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​​MaSisulu: mother in jail, mother in the suburbs​
download (10).jpgJohannesburg is a good place to bring up children, says stalwart anti-apartheid campaigner Albertina Sisulu, nicknamed MaSisulu.

And she should know - she brought up nine children in Johannesburg: her five children who were born here, and four adoptive children (two were her sister's). She has 26 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

"My children have done well in the city," she says.

Passed away 
Albertina Sisulu died on 2 June, 2011 at her home in Linden.
Born in the Eastern Cap​e in 1918, at 23 Sisulu came to live in Johannesburg, where she worked as a midwife. In 1944, at 26, she married Walter, brother of a fellow nurse, who became secretary-general of the ANC in 1949. She joined the ANC Women's League in the same year.

But in their first 45 years of marriage the Sisulus spent barely nine years together as a married couple, with Walter in and out of prison, or on the run, or in court, or travelling the country or overseas, until he was eventually jailed for life on Robben Island in 1964, together with Nelson Mandela.

Sisulu qualified as a midwife in 1954, working for the city's health department in the townships. In 1980 she was appointed matron to run a small hospital in Orlando East, in Soweto. Three years later, at 65, she retired.

From 1958, she too was in and out of jail, spending time in solitary confinement, at times taking one of her children with her. She spent time protesting against the carrying of passes, when in 1957 the apartment government extended the pass law to women.

From 1964, when Walter went to Robben Island, she was issued with her first five-year banning order. A 10-year house arrest followed. During this period she saw two of her children arrested, and she encouraged both to leave the country. She said in a 1991 interview: "None of the children in this house hasn't tasted jail."

In 1981, at 63, she was arrested and tried for furthering the aims of the ANC, and sentenced to four years' imprisonment. Although the case was eventually dismissed, Sisulu ended up spending 17 months in solitary confinement. In 1986, she was the first person to be restricted under the newly-declared state of emergency.

On a Saturday three years later, in 1989, her restrictions were lifted. On that Sunday she opened the door to Walter, released from prison after 25 years.

She said of this period: "All these years I never had, you know, a comfortable life."

Nelson Mandela, in his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, says of her: "Albertina, Walter's wife, was a wise and wonderful presence, and a strong supporter of Walter's political work."

Now, at 83, she says: "Those negative experiences didn't chase me away from Johannesburg. Even the people who tortured us would always be welcome in our house. Johannesburg is a comfortable place."

The Sisulus moved out of Soweto three years ago and now live in Linden, a middle-class suburb north of the city. "We are very happy here, friends visit, the old man and I go for small walks in the morning. It is quite different to Soweto - this environment suits me and the children, but I do miss the old people who used to visit."

They moved against their will, but principally because of Walter's health. "He has five or six doctors and has done well - he's 90 now, you know. I always accompany him to the doctor."

They soak up the city by going to shows - "I enjoy the singers" - and football matches - "my grandchildren are in the teams".

In fact, the suburbs have worked so well for the Sisulus, that MaSisulu says: "I love my Jo'burg more than Soweto."