Love can inspire more than romance – it can inspire activism that lasts a lifetime. Walter and Albertina Sisulu met in a hospital in Johannesburg in 1941. Albertina, a name she chose from a list provided by nuns at her school, chose a professional path rather than early marriage, and was working as a nurse at the hospital at the time she met Walter. A young activist, Walter had joined the African National Congress in 1940 – and together with his wife and their four children spent a lifetime fighting for human rights and against apartheid in South Africa.
Walter’s 26 years in jail alongside lifelong friend Nelson Mandela didn’t keep their love from growing. Albertina worked hard to support their children’s upbringing, raising them alone during his time away, providing education and relative stability, while continuing to fight in her husbands stead for equality. Her commitment to mothering a nation through her efforts earned her the nickname ‘Ma Sisulu,’ and after joining the African National Congress Women’s league in 1955 her involvement became a lifetime’s work as an activist.
Adjusting to their “government-prescribed lifestyle” was difficult, and bannings, house arrests, and humility from government officials were commonplace in Albertina’s life without Walter. Albertina stood by her partner and even went to jail for him when Walter went underground to avoid his own arrest. She became the first woman imprisoned under the General Laws Amendment Act. They both served many stints in jail and when they were finally reunited after Walter’s longest sentence ended in 1989, they committed the rest of their lives to advocacy for human rights.
by Dorit Avganim