Will the next generation in Africa make it? A Reflection of Walter & Albertina Sisulu’s biography

Written by: Shirumisha Kwayu

Reflections on:

Elinor Sisulu,( 2011). Walter & Albertina Sisulu; In our lifetime. New Africa Books, pp. 688

On Thursday 5th September 2013 as I was coming out from the exam room feeling relieved from exam stress and with the joy completing my master’s program, I walked on my way back home very energetic. As I was walking I ironically (as I had finished the program,) noticed books laying outside a coffee shop located near Loughborough town. I decided to  stop and look into the books. My subconscious intention was to find something to read for pleasure and to keep me busy in the coming ‘free’ days. It was indeed a good decision, as when I look at the book, one stroke my eyes like a light- it was none other but ‘Walter & Albertina Sisulu: in our lifetime’ by Elinor Sisulu, the daughter in law for Walter and Albertina Sisulu. My attention was drawn to the book with the desire to better understand the history of our continent. I was very grateful to find it on sale just for a pound.  But the book and the information in is a lot more worthy. A million time worthy. The book is thick with considerable primary account of the history of South Africa liberation. Personally, I have learnt so so much from the book. Here is what I want to share with you with regards to the books and the life of Walter & Albertina Sisulu.

The book starts by explaining the family tree of Walter and Albertina then it proceeds to their marriage. It moves from family to their role as key players in the struggle against the inhuman apartheid system in South Africa. It then narrates the years that Sisulu spent in prison and finally ends with Walter working hard for the African National Congress (ANC).

Walter and Albertina were active anti- apartheid activist. Walter served as a secretary for the ANC. He was among the accused in the Rivonia Trial and he was  subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment alongside Mandela and others include Ahmed Kathrada.  Him, Kathrada and Mandela spent time in Robben Island. Albertina on her side was an attendant in political meeting escorting his husband Walter but later on she became a public political figure. She started the ANC women league in 1955. Albertina faced continuous harassment from the police and bans for gathering around people. The book narrates in details how the family of Sisulu fought against apartheid and the price they paid for the struggle.

Below, I put forth some lessons that our and next African generation can learn from leaders such as Sisulu:

First and foremost the generation of Sisulu stood up for the ideals that they believed. In most times peoples words are antagonist with their acts. Walter, Albertina, Mandela, et al were people who stood up for what they believe regardless of the surrounding situation. A prove of this is the famous speech at the Rivonia trial on 20 April 1964 which Mandela said he was ready to die if its needs be.

Second, the fact that Walter and Albertina (also Mandela and Winnie and others) had their good jobs and young families but still were committed to the struggle that risked their  lives and denied them comfort is a big lesson to our generation. They lost everything they had and continued to fight until they saw victory.  Here is the lesson of unselfishness and commitment.

Third, they did not fight for liberation out of personal gain but it was for the common good. For instance at one point the ANC decided to increase the salary of Walter from £5 to £10. He did not accept. Walter challenged the party ‘how is it possible for them to increase while the organization failed even to pay £5 pound in its bills? This shows that freedom fighters were dedicated to common good and not personal gain.  They led by examples. In our generations, how many African leaders are able to challenge their increasing high salaries at the cost of mass poverty?

Forth, the generation of Walter and Albertina Sisulu understood the importance of education in the struggles. Even in prison Walter Sisulu fulfilled his desire to learn. When they were in Robben Island they worked together and learned from each other. They even fought for having classes though they faced strong resistance from the prison wardens. They were given hard work to ensure that they didn’t have time and energy to learn but still they learned every day. They emphasized education for their families and followed up while they were in prison. This came to bear fruits as their children became companions in the struggle.

There a lot of things that we can learn from Walter and Albertina’s Sisulu life such things are all encompassed into their sacrifice, commitment, integrity, and humbleness.

This is my reflection to the book. I emphasize that our generation and next generation African leaders must revisit our ideals and ask ourselves if we can make it. We are here because of what leaders such as Sisulu, Mandela, Nyerere, Kaunda, et al did. We have to remember that.  We should ask ourselves what is our struggle, and get committed to the ideals to the point that we will be ready to die for them if need be.

If you have time read Walter and Albertina’s book to learn more from these two noble people. I cannot say anything further because I am afraid it will be disservice to these great leaders.

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