“The people are our strength. In their service we shall face and conquer those who live on the backs of our people. In the history of mankind it is a law of life that problems arise when the conditions are there for their solution”.
Comrades, these are the profound words of wisdom which epitomize the revolutionary character of this colossus of the struggle of our people, the late Secretary General of our
national liberation movement, Cde Walter Max Ulyate Sisulu, whose exemplary life we are gathered to celebrate here today.
It was during this beautiful memorable day of the glorious pages of our history books, that the umbilical cord of this precious revolutionary and the towering giant of our National Democratic Revolution (NDR), was cut from the womb of his mother.
A magnanimous day during which the footsteps of this outstanding son of the soil started writing its own history
on the dusty bowels of our Mother Earth, and in narrow and winding dirt roads of our
Comrade Walter Sisulu was great son from a humble peasant family at Engcobo in the
province of the Eastern Cape. His poor family background forced him to end his formal education at the age of 14 years, when he completed Standard Four at the local primary school.
As a result, he therefore went to Johannesburg where he worked as a mineworker in arduous and dangerous conditions underground in the mines.
The comrade Sisulu experienced the cold face of the capitalist colonial oppression and exploitation.
In one of the interviews about his life, comrade Walter Sisulu said the following about the reasons why he left the his work at the mines:
”Underground it was terrible. You work hard. You have to dig stones by shovels, that is difficult and whole day you have to do that. If you do not do that, you see, you are being driven, “come, come, come malayisha”.
Because of my size, smallness, they regarded me as a pikaneen ‑ a young one, apart from malayisha, I was holding you see, the mine machine for boring holes in the roof and in the wall. Sometimes I was the personal tea boy for the white foreman. I was dressed in wet sacks throughout the day.
It was strenuous work which left me exhausted at the end of the day. Now what drove me away? When the roof fell and people were killed. That morning I organised some chaps not to go down. We wanted to be employed outside.
We felt we could not go down when people are being killed like that. That is how I left. I had already served my fourth month, so I could leave the mine. And I was not satisfied with the conditions. “The food was a source of constant complaint. Bedding has to be supplied by the migrant
workers themselves and dormitories were overcrowded, windows were small and
ventilation was poor.
Toilet facilities were not the flush system, but the bucket system”. Comrade Walter later worked at a bakery where he joined the trade union movement, and therefore expanded the frontiers of his participation in the wider struggle of our people for
the creation of a better world for humanity.
The objective realities of the Apartheid
colonialism of a special type, opened the horizons of his consciousness and his
understanding of the necessity of the struggle for the freedom and dignity of the majority of the people of our country.
In 1931, Cde Walter went to East London to look for employment. There he was for the first time introduced to one of the founding members of the African National Congress, Dr Walter Rabusana. He was later also introduced to leading figures of the trade union movement at the time, comrades Clement Kadilie and Richard Godlo.
It was a momentous stage in the history of his political development, as his interactions with these various leaders widened his horizons, and understanding of the character of oppression in South African. This elevated his political consciousness about the necessity of
the unity of the African people in particular, and the black people in general, in order to
liberate themselves from colonial oppression racism and exploitation.
He thereafter went back to Johannesburg again, where for the first time he led the strike at the Premier Biscuit company. He says the following about his first hand experience as the leader of that strike:
“I had also learned a little bit from a man who had been working with us who was no longer there, Elliot Mngadi was his name. He was connected with the trade union movement.
I had no idea really of what a strike is except that I knew that to strike means you do not go to work until your demands are met. That I knew very well.”
“I had put an idea there before the community of workers there to say” less go and strike”. Less make these demands.
Now Mngadi was no longer there to take us to the trade union movement, so we did things on our own. “And on some advise, I said to the workers, you must come with suits, you must not come with your overalls. Bring your best suits, just as you go to church. We must meet at the
corner of siemert and market street at 10 hrs in the morning.”
“By 10 hrs you know that the employer will be panicking. Nobody to bake, nobody to drive the lorries. Everything must come to a standstill.”
“So indeed my colleagues obeyed. They all went to corner siemert and market street at 10 hrs about a block away from the building. Now I am going to lead the group on a procession to the premises of the bakery. We went as planned.”
“The manger was a very serious minded man. And almost cruel. Doesn’t talk to a black man. He doesn’t know anyone by name. “ just say, boy come here”. As we entered the gate he was already there to welcome us. As we come around we lined up.”
“Now the chap is feared by the workers. So once he takes a line, “hey boy, do you want to work” “ yes sir” go that way. He got almost all of them in that way, until only four of us remained.”
“I was now persuaded by my colleagues to go back to work. I say no “ my pride does not allow me to go back”. Going back without them conceding to our demand?.
How can I explain that to the people?. I cannot go there. And I was left there in the cold and that was the end of my employment”.
Comrade Sisulu joined the ANC in 1940 where he was immediately elected as the Treasurer of the Orlando branch. The main focus of the branch at the time was the mobilization of the people against pass and liquor raids, permits and influx control.
Cde Walter Sisulu attended the first National Conference of the ANC in 1942 as a delegate from his Orlando branch. He and his co‑ delegate from the branch, Cde Leslie Gama, sponsored a motion at plenary for the formation of the ANC Youth League (ANCYL).
This, he became instrumental in the formation of the ANCYL, and the processes that led up to its founding conference in 1943, where comrade Anton Lembede became the first President, comrade O.R. Tambo became the Secretary General and comrade Walter Sisulu himself
became the Treasurer.
He was amongst the young generation of the time to participate in the plenary session of the historic National Conference of the ANC of 1943. It was during this National Conference that the new constitution defining the ANC not as a federal, but a unitary movement, was
It was during the Conference that the House of Chiefs was abolished, and the
branches of the ANC were adopted as the basic units of the Movement.
It was in 1949 here in the town of Bloemfontein (Mangaung) when history was made. It was here where the National Executive Committee (NEC) of the ANC gathered to seek to find solutions to the plight of the oppressed African people. That critical, painful and heart‑felt
search led them to this place of Bloemfontein, the Mecca of politics.
It was also in 1912, after the Boers and the British had signed the treacherous treaty of
Vereeniging which excluded the African people, that the leading lights of the day came here in Bloemfontein to find a solution.
When the inevitable outcomes of the objective realities of time gave birth to our glorious Movement, the ANC, in this sacred church where we are gathered now.
In 1948 The Nationalist Party took over government in a hotly contested whites only election that saw the humiliating defeat of the United Party led by Jan Smuts. Dr D.F. Malan won a land slide victory, and wasted little time when he passed a litany of oppressive laws
such as the Group Areas Act, Bantu Education Act, Population Registration Act, Immorality Act, and also initiated the Homelands System and the Suppression of Communism Act.
All these heinous laws were codified under one philosophy and the racist doctrine of
Apartheid. Bloemfontein became a place of refuge when the Africans were hunted, denuded of their dignity, treated like a dogs and spat upon in broad day light.
They came here to ease their burden of grief, and to re‑energize the movement of Langalibalele Dube, of Solomon
Plaatjie, of Pixey ka Isaka Seme in order to face the their mortal enemy.
They gathered in a tiny hall on the 15 ‑ 16th of December 1949 at the Magasa Hall in the
Batho location. After three days of intense deliberations they gave birth to a new
generation of leaders that thrusted Walter Max Sisulu into the political theatre to face off
with the aging and stubborn D. F. Malan who was born on the 22 May 1874. Walter Sisulu , aged 37 years was nominated by Lancelot Guma and supported by Alan Nxumalo. Fresh
blood was injected into the veins of this movement, when a new youthful crop of leaders
assisted Dr. J. B. Moroka, who hailed from Thaba Nchu, emerged. The stage was set, and the decks were cleared for a titanic confrontation with the racist
regime. The ascendance of the leadership by the new Young Lions turned around the
fortunes of the ANC, and gave vent and impetus to the new era of confrontation and
defiance. Apartheid and its sinister motives had met its ultimate match!
This development saw a crop of fit and determined fighters emerge, who soon summoned
the masses of our people into the militant Defiance Campaign of 1952. Instantly, the
membership of the ANC shot to the roof when scores of the petty bourgeoisie, migrant
workers, students, the clergy, traditional leaders and the lumpen proletariate swelled its
In 1953 comrade Walter Sisulu was invited by the World Federation of Democratic Youth to
attend the first World Youth Festival in Romania. He was among the delegation of 25
members of the ANC, and the ANC Youth League, which was led by the Secretary General of
Youth League, comrade Duma Nokwe.
In the course of the trip, the delegation visited various countries such as Israel, Britain,
China and the Soviet Union. The visit to various socialist countries had an impact of great
significance on comrade Walter’s theoretical outlook, and his understanding of the struggle
of the working class for the achievement of socialism. He met many young people from various parts of the world, including the delegation of the
July 26 Movement from Cuba, led by the present General Secretary of the Communist party
of Cuba, comrade Raul Castro. The phenomenal exposure to the world of socialism
influenced him to join the South African Communist Party (SACP). Walter Sisulu, as a vital member of the engine room of the ANC, steered all these heroic
deeds in a quite and unassuming, yet very militant, manner. As Secretary General, he
oversaw the era of the creation of the Alliance, and turned it into a fighting force of the
people. Comrade Walter was instrumental in the preparations of the historic Congress of the People, that gave rise to the Freedom Charter as the blue print of our future envisaged
nation, Free, Democratic, Egalitarian, Prosperous and Non‑Discriminatory. When comrade
Nelson Mandela signed our new Democratic constitution in 1996, he affirmed the Bill of
Rights as a direct expression of the Freedom Charter and the will of our people.
When the Federation of South African Women planned their march against Strydom,
Walter Sisulu was instrumental in giving advise, logistical support, tactical guidance and
access to the branches of the ANC for the success of that historic campaign. After the banning of the ANC, and when our leaders were forced to go underground,
comrade Walter was task with the daunting leadership role of administering the
underground machinery, and also to set up and maintain Radio Freedom. Here is his
profound revolutionary message to the people of our country during his first broadcast on
Radio Freedom, on the 26 of June 1963:
“Sons and daughters of Africa. I speak to you from somewhere in South Africa. I have not
left the country. I do not plan to leave.”
“Many of our leaders of the African National Congress have gone underground. This is to
keep the organization in action and to preserve the leadership, to keep the freedom fight
“We must fight against the removal of African people from the Western Cape. We must
reject once and for all times the Bantustand frauds. No act of government must go
unchallenged. Only by united action we can overthrow this government.”
“We face tremendous odds. We know that, but our unity, our determination, our sacrifice,
our organisation, are our weapons. We must succeed. We shall succeed”. Walter Sisulu presided over the affairs of the ANC with a gentle, yet firm and caring hand. His charm made light the burden of oppression that our people endured in the 1950’s. This
giant if our people towered head and shoulders above Malan, Strydom and Verwoerd. The fact that Verwoerd ‘s grand son will be in parliament as an MP for the FF+ means
absolutely nothing. What is salutary to note is that he comes as part of the minority in a
democratic parliament governed by the People’s constitution and where the nemesis of his
grandfather, the ANC is the majority party. His grand father‘s apartheid policies had died
with him when he was knifed in broad day light by Dimitri Stafendas. Let me cite the hall of fame of the generations of ANC Secretary Generals. From 1912 to 1915 we had Solomon Tshekiso Plaaje. From 1915 to 1917 it was Saul Msane. From 1916 to
1917 it was R.V.Selope Thema. Then followed by H.L.Bud’Mbelle. From 1923 to 1927 it was
Mweli Skota, and from 1927 to 1930 , E.J.Khaile, from 1930 to 1936 it was Elijah Mdolomba,
1936 to 1949 it was Rev James Arthur Calata, from 1949 to 1955 it was Walter Max Ulyate
Sisulu, followed by Oliver Tambo between 1955 to 1958, Duma Nokwe took over from 1958
to 1969, then Alfred Nzo, then Cyril Ramaphosa, then Kgalema Motlante , Gwede Mantashe
and now the pen and the paper are back to the Free State where it all started. What are the challenges that face us today as we remember the birth date of our icon,
comrade Walter Sisulu? What are the current political balance of forces that are at play?
What are the motive forces necessary to catapult us into the historical era of unity and
cohesion?. We are now faced with quasi political formations that seek to blind us from our historic
mission. We are now faced with the clamoring noises of our detractors who seek our
downfall. The forces of darkness that seek to saw confusion in our ranks, and want to divert
our attention away from the last lap towards true freedom. The struggle for the economic emancipation of our people is, and must be, unstoppable. The struggle to restore the dignity of our people is matching on relentlessly. We can no
longer be slaves in our own nation. We can no longer be counted as the poorest of the poor,
while those who hold our wealth through historic theft still enjoy it. It just cannot be that 25
years after our first democratic elections the control of the resources our country and our
country is still primarily in the hands of white people, who are the descendants of the
colonists who stole our wealth and land in the first place. We cannot allow a few of us to be
co‑opted into the power structure of the (mainly white) rich, while many (indeed most black
and African people) still remain poor. We cannot defeat White Monopoly Capital (WMC) by allowing it to co‑opt us. We must
build our own economy that will be answerable to our national interests. All independent
nations run their own economies, it is only us who wish to be given a slice in other people’s
economies. Economic self‑determination of the African people is the next vital frontier of
struggle. We can never waver or falter in our determination to achieve that!
Africans must build our own industries, and manufacture the very goods that we need. In
fact to put it bluntly, we must consume what we produce. We must go back to basics and
rebuild our own economy, starting with the township economy. Gone are the days when we were told that, “setlari sa mosotho ke leguwa.” Gone are the days when we were told that, “setlari sa mosotho ke leguwa.” Gone are the
days when we were told that, “Umlungi umdala.” We are also Mdala. We too have come of age, and are willing to take charge of our affairs. Nelson Mandela once warned us that:
“Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” So it must not
be argued that we are motivated by hate. We are motivated by the quest for justice. It is an
irrefutable truth that for long as the poor are poor, the rich cannot sleep at night. As we remember comrade Walter Sisilu we dare not betray our true struggle for cheap
media headlines, nor for the crumbs that come from the well laden table of White
Monopoly Capital. We dare not betray our people with a view to gain favours from those
who owe us our very wealth. Comrades, we must be resolute and steadfast! We are heading for troubled times, and we
are surely coming for what is ours!
In memory of our late Secretary General of the ANC, and son of our soil, comrade Walter
Sisulu, our unwavering determination is to implement the Resolutions of our historic 54th
National Conference. Our determination is to foster a new momentum for the fundamental
Radical Economic Transformation (RET) of our socio‑economic landscape. Our mandate is to expropriate land without compensation, our mandate is to nationalize
the Reserve Bank, our mandate is transform the financial institutions and banks in order to
serve the needs of our people, our mandate is to implement national health insurance, our
mandate is to implement the minimum wage, our mandate is to stop retrenchment of the
working class, our mandate is to stop privatization of state own enterprises (SOE’s), our
mandate to achieve free and universal education, our mandate is the transfer of the
political and socio‑economic power into the hands of the overwhelming majority of our
people, Africans in particular, and the black people in general.
In memory of this outstanding heroic son of our people, we shall remain organizational and
defend the resolutions of our national conference. We will work for PRINCIPLED UNIITY in
order to carry out our sacred mandate. Brick by brick we shall work with determination, and
give no‑one a quarter to undermine the will of the branches of the ANC. which are ‑ and
must always be ‑ the basic units of our organization. We again take the opportunity thank the people of our country and the province of the Free
State for the confidence they have bestowed upon the ANC during the recent national
general elections and we are indeed humbled by your continuing support to our glorious
National Liberation Movement, the African National Congress.
The recent elections have shown us that our people are impatient. Our people demand
service delivery, sustainable jobs, efficient health services and an accountable government. Their hope still lies with the ANC, and we dare not betray them. Our people are refusing to
be subtenants and squatters in the land of their birth. This is our current challenge; to better the quality of life of our people, and this can only be
done when the ANC remains an unapologetic fighting force. We must increase the capacity
of the ANC and Alliance partners to wage an unrelenting struggle against the theft of our
wealth and our dignity.
In our dear leader, Isithwalandwe, a trade unionist, a communist, and a revered leader of
our movement, the historical period has build a monumental foundational corner‑stone of
the future generations of humankind. Comrade Walter’s contribution to the cause of the
struggle of our people was a great leap in the development of progressive human society. His ideas will continue to be the guiding torch of the struggle of our people into the future. The struggle for the achievement of a non racial, non sexist, democratic and prosperous
society. We shall forever cherish his living memories, and continue tirelessly to work for the
achievement of his ideals. We thank you.