Albertina Sisulu was born in 1918 which, in the perception of today’s children and young adult readers, was an extremely long time ago. However, she died in 2011, aged 92, a year which was very much of their times. How things have changed is, therefore, a central theme of Albertina Sisulu. Similarly, the inculcation of values is an unhidden agenda.
Very early on, Albertina Sisulu learned that life could bring its share of adversity and that resilience was a virtue. She learned that it was important to shun selfishness in favour of service to others. Those adults around her understood the importance of having a good education, for boys and girls. Albertina was a diligent student who also displayed leadership qualities from an early age. Religious belief and strict discipline played a role in her life, too. She developed a mind of her own, opting for a nursing career when first offered the option of an arranged marriage. When she met Walter Sisulu she became progressively politicised and in the face of an oppressive, racist regime she determined to remain steadfast in fighting its injustices. After she and Walter were married, Albertina became the breadwinner because she earned much more than her husband. After Walter went into detention she nominally became a single parent who, nevertheless, brought other children into her fold for tender, loving care and education. She was repeatedly jailed for acts of defiance, often for years at a time and when she was not in prison she was under continually renewed house arrest. She was an unswerving spokesperson for other women and their rights.
Of course, we were all taught as children that nobody is perfect.
But, as with the non-existence of Father Christmas and the discovery that bad language is very common, young people will not learn of her shortcomings from the pages of Albertina Sisulu. That should, quite appropriately, come later. In their youth, all children everywhere and African girls, in particular, would do well to try to be like Albertina Sisulu through the example of her strengths: compassionate, committed and courageous.
Adults with biological and honorary titles like Mum, Dad, Aunty and Uncle should make every effort to have their charges exposed to the life and times of Albertina Sisulu, by reading this book on her, written with commendable didactic intention by Sindiwe Magona, a venerated South African writer in collaboration with Albertina’s activist, daughter-in-law, Elinor Sisulu.
A bonus in its structure is the ten page Timeline which places Albertina Sisulu’s life in the context of the history of South Africa from the 1820s to 5 June, 2011. That was the exact date of her death, after which her country’s flags flew at half-mast until the day on which she was buried as a true heroine of The Struggle.
Copyright: John Sibi-Okumu