Mandela hails Sisulu as 'mother' of South Africa's people
Nelson Mandela praised anti-apartheid heroine Albertina Sisulu as "the mother of all our people", in a statement at her funeral Saturday in an historic Soweto stadium.
Sisulu, who died on June 2 at her Johannesburg home at the age of 92, was given an official state funeral that drew top political leaders, luminaries of the anti-apartheid struggle, and about 3,000 ordinary South Africans.
Mandela, who is also 92 and increasingly frail, did not attend the service but sent a message read by his wife Graca Machel, calling Sisulu "one of the greatest South Africans".
Sisulu was married to Walter Sisulu, Mandela's political mentor who died in his wife's arms in 2003. South Africa's first black president recalled meeting his first wife Evelyn in the Sisulu's home.
Albertina Sisulu was one of Mandela's last surviving contemporaries, a fact he acknowledged with obvious grief in his statement.
"The years have taken the toll as one by one friends and comrades passed on. Every time it seems as part of oneself is being cut off," he said. "None of those cuts could have been more painful that the loss of this dear friend, you, my beloved sister."
"You provided leadership and exercised power with quiet dignity. Through your selflessness and dedication, through your moral authority and sincere humanity, during and after the struggle you rightly earned to be the mother of all our people," Mandela said in the remarks.
His statement was greeted with rapturous applause, singing and dancing in the crowd.
Government provided 500 buses and seven trains to ferry people to Orlando Stadium, a landmark that was often a focal point in the apartheid struggle but was later renovated into a modern 45,000-seat venue ahead of the football World Cup.
Sisulu will be buried later Saturday, next to her husband in the nearby Croesus Cemetery.
During her life, she was hounded by the apartheid authorities, repeatedly jailed, and "banned" -- a penalty that limited her movements and her visitors.
But she lived to experience the end of white-minority rule, serving one term in the new non-racial parliament herself and seeing her children rise to top positions in government.
Her daughter Lindiwe is defence minister, her son Max is the speaker of the National Assembly, and another daughter Beryl is ambassador to Norway.
© 2011 AFP