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May 5, 2003

Walter Sisulu, 1912-2003

R.I.P. to one of the greatest heroes of the Anti-Apartheid movement, Nelson Mandela's right hand man for 50 years. As Hip-Hop representative I will note he was name-dropped by Chubb Rock on The One: "Long live the ANC, Walter Sisulu from South Africa, Mr. Mandela you're the real one"

Walter Sisulu, Mandela Mentor and Comrade, Dies at 90

Walter Sisulu, one of Nelson Mandela's earliest political mentors and his closest collaborator for half a century in the campaign against South Africa's racist political order, died yesterday in Johannesburg. He was 90.

Mr. Sisulu's political career was less celebrated than Mr. Mandela's but not much less remarkable. Alongside Mr. Mandela he rejuvenated and led the African National Congress, twice stood trial on capital charges for his activities, served 26 years in prison and still emerged deeply devoted to reconciliation...

...While Mr. Mandela was the public face of the African National Congress, by his own account he rarely acted without first consulting Mr. Sisulu...

...Walter Max Ulyate Sisulu was born into a peasant family in 1912 — the year the African National Congress was founded — in the Transkei, a former British protectorate in the south that was also Mr. Mandela's family home. Like many Africans of his generation, he was not sure of his birth date, although last year his 90th birthday was celebrated publicly on May 18.

He was of mixed race, but in his youth he identified fiercely with the Xhosa, and like Mr. Mandela he was for a time a devoted black nationalist. He studied at an Anglican missionary institute, but quit at age 15 and went to work in a Johannesburg dairy to help support his family. Over the years he labored as a gold miner, a domestic servant, a baker and a factory worker.

After being fired by several employers for trying to organize workers, he opened a real estate office in Johannesburg, helping blacks buy and sell property in the years before they lost that right under apartheid, the laws of strict racial segregation.

More important, he became the regional leader of the African National Congress in Johannesburg and the surrounding black townships. When Mr. Mandela arrived in Johannesburg in 1941, he was referred to Mr. Sisulu, described as a person of connections...

..."I had no hesitation, the moment I met him, that this is the man I need," Mr. Sisulu said in an interview shortly after the elections. Needed for what? "For leading the African people."

Mr. Sisulu's house in the Orlando section in Soweto was the social and political crossroads of the budding liberation struggle. He helped Mr. Mandela through law school, introduced him to his first wife (a Sisulu cousin) and brought him into the African National Congress.

Impatient with the seeming impotence of the liberation movement, Mr. Mandela and Mr. Sisulu joined with Oliver Tambo to create a youth league as a more militant wing of the organization.

Five years after organizing the youth league, the young rebels engineered a coup and took charge of the African National Congress. In the ensuing decades, they would be the congress's governing triumvirate — Mr. Mandela the articulate symbol of the struggle, Mr. Tambo (who died in 1993) the leader who kept the organization together in exile and Mr. Sisulu the behind-the-scenes counselor...

...When the congress set up a military wing to harass the apartheid state, Mr. Sisulu was part of its three-man high command.

With Mr. Mandela and 154 others, Mr. Sisulu stood trial for treason. The defendants were acquitted in 1961, but the top leaders of the resistance were arrested again in 1963 at a farm hideout in Rivonia, near Johannesburg, and convicted of conspiring to overthrow the state. Although the government demanded the death penalty, the men were sentenced to life in prison.

Mr. Sisulu was set free in October 1989, a precursor to Mr. Mandela's release four months later...

...Mr. Sisulu emerged from prison as lacking in vengefulness as Mr. Mandela, and filled with optimism. He said the nonracial philosophy of the African National Congress had trained them not to demonize their enemies.

"Bitterness does not do your cause any good," Mr. Sisulu said. "That doesn't mean you don't get angry. But you don't let it get in the way of your policy."

(I'm putting in such a long excerpt because the NY Times has a crappy new policy of making all their pages inaccessible after a week or so.)

Posted by jsmooth995 at May 5, 2003 11:45 PM

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