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", as political leaders and thousands of ordinary South Africans mourned her death.
President Jacob Zuma, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Zambian independence leader Kenneth Kaunda and Mandela's wife Graca Machel were among the 3,000 people at Sisulu's funeral in an historic Soweto football stadium.
Notably absent was Mandela himself, who at 92 is increasingly frail and rarely appears in public. He delivered his condolences in a message read by Machel, calling Sisulu "one of the greatest South Africans".
Albertina Sisulu died on June 2 at her Johannesburg home at the age of 92. Her husband Walter was Mandela's political mentor, and their decades of marriage endured endless harassment by apartheid authorities to stand as one of South Africa's great love stories.
After the funeral service, she was buried in a nearby cemetery in a plot next to her husband, who died in her arms in 2003. The four-hour funeral and the burial that followed were broadcast live on television.
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 than 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.
His statement was greeted with rapturous applause, singing and dancing in the crowd, which lasted for several minutes before the service returned to the more solemn proceedings marked by hymns and prayer.
Zuma took the podium, singing the anti-apartheid hymn "Thina Sizwe", before hailing her as a model of integrity in the face of persecution.
"One of the most steadfast, dignified and disciplined pillars of our struggle has fallen, an era has ended, and the nation is devastated," Zuma said.
"Despite the persecution, Mama Sisulu remained an epitome of grace, dignity and discipline. She did not let bitterness engulf her heart. She remained focused on the mission of achieving freedom and justice," Zuma said.
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 recently modernised for the football World Cup.
During her life, Sisulu 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