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Last Updated: Saturday, 17 May, 2003, 12:54 GMT 13:54 UK
South Africa honours Sisulu
Albertina Sisulu at the funeral of her husband
Farewell from Albertina, Walter Sisulu's widow
The sound of revolutionary songs filled the air at a soccer stadium outside Johannesburg as thousands gathered to pay their last respects to the veteran South African nationalist, Walter Sisulu.

Police estimated that at least 10,000 people had gathered at the stadium in Soweto for the funeral of Mr Sisulu, who died aged 90 last week.

Some came dressed in African National Congress t-shirts bearing a picture of Sisulu, while others arrived in their Sunday best.

And they said they came to celebrate Sisulu's life, not to mourn him.

"There is just excitement, not a feeling of sorrow. He was a great man, a soft-spoken man," said Miriam Vilakazi, a widow whose son, Prins, joined the ANC after anti-apartheid riots in 1976.

"Everybody in the township is talking about this funeral," she said.

WALTER SISULU
Nelson Mandela and wife Graca
Nelson Mandela's mentor
Key strategist in anti-apartheid struggle
Spent 26 years in prison

Others, like Sister Mali, had been braving the crisp winter cold since the middle of the night.

She and other members of the ANC Women's League in Port Elizabeth 1,000 kilometres (625 miles) away, travelled by train to join the funeral.

The crowd gave former President Nelson Mandela a hero's welcome when he entered the stadium with President Thabo Mbeki.

Mr Mbeki, leading the tributes, said: "Walter Sisulu carried on his shoulders, on his mind and his soul the burdens of the poor, forever haunted by the cries of angry despair of the teeming and toiling masses ..."

The crowd inside the stadium sang nationalist songs in honour of Mr Sisulu.

The phrase, "Walter Sisulu, a huna a no vana nae" (Venda for "There is no one like Walter Sisulu"), echoed around the venue.

Nelson Mandela and wife Graca

Dressed in full combat fatigues, a member of the ANC's former military wing, Frans Nchaupe, said he believed Mr Sisulu's revolutionary spirit would live on with the majority of South Africans.

Mr Sisulu died last Monday after collapsing in the arms of his wife Albertina at their Johannesburg home, two weeks before his 91st birthday.

He was a towering figure in the struggle for majority rule in South Africa - serving 26 years in prison alongside Nelson Mandela and other leading opponents of apartheid.

He was one of a close circle of men, including Mr Mandela and the late Govan Mbeki, President Mbeki's father, who led the fight against white oppression from the 1950s.

His funeral was conducted by another veteran of the anti-apartheid struggle, Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Mr Sisulu's body was then taken in a procession to the cemetery where he was laid to rest.




WATCH AND LISTEN
BBC's Carolyn Dempster reports for Focus on Africa
President Thabo Mbeki:"...one that has been as mighty as a Baobab has fallen."



SEE ALSO:
In pictures: Farewell to Sisulu
17 May 03  |  Photo Gallery
Obituary: Walter Sisulu
05 May 03  |  Africa
Praise for veteran campaigner
06 May 03  |  Africa
Timeline: South Africa
02 May 03  |  Country profiles
Country profile: South Africa
06 Mar 03  |  Country profiles


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