Shaka Sisulu: In memory of Walter Sisulu

2013-05-19 10:00

If I didn’t know better, I would think the common image of a good-natured, warm and ever-smiling revolutionary was no more than publicity for the victorious.

But I saw it first-hand in a man I was lucky enough to call Tat’omKhulu.

As a laaitie, visiting his office on the 10th floor of the majestic Shell House, the headquarters of the ANC after it’s unbanning in the early 1990s, was always a treat because no matter how serious the time, or the issues they discussed behind closed doors, he would always emerge with a wide grin and his trademark jocular disposition.

It is one of those remarkable hallmarks of a remarkable man, and I have come to appreciate it more as I get older and get weighed down by the seriousness of it all.

Often, it feels like there isn’t a reason to smile about anything. And yet, we have our liberty.

My cousin Zoya shared with me her earliest memories of Tat’omKhulu. They were of visiting him at Pollsmoor Prison.

The trip there was always difficult and peppered with harassment. But all of those feelings washed away when he walked in.

She and fellow grandkids Moyikwa and Nwabi would clamber all over him before turning him into a human guinea pig, mixing different concoctions of Cup-a-Soup ­flavours for him to taste.

“Of course, this was always with lots of laughter and that gentle smile – all his love and generosity concentrated in those short visits.”

Vuyelwa, another cousin, remembers how he used to listen, deeply, attentively to every word. And this was whether you were relating a ­story to him, telling him of your woe or simply reading to him.

She would come home from class and join him on the veranda. He would sit back and close his eyes as she read Long Walk to Freedom to him, interrupting occasionally to explain things (so she knew he was awake).

They would sit there until the sun went down and the shuffle of Gogo’s slippers preceded her voice.

Many of his grandchildren will tell you about reading for him, and then him drawing them into an analytical discussion about the newspaper article they had just read. I’m informed that is how they began ­political training in the old days.

When my older cousin Ginyi read Tat’omKhulu’s biography to him, he was amazed at how much he ­remembered, and the clarity with which he recalled details of events many decades ago.

He had an incredible memory. Our grandmother would often use him as her memory bank, referring certain questions we had about the past to him.

As a family, a fortnight ago, we ­recalled the day of his passing a ­decade ago, but this weekend we ­recall the anniversary of his birth a century and a year ago.

I hope South Africans will join us in remembering the authenticity of this gentle giant.

I hope we remember how he chose to be all these things, and we can too. Long live the spirit of Walter Sisulu.

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