Walter Sisulu

Walter Sisulu, anti-Apartheid activist and political reformer, was born in 1912. Through his work with the African National Congress (ANC), Sisulu devoted himself to securing equal rights for all South Africans.

Sisulu’s father, a white public servant, never acknowledged him as his son. He was raised by his mother and uncle in the local Xhosa tradition and moved to Johannesburg in 1929.

In 1941 he met Albertina Thethiwe, a nurse who would become his wife and partner in the anti-Apartheid struggle. They both joined the ANC and rapidly climbed the political ranks of the party.

Along with his friends, Nelson Mandela and Oliver Tambo, Sisulu created the National Youth League of the ANC. Sisulu helped organize the Defiance Campaign and was promoted to Secretary-General of the ANC. In 1953, he spent five months travelling China, the Soviet Union, Israel, Romania, and the United Kingdom to study their political structures and used his knowledge to define the ANC as an organization. He is often credited for implementing the changes that turned the ANC into a steady political party.

Like many others, Sisulu was targeted by the South African government and tried for high treason. In 1963, Sisulu, was sentenced to life in prison. While in prison, Sisulu organized ANC lectures and held political discussions for other detainees, using Albertina as a link between him and the outside world.

Twenty-six years later, on October 15, 1989, Sisulu was freed. Upon his release he was appointed Deputy President of the ANC. In 1994, health problems forced him to resign but he remained active in the fight for human rights through the Albertina Sisulu Foundation. When Sisulu passed away from illness on May 5, 2005, thousands of people attended his funeral to honor his life work leading the anti-Apartheid movement.