Nontsikelelo Albertina has been described countless times as a caring and service-oriented individual who spent her life lifting up those around her, whether as a nurse, freedom fighter, mother or wife. Her caring nature was nurtured from an early age when she had to take care of her siblings for her sickly mother (who had been greatly weakened by the Spanish flu of 1918). It was further fuelled by her conversion to Roman Catholicism in her teens and a desire to become a religious nun. Although Nontsikelelo Albertina never became a nun, her early years of caring for others and the self-discipline she learnt at school made her well-suited for work as a nurse and a anti-Apartheid activist. Nontsikelelo Albertina’s role as a caregiver was almost formalised when she took a position as a midwife at Johannesburg General Hospital. Her caring nature was not just put to use at the hospital.
Her house in Orlando, Soweto with her husband, Walter, was always filled with people, be they family or friends, and she was generous to a fault. She used her immaculate garden to support and feed her guests and others in the community no matter how little was to be had. Nontsikelelo Albertina took her ability to care for others into her political life; she is often described as the “mother of the nation”. This was because she fought for Justice in a way that meant that those around her were looked after and that their safety and well being was put first. In times of burden, sorrow, and suffering, she was tireless in her efforts to do the right thing for others, whether that be to improve their health, education or welfare. She always persevered and had an enormous sense of responsibility and obligation to eliminate the injustices she faced during her life so that those coming after her would not have to face them. In working to create change, she was committed to honouring tradition, she sort to preserve the culture she grew up within and insure that the new South Africa held place for all its people and all their cultures, as well as honouring her word. Sisulu was both principled and competent and this helped to ride out the darkness often brought about through defining moments in South Africa’s Apartheid history while still being able to remain hopeful and loving.
Later, her professional work as a nurse saw Nontsikelelo Albertina working in Soweto beside Dr Abu Baker Asvat, in a small clinic in which any person could come and seek care. They were seen to be kindred spirits who shared a mother and son relationship. As well as being a physician Abu Baker Asvat was a leading anti-apartheid activist (affiliated with the Azanian People’s Organization) who was murdered in 1989 for his political actions. They both sought to eliminate Apartheid and improve the troubles of those living under the its oppressive system. In her work with Abu Baker Asvat, she would tend to anyone who needed help regardless of political stance or personal characteristic, demonstrating her ‘mother's‘ heart. Being part of a wider community played a critical role in Nontsikelelo Albertina's life, which was often hard for her because of the many banning orders she was under during her life. Nontsikelelo Albertina had a deep commitment to creating a culture of caring This culture was based on living in a healing environment which was essential to maintaining a sense of unity amongst her fellow comrades in the freedom struggle.
Nontsikelelo Albertina’s dedication to her work (including nursing and political activities) and people meant that she was continuously busy.Her daughter-in-law, Elinor Sisulu, noted the following: ‘I never failed to be amazed by the way Albertina coped with a workload that would exhaust most people half her age. After a full day at the surgery, she would return home to find local activists waiting to see her. Most days of the week, she would face another three to four hours of meetings before going to bed. Her weekends were also mostly taken up with meetings and frequent interviews with local and overseas journalists, many of whom were interested in the mobilisation of women under apartheid.’
Nontsikelelo Albertina had a heightened awareness of the vulnerability of the people through her interactions with them.She applied extreme care in her decisions and actions regarding her political actions. She was a leader who placed herself on the front line, because she did not want someone else to get into trouble for doing something she could have done, she wanted to protect her fellow anti-Apartheid fighters (whether they were from the ANC, UDF or FEDSAW) Nontsikelelo Albertina was able to use her nature as a carer to instil hope and trust. She provided the most excellent and competent care possible in those critical moments of engagement with her family and extended community. Her nature consisted of a compassionate sharing of love, heartfelt empathy and dignity. Nontsikelelo Albertina may have had a ‘mothers’ heart and a caring nature but that did not make her weak. She had a strong sense of revulsion and disdain for deliberate injustices and she believed in resistance against the oppressive Apartheid system, even if it cost her her freedom. Albertina Sisulu worked constantly to address the racial injustices within South Africa that stripped people of their human rights and dignity. Through Nontsikelelo Albertina’s unique nature she was able to instil pride and dignity in those around her.
''Albertina Nontsikelelo Sisulu''. South African History Online, June 30, 2011. Accessed 13/06/18. www.sahistory.org.za
Downing, Chaelene., and Marie Hastings-Tolsma. ''An integrative review of Albertina Sisulu and ubuntu: Relevance to caring and nursing''. Health SA Gesondheid 21, (11 June 2016): 214-227.
Earl, G. Albertina Sisulu 1918-2011 nurse and South African anti-apartheid activist. Nursing Standard, (2011) Obituary. Sisulu, Elinor. Walter And Albertina Sisulu: In Our Lifetime. : David Philip Publishers, 2003.