2003• Woman of Distinction

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Albertina is one of the great heroines of South Africa. She is a living symbol of the freedom movement and of the crucial role that women played in bringing freedom and human rights to South Africa.

Born in Cofimvaba in the Transkei, on October 21, 1918, she was the second eldest of an orphaned family of five children.

After obtaining her junior Certificate in 1939, Albertina was accepted for nursing at the Johannesburg General Hospital. “I had no political ideas. I was devout until I met Walter,” brother of a fellow nurse. Walter Sisulu was already involved with the ANC Youth League and colleague of Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo.

Albertina qualified as a nurse and midwife in 1944. When Walter was elected the first full-time Secretary General of the ANC, she supported the family on her earnings as a nurse. She also joined the ANC Women’s League in the 1940s. In the 1950s Albertina became more active.

She became a member of the executive of the Federation of South African Women when it was formed in 1954;

she was a leader of the campaign to boycott ‘Bantu education’ imposed on African children; alternative classes were held at her house until they were prohibited by law; she was one of the leaders of the national demonstration of women in Pretoria in August 1956 in protest against the pass laws and again in Johannesburg in 1958; she was jailed, separated from her ten month old daughter. She was jailed again in 1963 and held in solitary confinement. Soon after Walter was sentenced to life imprisonment in 1964.

Albertina was prohibited from any public assembly or political activity. She had to struggle to support the family, working as a nurse and knitting clothes.

The orders were renewed; Walter was imprisoned for more than a quarter century; The orders were renewed; Walter was imprisoned for more than a quarter century.

She told one reporter: “Although politics has given me a rough life, there is absolutely nothing I regret about what I have done and what has happened to me and my family throughout all these years. Instead, I have been strengthened and feel more of a woman than I would otherwise have felt if my life was different.”

Now in her ‘80s, Albertina Sisulu continues to work as a member of Parliament, as the president of the World Peace Council and as an ANC leader in her home constituency of Orlando West, Soweto.

South African Women for Women is pleased to present Albertina the Woman of Distinction Award in recognition of her courageous lifelong struggle for human rights and dignity.