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Walter Sisulu

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It is not widely known that Sisulu's mother Alice Sisulu was a domesticworker and his father, Victor Dickenson, was a white civil servant. Born on May 18 1912, Sisulu and his elder sister Rosabella were brought upin Ngcobo, Transkei, by his mother, his uncle Dyantyi Hlakula and hisgrandparents. Sisulu learned a great deal about Xhosa culture and the lawsof society from his influential uncle, who was the headman of the villageand a lay preacher. One of Sisulu's earliest childhood memories was the trip to Cofimvaba, avillage town, to be vaccinated during the influenza epidemic. He alsorecalls playing football and tinte, a Xhosa variant of cricket. Early political influences were Marcus Garvey, whose supporters preached thephilosophy of Africanism - getting "back to Africa". History lessons at theAnglican Missionary Institute in Ngcobo also inspired Sisulu greatly. It wasduring these classes that he learned about Shaka,Moshoeshoe, Cetshwayo andGeneral Mokana (Mokanda). Another inspiring figure was David, the tiny man who slew the giant Goliath.As a child he frequently visited the home of Dr Rubusana, an old man who hadfounded the Native Congress in the Eastern Cape. Rubusana was a directpolitical influence on Sisulu who later became a supporter of ClementKadalie's ICU in East London when he worked there. At 14 Sisulu left mission school to work. Between 1928 and 1940 he worked ina range of jobs: as a delivery man for a dairy; in the masonry and carpentrydepartment, then as a miner, of the Rose Deep Mine in Germiston; as adomestic; as a baker for Premier Biscuits; as a paint mixer for HerbertEvans in Johannesburg; as a packer for a tobacconist; as a part-time tellerat the Union Bank of South Africa, and after 1938 as an advertisingsalesperson and real estate agent. In 1943, as a founder member of the ANC Youth League, he attendedconferences of the Federation of Democratic Youth in Romania and theInternational Union of Students in Poland. He also travelled to the USSR,China and the UK. In 1949 he became ANCYL secretary. He published a book on African nationalism commissioned by the government ofIndia in 1954. In the '50s and early '60s he also wrote numerous articlesfor New Age, the Guardian and Liberation.He was jailed for life along with the other Rivonia trialists in 1963. OnRobben Island he completed a BA in art history and anthropology and readmore than 100 biographies. Sisulu's wife is Albertina Thetiwa Sisulu. They have five naturalchildren who have all contributed to the South African struggle: Max,Anthony Mlungisi, Zwelakhe, Lindiwe and Nonkululeko. In addition they havefour adopted children: Jonqumzi, Gerald and Beryl (whose biological mothersare Sisulu's sister and his cousin) and finally Samuel, a former RobbenIslander who begged to be part of Sisulu's family and has now been formallyadopted. Sisulu was released from prison on 15 October 1989. He was elected DeputyPresident at the ANC national conference in July, 1991. He became a patron of the UDF, the Omhle Trust and the Twa Twa Trust, and anhonourary chancellor of the University of Venda. He holds four honorarydoctorate degrees. He has been awarded the Isitwalandwe by the ANC on the 80th Anniversary ofthe ANC, Bloemfontein, 8 January, 1992.

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