Dear Mr. President,

Mama Sisulu’s Best Honor is to Defeat Patriarchy and all it’s Manifestations

The African National Congress (ANC) and indeed all South Africans laud you and the government you lead for the countrywide public tributes to the life of Mama Albertina Sisulu during this the year of her centenary.
You  had planned to visit Mama’s gravesite on her birthday, the 21st of October but were unable to attend owing to conflicting commitments. Nevertheless the gesture was poignant and appreciated.

We recognize and are ever mindful that declaring 2018 to be the year of both Tata Madiba and Mama Sisulu was deliberate. It is testament to the ANC’s commitment to gender equality that we commemorate both of these global icons who had immense stature both inside our country and beyond.

This year we also mark the centenary of South Africa’s oldest women’s organisation, the Bantu Women’s League, which was formed in 1918 under the leadership of another icon, Dr Charlotte Maxeke.

Mr President, I am certain that referring to Mama Albertina Sisulu as a Woman of fortitude is a sentiment shared by all of our people. We therefore have a collective and shared responsibility to use Mam Sisulu’s year long centennial celebration as a platform to refocus the attention of the nation on the plight and rights of women and to assess the progress we have made towards women empowerment and gender equality since 1994.
 We mark the birth of Mama Sisulu in the face of a scourge of gender-based violence in South Africa; and worrying instances of women being deprived their Constitutionally-given rights in the workplace, in their homes , in their communities, in their places of worship and even on the streets.
This causes one to give pause and wonder if Mama Sisulu were alive today, what would her impression be of what our country’s girls and women have to endure on a near daily basis?

One imagines her exclaiming in that carefree but firm voice that commanded so much respect: “Hey wena Mongameli, what is wrong with the men of this country? Are your egos so fragile that you have to oppress and hurt us women?”
There is no doubt she would be disgusted with what she saw; the stubborn prevalence of patriarchy in traditional and modern communities; the harassment and objectification of women in the media; rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls ; the humiliation and ‘slut shaming’ of young women on social media platforms; and the pulling down of successful and independent women.
I imagine her looking you straight in the eye and demanding: “Speak up and speak out, comrade President ! Remind our men, and our women that the issue of women’s oppression isn’t a discussion for Women’s Day or the 16 Days of Activism.”
Mama Sisulu, would remind you of the ANC’s founding values and its commitment to advancing gender equality. She would remind you that women have served our movement as cadres, as fighters, as leaders and as activists; and that she expects all women to enjoy the freedom she experienced in the ANC-led liberation movement!
She would lament the dearth of radical feminism inside the ANC; one that is not obsessed with representation, but in advancing de facto equality between men and women – by ostracising and punish patriarchal, sexist and boorish behaviour even within our own ranks. She would be saddened to see that when called upon to support women, especially women who may have accused ANC men of inappropriate behaviour and even abuse, the ANC has been found to be unsure, hesitant and wanting.
The western hemisphere anti-sexual harassment campaign, the #MeToo campaign has ensured that the fight for gender equality is not a peripheral matter.  In South Africa, in the #FeesMustFall movement, the women activists have been consistent in their call for men to stop dominating the space.  
It opened a Pandora’s Box on levels of sexual harassment within the movement. An example is the media expose of alleged sexual harassment and attempted cover-ups within the non-governmental organisation Equal Education.
Mr President,
Patriarchy is common across all sectors of society, and the ANC is no exception. It is a system that serves to cultivate fear of feminism, legitimise inequality and chauvinism, and dilute opposition towards patriarchy.    
The ANC must never come across as unwilling to face the demon of patriarchy within its own ranks, its stunt must always be clear and unequivocal

Society’s tolerance for sexual misconduct has reached a breaking point.  
Certain forms of inappropriate behaviour towards women (that includes workplace harassment) that were tolerated in the 1980’s and early 90’s are not acceptable anymore and the ANC must embrace this new culture of gender equality at the centre of all its work.  
We need the men of the ANC to unlearn old behaviour and advocate for women’s leadership at all levels of the organisation. The bar for individual behaviour of members and leaders must be set much higher. Good moral conduct is supposed to be obvious and mandatory

Mr President,
Mama Sisulu would tell you to not hesitate to raise your voice about the behaviour, actions and attitudes of men within the movement insofar as it relates to antiquated attitudes to women.
She would say that the young women organized under the banner of the ANCWL Young Women’s Desk and such progressive formations of women are your allies in the fight for a South Africa free from patriarchy, sexism, racism, and inequality.  
She would tell you that all progressive people, especially the women, in South Africa have your back on this matter, and to not fear those chauvinists who may want to claim cultural relativism, or create fear that the feminist movement is anti-men!
At the end of her conversation with you Mr. President, she would tell you one last time to tell the men of South Africa, to “Stop it! Stop it! Stop it!”  
At times, the deep-seated attitude of society can exacerbate gender-based violence. Mr President, our collective call to action must be to work relentlessly towards women empowerment and gender equality. This is the best tribute we can pay to Mama Sisulu and the 1956 generation.

In conclusion, I once again thank you for choosing to acknowledge Mama Sisulu alongside Tata Mandela. The best honor to Mama Sisulu will be to defeat patriarchy and all its manifestations!


Comradely Yours
Pule Mabe
ANC National Spokesperson
twitter: @pulemabe


It was on a biting cold pre-dawn morning in August 1956 that thousands of women, among them young mothers with children on their backs, and grandmothers, their backs steeped with old age, waited in queues at bus and train stations around South Africa for their transportation. Some travelled in groups, while others journeyed alone. Those with means had provisions for the long journey, while others could not afford a meal. Many of these women travelled by foot, some – like Mme Rebecca Kotane – walked all the way from Alexandra township in Johannesburg to the capital.

The women were from vastly different backgrounds, spoke different languages and many were strangers to each other. But they were united in their sense of common purpose, to march to the Union Buildings, the seat of Nationalist Party power, and deliver their demands to then Prime Minister JG Strijdom.

Mama Albertina Nontsikelelo Sisulu started this historic day at Phefeni Station in Soweto at 2am handing out train tickets to the many women who were determined to march to Pretoria. Mama Sisulu drew a powerful image. This young woman – a nurse, a wife, a mother, an activist – already awake and active while South Africa slept, urging her countrywomen to get on the trains. Many would have undoubtedly had misgivings, or been scared of what they were about to do, and it would have been words of encouragement from Mama Sisulu that would have convinced them of the necessity of their course of action.

Few things better embody the spirit of Thuma Mina – of saying yes, send me – than the image of Mama Sisulu at the train station that morning at 2am in 1956. It speaks to the spirit of selflessness, of wanting to be part of a greater cause, and of wanting to be part of a broader movement to transform one’s community and society.

Mama Sisulu’s life is a chronicle of service to her fellow people, and bears witness to the fact that small actions of activism hold equal weight to bigger ones. She led the Women’s March in 1956, but she also undertook smaller actions of protest that carried heavy weight, such as withdrawing her children from a local government school in 1955 in protest against Bantu Education. Together with her husband Tata Sisulu they opened up their home to provide ‘alternative schooling’ for the children of families who had also taken their children out of the apartheid education system.

After the liberation movements were banned and most of its leaders imprisoned or forced into exile, Mama Sisulu was one of the few brave women who kept the fires of liberation burning within the country. They continued to organise and mobilise under the most difficult of conditions at great personal cost. Their tireless work in organising grassroots struggles laid the basis for the revival of the black trade union movement and the emergence of the mass democratic movement.

During the rent boycotts in the 1980s she was among the women who formed street committees to educate their communities about the need to maintain their stance against the apartheid municipalities. Of this she said: “Women are the people who are going to relieve us from all this oppression and depression. The rent boycott that is happening in Soweto now is alive because of the women.”

Among the many roles she played within the ranks of the liberation movement, she actively campaigned and lobbied to ensure that no discussion on the future South Africa would be complete without giving due regard to the position and status of women.

As a trained nurse and professional, she had in the course of her work come into direct contact with the realities of the lives of black women of South Africa under apartheid. The triple burden of women on account of gender, race and class was stark. It was black women who bore the brunt of deprivation, who couldn’t access quality health care for themselves and their children and whose infants had a higher risk of mortality.

She saw then that unless women could have equal access to opportunities that would enable them to make a better life for themselves and their families, South African society would not flourish. Those who had the privilege of interacting with her in various forums both before and after our liberation will attest to the fact that she was always committed to advancing the gender struggle. It is significant that together with non-racialism, building a South African society based on non-sexism is a central objective of the ANC; and we have Mama Sisulu and her peers to thank for this.

The actions the women of today undertake in furtherance of gender equality is the continuation of a long tradition that was given momentum through a series of events; among them the formation of the Bantu Women’s League in 1918, the formation of the Federation of South African Women in 1954, the adoption of the Freedom Charter in 1955, the formation of the National Women’s Coalition in 1992 and ultimately, the adoption of a new democratic South African Constitution in 1996.

Mama Sisulu was among the women who founded FEDSAW and was part of the drafting team for the Freedom Charter, a document that explicitly and unequivocally stated that women’s rights were human rights, and included women’s right to the franchise as a core principle.

Today, 24 years since the advent of democracy, we have come a long way in the struggle for women’s liberation. At the same time, we acknowledge that we need to do more to stamp out the evils of patriarchy, of gender-based violence, of unequal pay for equal work and of discrimination against women.

Government, led by the ANC has a concerted programme of action to give expression to the provisions of the Bill of Rights insofar as this relates to women. Educating and empowering the girl child is the first step towards undoing the insidious effects of centuries of patriarchy. Women have to take a stand against discrimination in society. The have to organise, mobilise and assert their rights and be unafraid to speak out when these are trampled upon.

Our women must follow in the footsteps of Mama Sisulu, who was concerned not just with her own emancipation, but with that of all the country’s women. Women must be their own liberators, for it is women who are the bedrock of our families, of our communities and of society. It is women, as Mao Zedong famously said, who ‘hold up half the sky’.

The Thuma Mina campaign aims to galvanise South African society towards a transformative vision; but we should never lose sight that its essence is about giving due recognition to big actions as well as small. There may be those among us who wonder whether their small action carries any weight. Mama Sisulu’s example shows just what is possible when small actions turn into a trickling stream, and lead to a flood.

The actions of the women of 1956, of Mama Albertina Sisulu and of other activists of her generation inculcated a tradition of gender activism of which South Africa can be justifiably proud. Today, we see it in the young women mobilising their fellow students on campuses against tuition fee increases. We see it in the women, young and old, who led a day of total shutdown in protest against gender-based violence. We see it in the crowds of women who gather outside our courthouses to support victims of sexual violence.

The forerunner of these brave heroines is Mama Albertina Sisulu. As we mark the centenary of her birth this week, the most fitting legacy we bequeath her is the implicit recognition that she blazed a trail for today’s women activists. To uphold her legacy, it is up to today’s women and men to assume the mantle of struggle.

 By President  Cyril Ramaphosa


This year we celebrate the centenary anniversary of the life of Mama Sisulu who took on the mantle of leadership during our darkest hours and remained a selfless servant of the people throughout her life.

There are many remarkable men and women upon whose shoulders our nation has been built. Their powerful contributions to our struggle for freedom, charted the way for a country that belongs to all South Africans.

Among these revolutionary giants was stalwart Albertina Sisulu who played a formative role in the opposition to apartheid and in building a non-racial, non-sexist and democratic South Africa.

For her bold role in the fight for freedom, she suffered immensely at the hands of the apartheid regime. She was jailed several times for her political activities and constantly harassed by the apartheid’s security police.

Mama Sisulu became one of the first women to be arrested under the General Laws Amendment Act that gave the security police the power to hold suspects in detention for 90 days without charging them.

She was also placed in “solitary confinement incommunicado” when she refused to give information about her husband and fellow comrade, Walter Sisulu who had gone underground as part of the resistance movement activities.

As a result of constant persecution from police, the Sisulu family faced many difficulties including financial struggles. Her financial woes continued throughout the 1960s as she struggled to afford her children’s schooling in Swaziland.

To help meet her family’s needs Mama Sisulu sewed dresses and knitted jerseys, and baby clothes to sell for extra money when she was not working as a nursing sister. She also bought items wholesale to sell them for small profit to meet her family’s needs.

During these times of hardship she could easily have succumbed to the onslaught of pressure from the apartheid state but did not relent and forged ahead in the fight for the emancipation of black people.

Sisulu’s life and legacy teaches us that nothing is impossible when we remain true to our ideals. While she and countless others of her generation faced overwhelming obstacles, they remained steadfast and triumphed.

As a nation that is still reeling from our horrific apartheid past we would do well to allow her teachings and deeds to permeate us as we work together to build a non-sexist, non-racial and democratic country.

Our ideals as a nation are reflected in our world acclaimed Constitution which reminds us that South Africa belongs to all who live in it, black and white.

As our founding charter it provides the basis for genuine democracy, the rule of law and the enjoyment of fundamental rights.  It explains our obligations to each other and encourages us to express our honest opinion on any issue and have vigorous debates. The same Constitution outlines the rights guaranteed in the Bill of Rights to all South Africans.

Moreover, we can follow in the footsteps of Mama Sisulu by getting involved in building the country we envisioned through the Thuma Mina movement inspired by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his State of the Nation Address.

It is a call for self-sacrifice, individual responsibility and the importance of personal change in mind-sets to serve the nation and influence the country’s political landscape. It is a new era where we as individuals make it our personal responsibility to confront our challenges and accelerate progress in building a prosperous society.

All South Africans as individuals, groups or communities must roll up their sleeves and work towards our future. We are motivated by the legacy of Albertina Sisulu who throughout her life worked for betterment of all South Africans.

She had a passion for community development, advocacy and the mobilisation of community structures. While working as a doctor’s nurse she provided much needed help to people in the poorest communities.

For example at McDonald’s Farm informal settlement in Soweto where people at the time were living in abandoned cars,  Mama Sisulu set up a surgery and installed 20 toilets that were shared by 150 people. She also made space for a crèche and a feeding scheme was introduced that fed approximately 80 children twice a week.

Albertina Sisulu continued to work for South Africans as a member of Parliament under the new transitional government in 1994. She retired from Parliament and politics in 1999, but still continued to support many social causes.

The selflessness of Mama Sisulu links directly with our National Development Plan’s (NDP) objective of “Building an Active Citizenry”. The NDP emphasises the need for South Africans to unite around a common goal, ensure citizens are active in their own development, and build a capable and developmental state.

It foretells a country where through our collective efforts we have eliminated the triple challenge of poverty, inequality and unemployment and enabled all South Africans to achieve a decent standard of living.

We will remain forever indebted to Mama Albertina Sisulu and her generation of freedom fighters. It is now in the hands of our generation to carry the legacy of our struggle heroes and move our country forward.

By-Comrade Pinky Kekana ANC, ANCWL NEC, Secretary General of the Pan African Women’s Organisation. She currently serves the Republic of South Africa as the Deputy Minister of Communications.