays, but she found this a small price to pay for the opportunity to attend high school. After successfully completing high school in , Albertina decided that she would pursue a profession that would enable her to support her family in Xolobe. Whilst at Mariazell, Albertina had converted to Catholicism and because she had resolved never to marry she decided that she would become a nun as she admired the dedication of the nuns who taught at the college.
However, Father Huss advised Albertina against this as nuns did not earn a salary and did not leave the mission post, so she would not have been able to support her family in the way she wanted to.
Instead, he advised her to consider nursing, as trainee nurses were paid to study. The practicality of this suggestion was appealing, and Albertina applied to various nursing schools. Career South Africa in the s was defined by significant economic and political changes, determined by the Second World War and by the introduction of formal apartheid in The labour market experienced phenomenal growth because of an increased demand in the manufacturing sector, where goods that were previously produced in Europe, were produced locally because of the war.
Many Black South Africans were drawn into the manufacturing sector on the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and there was a great increase in the number of women who joined the labour force for the first time.
A small portion of this new group of female migrants moved to the city with the intention of pursuing higher education in the fields of nursing, teaching or social work and it is amongst this group that Albertina found herself. For Albertina, Johannesburg represented a totally different life to the one she experienced in Xolobe. Despite all this, Johannesburg represented a promise of a better life where Albertina could earn a decent wage to support her family back home in the Transkei.
While she loved the work of nursing, her workplace became the place where she experienced racism for the first time. There seemed to be an unofficial policy of racial segregation amongst the staff of Johannesburg General as White nurses, regardless of age or experience, were treated and behaved as superior to their Black colleagues. Albertina was shocked at the way junior White nurses would order Black sisters around. Coming from a rural village with very few White people, Albertina had never been exposed to racism and racial prejudice before.
The Non-European section of the hospital was swamped with patients and the senior Black medical staff appealed to the hospital authorities to allow Black patients to be treated in the European wards, but the hospital authorities would not allow it. Due to the lack of available bed space, seriously injured patients were forced to sleep on the floor.
This incident had a profound effect on Albertina as she could not believe that medical practitioners would violate their duty and deny patients care, solely based on their skin colour. This sparked outrage and evoked the strong sense of responsibility to act.
In addition to the disappointingly low wages she earned, the hospital administration imposed strict and unreasonable restrictions on Albertina and other Black nurses. Prior to her relationship with Walter, Albertina had never participated in political activities. Albertina regularly accompanied Walter to his political meetings, but only in a supportive role and not with the intention of becoming actively involved. Albertina qualified as a nurse and married Walter Sisulu in that same year.
The Sisulu house was always busy with visitors constantly moving in and out, many of whom were prominent political leaders. Walter decided to quit his job and join the ANC full time around and Albertina accepted the responsibility of supporting the family as the sole bread winner; a brave decision given that the wages of Black nurses was low. Her home in Orlando West in Soweto was used as a classroom for alternative education until a law was passed against it.
Both Albertina and her husband were jailed several times for their political activities and she was constantly harassed by apartheid security. In while he was awaiting the outcome of an appeal against a 6-year sentence, Walter decided to forfeit bail, and go underground.
Apartheid security visited his house and found that he had fled. Soon afterwards they arrested Albertina and her young son Zwelakhe , making her the first woman to ever be arrested under the General Laws Amendment Act. During this period, she was psychologically manipulated into believing her children were ill and that Walter had died when in fact he had been arrested and would go on to be one of the Rivonia trialists who were sentenced to life imprisonment on Robben Island in Albertina was detained and put in solitary confinement again in and for her activism.
She was also placed under multiple bans, and under house arrest, but still managed to keep links between jailed members of the ANC and those in exile.
In October , the last restrictions on the Sisulu family were lifted and Walter was released from Robben Island. During the early stages of the federation, Albertina was not in a central position of leadership, but she was actively committed to promoting the ideals of FEDSAW.
The job was challenging but Albertina still made sure to visit her patients in their homes in townships. She carried a suitcase full of her apparatus bottles, lotions, bowls and receivers on her head because she walked to her patients. The apartheid state responded by making it illegal to run alternative schools and it announced that it would shut down all boycotting schools permanently.
This resistance from the government, and the fact that alternative schools were not viable long term, had parents returning their children back to the government schools. Several Christian schools decided to continue as private schools rather than being placed under the control of the Bantu Education Department and Albertina and Walter decided to send their children to a private Seventh Day Adventist school despite the considerable financial burden this would place on them.
About 20 women gathered from all over the country to march to Union Buildings demanding to see Prime Minister Stijdom to hand over their memorandum. Networks and meetings were organized with regular weekend meetings being held in townships, the success of which convinced FEDSAW and ANC women leaders that a mass protest would be an effective means of protest, despite some reservations from male comrades in the ANC.
Transporting women to Pretoria was perhaps the biggest logistical challenge to the march, because of the financial cost as well as the reactionary measures taken by the police. Albertina was one of the leaders who had to ensure that women bypassed the reported police stops that were barring groups of ten or more women from traveling to Pretoria.
It was decided that the trains would be used as these would be harder to stop than busses, and Albertina was at the Phefeni train station at 2am on the 9th August buying and distributing tickets to women attending the march.
The march itself was phenomenal. You have struck a rock, You will be crushed! A delegation of nurses leading the demonstration warned the Nursing Council that forcing nurses to carry passes would have a devastating effect on hospital and clinic administration and after considering this the Council dropped their demands. In the same year a demonstration of over women led by Maggie Resha converged on Freedom Square in Sophiatown to protest against ongoing removals in Sophiatown.
Women in Alexandra were also protesting against passes. The women were in jail for three weeks awaiting trial. They had Nelson Mandela as their legal representative and eventually they were all acquitted at the end of the trial. To visit Walter, Albertina was forced to apply for a passbook as no-one could visit Robben Island without one. This process was very humiliating and degrading for her, she had never owned a passbook and had engaged in active resistance against the use thereof.
They aggravated circumstances further by deliberately delaying the administrative process. For five years Albertina was not allowed to leave the magisterial district of Johannesburg. She was also prohibited to visit any factory, newspaper or magazine office, university, school, college, or educational institution, and any Coloured or Asian area, except Orlando where she lived.
She was further barred from communicating with any banned or listed person list of individuals who the state wanted to persecute or were suspicious about except her husband. In addition to this she was not allowed to be involved with the compiling, printing or distribution of any publication, or to give any educational instruction to any person other than her own children.
Empty chair at a protest meeting for banned anti-apartheid activist Albertina Sisulu. In turn the Magistrate had to refer the matter to the security police.
Eventually Albertina was able to visit Walter in September , but the same restrictions applied to her in Cape Town and although she informed the police of all her arrival and departure times, her movements were closely watched over by local police. Over and above the pain of not being with Walter, she was faced with dire financial problems. Her children returned home from school in Swaziland for the December holidays and she was concerned that she might not be able to feed them. We were so lonely.
The people who we would normally spend the day with were not there. It was the worst Christmas we had ever had. From grocers who allowed her to buy on credit, to friends who would lend her money to buy school supplies for her children, to neighbors who would donate coal for cooking free of charge every month - in these difficult times her neighbors and friends were kind and supportive.
Even though Albertina was under constant surveillance by the security police she still managed to exchange political information with Walter and a network of other activists. The drought has been too much. The worms are so powerful that as soon as you put in plants they are destroyed instantly.
One such person was John Nkadimeng who was closely associated with Walter in the ANC before he joined the Communist Party and was also a target of apartheid security. John and Albertina managed to contact each other during and together they set up an underground cell. They were joined by activist John Mavuso and the three of them maintained contact with the ANC leadership in Botswana. Nkadimeng and Albertina went about setting up links with activists in other provinces which proved to be very difficult because of their banning orders and the ban on formal meetings.
Nkadimeng would visit Albertina at her clinic pretending to be a relative. They would discuss political matters by pretending to be chatting about family matters. Other underground activists would also go to the clinic and pretend to be patients and they would exchange information as Albertina attended to them.
Between 5pm when she finished work and 7pm when she had to report to the police station, Albertina managed to sneak off to meetings. One of her sons, Lungi, assisted her as courier and driver to other activists. He often picked up messages and parcels for his mother.
Albertina also managed to keep in contact with her FEDSAW comrades through very unconventional but ingenious methods; one of which involved conversations through a toilet wall.
Kubheka moved in next door in the mids. FEDSAW members would pretend to visit Kubheka but would converse with Albertina through the thin adjoining toilet wall while Kubheka kept a look out in the front garden for the security police. Albertina always had to be extremely careful as police informants were all over neighborhood, the clinic and even posed as members in the movement.
Towards the end of Albertina grew suspicious that John Mavuso was a police informant. He was their main contact with the ANC leadership in Lusaka and after he opened a new factory and Albertina was unsure where he had managed to get the money.
Biography of Nontsikelelo Albertina Sisulu, South African Activist
Albertina was accepted as a trainee nurse at the Johannesburg General Non-European hospital. The election victory of the Nationalist government precludes democracy. During one of the most widespread raids on homes and offices in South African history, The Sisulu family was one of the families accosted in their homes. Albertina celebrated her 50th birthday. Albertina was arrested and held without bail for more than six months on the charge of singing ANC songs at the funeral of a woman leader of the movement. Albertina and Walter left parliament for the last time and retired from politics completely.
It is the women who are on the street committees educating the people to stand up and protect each other. Her father Bonilizwe arranged for the family to live in nearby Xolobe while he was working in the mines; he died when she was She was given the European name of Albertina when she started at the local mission school. At home, she was known by the pet name Ntsiki.
Nontsikelelo Albertina Sisulu Facts
Early life[ edit ] Born Nontsikelelo Thethiwe in the Tsomo district of the Transkei on 21 October , she was the second of five children of Bonilizwe and Monikazi Thethiwe. She had to stay out of school for long periods of time, which resulted in her being two years older than the rest of her class in her last year of primary school. She adopted the name Albertina when she started her schooling at a Presbyterian mission school in Xolobe. Sisulu excelled at school in cultural and sporting activities and she showed leadership skills at an early age when she was chosen as head girl in standard five. Her classmates did not seem a major inconvenience at the time she finished primary school, later when Sisulu entered a competition to win a four-year high school scholarship this counted against her as she was disqualified from the prize even though she had come in first place.