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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 June, 2003, 13:46 GMT 14:46 UK
Book lifts lid on Sisulu's marriage
Albertina and Walter Sisulu
After 26 years, the couple were reunited in 1989
A new book about the relationship of one of Africa's best-loved couples, Walter and Albertina Sisulu, is set to be released.

The book has been written by the couple's daughter-in-law, Elinor, and details not only the history of their political battles against apartheid but also the marriage that lasted until Walter's death last month at the age of 90.

"I was interested in going beyond just the political story," Ms Sisulu told BBC World Service's Everywoman programme.

"My feminist inclination - my belief in women's role in history - for me it was important to bring it out.

"Sometimes it's the small things - when you look at a great political leader or a great person and ask how they managed to achieve what they did, it's sometimes very mundane things which made them able to go, and it was support from ordinary people."

However, there was little mundane about the relationship between the two.


Walter first met Albertina in the 1940s, when he moved to Johannesburg, where Albertina was working as a nurse.

"It's difficult to say exactly what it is that makes two people love each other so much," Ms Sisulu said.

"Of course they came from the same area so they had a lot in common - Albertina was also from a peasant family, and also from a family where sharing was emphasised, where the emphasis was on making everybody feel welcome.

"They shared that ideal - and then later they shared a political ideal.

Nelson Mandela
Mandela regarded Walter as his best friend
"He always admired strong women, so he admired Albertina's strength very much, and always celebrated it.

"I think that was important for their relationship."

Ms Sisulu added that she felt the bond between the two was much stronger than words were able to express.

"It was difficult to get him to articulate what appealed to him so much about her.

"She was strong, she was beautiful, and she admired his sense of responsibility."


She also stressed that Walter's view of women - extremely radical at the time - had also been important in sustaining the couple's relationship.

"He had quite an unconventional attitude towards women and relationships - he believed strongly that women should be able to participate in the public arena, that they should participate in politics, and that in the home they shouldn't be constrained or pressed in any way," she said.

"So even in the '50s he was the person who thought nothing of doing housework.

"In some ways they almost reversed the gender roles, where she was the breadwinner and he was the more nurturing parent."

Indeed, Albertina was very much an activist in her own right, and kept the family together while Walter was imprisoned for 26 years.

From August 1964, she was banned from meeting more than two people at a time due to her activism. There were also legal restrictions placed on her movements.

In total, these restrictions were in place for 18 years - but Ms Sisulu added her mother-in-law had still been able to remain active.

"She somehow managed to operate in a very discreet way," she stated.

Albertina at Walter Sisulu's funeral
All South Africa mourned Walter's death
"She was the type of person who would keep a confidence until death, so people felt really safe dealing with her."

There was great joy when the couple were reunited in 1989 following Sisulu's release from prison.

"That was one of the most special experiences in all our lives," Ms Sisulu said.

"Yet when it happened we really could scarcely believe it."

A year later Sisulu's best friend Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and South Africa was well on the way to full democracy and the end of apartheid.

Walter finally died last month, two weeks before his 91st birthday - in the arms of the wife he had been with for 60 years.

South Africa honours Sisulu
17 May 03  |  Africa
Praise for veteran campaigner
06 May 03  |  Africa
South Africa mourns Sisulu
06 May 03  |  Africa
In pictures: Farewell to Sisulu
17 May 03  |  Photo Gallery

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