Le Walter Sisulu


Walter Max Ulyate Sisulu (1912 – 2003) was born in Engcobo in the Transkei. His mother Alice Sisulu was a domestic worker and his father, Victor Dickenson, was the son of a white foreman who came to his village to supervise black road workers.
Sisulu and his elder sister Rosabella were brought up in Xhosa society in Ngcobo, Transkei, by his mother, his uncle Dyantyi Hlakula (who was the headman of the village) and his grandparents.
At 14 Sisulu left mission school to work. Between 1928 and 1940 he worked in a range of jobs: as a delivery man for a dairy; in the masonry and carpentry department, then as a miner, of the Rose Deep Mine in Germiston, Johannesburg; as a domestic; as a baker for Premier Biscuits; as a paint mixer for Herbert Evans in Johannesburg; as a packer for a tobacconist; as a part-time teller at the Union Bank of South Africa, and after 1938 as an advertising salesperson and real estate agent.
Sisulu joined the ANC in 1940, the same year that A.B. Xuma, also from Engcobo, assumed the position of President General of the African national Congress (ANC).
In 1944, together with Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela, Sisulu founded the ANC Youth League (ANCYL) and became its first national secretary.
As the ANC grew after the great African miners, strike of 1946, Sisulu grew too. In 1949 he was elected the first full-time Secretary-General of the ANC.
Sisulu began to study and write, to plan mass campaigns and to formulate strategies. He was a leader of the Defiance Campaign in 1952 and together with Nanabhai (Nana Sita), President of the Transvaal Indian Congress, led the first batch of African, Coloured and Indian defiers in breaking the law by entering Boksburg Location without a permit.
In 1953, Sisulu was the guest of the World Federation of Democratic Youth to its third World Youth Festival in Bucharest, Rumania.
Lekker Links
ANC: Walter Sisulu
BBC: obituary
South African History Online Sisulu was most impressed with what he saw in the socialist countries, the highlight of which was his visit to the Soviet Union. Being of working class origin and a member of the most oppressed nationality, the Soviet visit was an unforgettable experience. He was invited to speak over Radio Moscow.
On his way back Sisulu stopped over in London where he immediately set about meeting political leaders, both British and from other parts of Africa. He addressed a rally on South Africa in the Holborn Town Hall. On his return to South Africa Sisulu was enthusiastically received by a series of receptions and report-back meetings called by the South African Society for Peace and Friendship with the Soviet Union. Heavily armed police raided these meetings and made arrests.
He published a book on African nationalism commissioned by the government of India in 1954. In the 1950s and early 1960s he also wrote numerous articles for New Age, the Guardian and Liberation.
Sisulu was one of the accused in the Treason Trial in 1956. In 1960, during the State of Emergency, he was detained without trial. The next year he faced prosecution twice. Sisulu was arrested six times in 1962 and placed under 13-hour house arrest on 26 October 1962 and under 24-hour house arrest on 3 April 1963.
At the Rivonia Trial, Sisulu was the main defence witness and was subjected to fierce attack from the prosecutor, Percy Yutar. Sisulu told him: ‘I wish you were an African. Then you would know.’
Sisulu was charged with sabotage and other offences in the Rivonia Trial and on 14 June 1964 was sentenced, along with Ahmed Kathrada, Nelson Mandela, Govan Mbeki, Raymond Mhlaba, Andrew Mlangeni and Elias Motsoaledi,  to life imprisonment on Robben Island. Dennis Goldberg was the only white person found guilty and was sentenced to life imprisonment in a white prison in Pretoria.
Sisulu was released from prison on 25 years later, on 15 October 1989. He was ANC elected Deputy President in 1991. Sisulu’s and his wife Albertina have five natural children and four adopted children.
Sisulu died at his home in Linden, Johannesburg on 5 May 2003. The government accorded Sisulu a Special Official Funeral which was held on 17 May.


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