Walter Sisulu

by Kellan Ferwerda

Life and Accomplishments

Sisulu was born on May 18, 1912. His mother was a black domestic worker, and his father was a white civil servant. Sisulu became a member of the ANC in 1940. In 1944 he married his wife, Albertina, and had five children, and raised three more. He was responsible for establishing the Youth League in 1944, and was elected Secretary-General of the ANC in 1949. He was among those arrested and tried in the Treason Trial, and was acquitted in 1961. He was later sentence to life imprisonment in the Rivonia Trial, and was not released until 1989, 26 years later. He was then elected as Deputy President of the ANC in 1991, and continued to be until 1994 when his health forced him to retire. He died on the 5th of May 2003, just before his his 91st birthday.
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Importance to Apartheid

Sisulu was involved in politics from a young age. He was fired for his job in 1940 for leading a strike for higher wages. He then joined the ANC, and was a founding member of the Youth League. As secretary general of the ANC, he was involved in numerous protests and, was among the original four founders of the MK armed wing of the ANC. He was aquitted during the Treason Trial, but continued to be harrassed until the Rivonia Trial, where he was sentenced to life. He was elected as Deputy President of the ANC upon his release, and oversaw the dismantling of Apartheid. He was a mentor and friend to Nelson Mandela, and was able to see his life long goals accomplished before he died.

Speech by Walter Sisulu at a Reception for the Presentation of the Award of Padma Vibhushan by the Government of India

Master of Ceremonies;
Your Excellency, High Commissioner of India to South Africa;
Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic Corps;
Distinguished Guests;
Comrades and Friends.

It is my honour and privilege to stand here today to receive this award. I stand here before you not as Walter Sisulu the individual. I stand here as Walter Sisulu, your humble servant.

I stand here today on behalf of Oliver Tambo, Chris Hani, Joe Slovo, Helen Joseph, Yusuf Dadoo and countless South Africans - unsung heroes and heroines - who have sacrificed life and limb for the common good, for the freedom that we are enjoying today.

I stand here on behalf of millions of South African men, women and children whose dream for a better life is the cause of our very being, the reason why we toil, be it in government, civil society, or indeed, the private sector. I therefore dedicate this award to all these masses and leaders!

Tempered in the crucible of common struggles against British colonial tyranny, relations between India and South Africa go back a long way.

The arrival in South Africa of Indian indentured labourers in the nineteenth century heralded the beginning of a long association between our two sister peoples which has produced giants of struggle of the calibre of Mahatma Gandhi and Drs. Naicker and Dadoo.

Forced to eke out a living under the most appalling conditions, and denied the most basic human rights, the Indian population of Natal soon began organising themselves into a resistance movement which culminated in the formation of the Natal Indian Congress led by Gandhi.

Gandhi’s philosophy of Satyagraha inspired many African leaders of the time and contributed immensely to the crystallisation of the ideology of the South African National Liberation Movement led by the ANC.

Without any measure of exaggeration one can say that the defiance of unjust laws campaign of 1952 was inspired to a considerable measure by the philosophy of Satyagraha.

Upon his return to India, the Mahatma initiated the Indian Liberation Movement drawing much on his experience in South Africa.

In subsequent years, Indian South Africans like Dr. Naicker, Ismail Meer, Dr. Yusuf Dadoo and many others were to play an important role in the South African Liberation Movement.

Shortly after her own emancipation from British colonial rule, India was amongst the first and very few countries at the time to openly declare at the United Nations her abhorrence at the system of racist colonial rule in South Africa and her support for the legitimate struggle of the people of our land for their freedom.

Today, four years after the historic victory of the ANC in the April 1994 elections, our two countries and peoples stand shoulder to shoulder in the struggle for a better life for the peoples of the world.

We share a common perspective on the demand for a just and equitable world order.

Needless to say, as our Indian brothers and sisters can testify, this new struggle is much harder than the one we fought before.

It is therefore imperative that those of us who have been charged with the heavy responsibilities of being the midwife of the transformation should remain focused, loyal and dedicated to the cause to which Gandhi, Nehru, Tambo and Dadoo so selflessly gave of themselves.

We owe it to these finest sons of India and South Africa to leave no stone unturned in strengthening the good political, social, economic, cultural and scientific relations which exist between our two countries.

A new millennium beckons.

What does this new era hold in store for the poor in Alexandra, Mumbai, Mowbray, Johannesburg and Calcutta?

Will the new millennium bring hope instead of despair to the "wretched of the earth"?

Half the battle shall have been won if indeed our efforts as leaders of our countries, parties and communities can at least inspire hope in our people for a better life.

The battle shall have been won if by 2099 our great great grandchildren shall be able to enjoy the benefits of a good education and decent housing.

The battle shall have been won if by the turn of the next century poverty, squalor, degradation and disease shall remain but a distant and fading memory.

We have it in our power to make the twenty-first century the Afro-Asian century.

It is not beyond us to make the new millennium, the millennium of accelerated development, social justice and economic emancipation for all our people.

In conclusion, Master of Ceremonies, I would like to take this opportunity to express my most sincere gratitude to the President and Government of India for bestowing the Padma Vibhushan award on me.

I am humbled by this honour and feel somewhat uneasy about joining the exclusive club of outstanding personalities like King Wangchuk of Bhutan, Dr. Chandrasekhar of the USA and Ms. Mirabehn of Britain who have been similarly decorated in the past.

May I also seize this chance to salute India and her sons and daughters on the occasion of her 50th birthday!

Your sterling achievements in science, technology and many other critical areas of human endeavour in the past fifty years leave your enemies and the jealous green with envy and inspire confidence and pride in your friends, such as we are.

Last but not least, I would like to thank all of you for finding time to come and share this moment of glory with my family and I.

Long live friendship between the peoples of India and South Africa!

References African History,. 'Short Biography: Walter Max Ulyate Sisulu'. N.p., 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.,. 'African National Congress Home Page'. N.p., 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.,. 'Speech By Walter Sisulu At A Reception For The Presentation Of The Award Of Padma Vibhushan By The Government Of India'. N.p., 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.,. 'Walter Ulyate Sisulu | South African History Online'. N.p., 2015. Web. 16 Nov. 2015.