Education focus at Sisulu centenary

By Drum Digital
28 May 2012

The late Walter Sisulu was passionate about education despite only having standard four when he was sent to Robben Island for treason, his former cellmate and Rivonia trialist, Ahmed Kathrada, said on Friday.

"Despite having no formal education he was an educated man, because, what Walter showed was that you do not need a certificate to be educated," Kathrada said of his life-long friend and former ANC deputy president, who died in May nine years ago.

He was speaking at Sisulu's centenary birthday celebration in Johannesburg.

The event, the first of a series to mark Sisulu's 100th year, was a fundraiser for the Walter Sisulu University Foundation. The foundation is a financial support partner to the Eastern Cape university, which is currently under administration.

Kathrada spent an hour reminiscing about his old friend, telling stories of Sisulu's generosity and courage. For the last four years of their incarceration, before being freed by the apartheid government in 1989, the two men were cellmates.

He told how, at the Rivonia treason trial, Sisulu told the state prosecutor that he would never divulge information that would compromise the ANC or his comrades.

"Sisulu ended by saying that he wished the prosecutor was an African so that he could understand the plight of African people," Kathrada said.

In one of their many conversations Kathrada said Sisulu had told him if he was sent to the gallows he would go singing.

"We must do this for the sake of our youth," Sisulu said, "so that they know, from our strong voices, that we went without fear and that our deaths were not the end of the liberation movement."

Sisulu's daughter-in-law and biographer, Elinor Sisulu, said the question why Sisulu dropped out of school and battled to read and write was often speculated on.

"Despite his lack of formal education he was able to hold his own with great intellects."

Elinor Sisulu said she suspected her father-in-law had suffered from dyslexia, which was what had limited his formal learning.

"It is disabilities like this that we have to consider in education to ensure people don't fall by the wayside," she said.

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