Struggle giants die within 10 years of each other

2013-12-07 10:07
Pumla Cohen, a South African who has lived in New York since 1998, pauses at a candle lit vigil in New York in memory of Nelson Mandela. (Andrew Burton, AFP)

Pumla Cohen, a South African who has lived in New York since 1998, pauses at a candle lit vigil in New York in memory of Nelson Mandela. (Andrew Burton, AFP)

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Johannesburg - Three giants of the struggle - Oliver Tambo, Walter Sisulu, and former president Nelson Mandela - died within 10 year intervals of each other.

The first to die was former African National Congress president Oliver Tambo in 1993.

Tambo and Mandela met when they were studying at the University of Fort Hare in the Eastern Cape.

In the 1940s Tambo, Sisulu, Mandela and other young intellectuals of the time regularly visited the house of then ANC president Dr AB Xuma. It was there that they came up with a plan to revive the ANC and make it more accessible to ordinary people. In 1944 the three men helped form the ANC Youth League.

Tambo spent over 30 years in exile. He become acting ANC president in 1967 following the death of Chief Albert Luthuli and in 1985 he was re-elected president of the party.

The same year Tambo returned from exile he was elected ANC chair. He died on 24 April 1993 at the age of 75 due to complications after a stroke.

During his speech at Tambo's funeral Mandela said: "Here lies before you the body of a man who is tied to me by an umbilical cord which cannot be broken."

In 2003 former ANC secretary general and deputy president of the ANC Walter Sisulu died.

Sisulu, who was born in 1912, the year the ANC was founded, died at his Johannesburg home in the arms of his wife Albertina, herself a legend in her own lifetime.

In a tribute to Sisulu Mandela said: "Xhamela is no more. May he live forever! His absence has carved a void. A part of me is gone."

Mandela's impassioned statement at the time spoke of a 62-year-old friendship.

"Our paths first intersected in 1941. During the past 62 years our lives have been intertwined. We shared the joy of living, and the pain," he said.

"In a sense I feel cheated by Walter. If there be another life beyond this physical world I would have loved to be there first so that I could welcome him. Life has determined otherwise."

On Thursday, 10 years after his old friend's death, Mandela died at the age of 95. He will be buried in his hometown of Qunu in the Eastern Cape next Sunday.

- Send us your memories and photos of Nelson Mandela.

- Friends, colleagues, comrades and family of Nelson Mandela are invited to share their memories and tributes, and to light a candle for him, on his profile at

Read more on:    anc  |  walter sisulu  |  nelson mandela  |  albert luthuli  |  johannesburg

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