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This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. It is the product of almost two decades of research and includes analyses, chronologies, historical documents, and interviews from the apartheid and post-apartheid eras.

Sisulu, Walter Max Ulyate

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Walter Sisulu was born in 1912 in the Transkei. He worked as a miner, baker's assistant, domestic help and factory hand and was an active trade unionist before joining the ANC in 1940.

He became treasurer of the ANC Youth League and later a member of the ANC's Transvaal executive. In December 1949 he was elected secretary-general. In 1950 the ANC, Indian Congress and the Communist Party formed a co-ordinating committee, and Sisulu was appointed a joint secretary. He served on the planning council for the Defiance Campaign and then was imprisoned briefly before being banned under the Suppression of Communism Act. Sisulu was re-elected ANC secretary-general in 1952.

In 1953 he toured overseas, visiting communist Eastern bloc countries, Israel, China and Britain, which moderated his views from racially exclusive nationalism to supporting a multi-racial Congress alliance. In December 1956 Sisulu was among the 156 people arrested for high treason. The Treason Trial ended in March 1961 when Sisulu and the remaining accused were acquitted. After the ANC and Pan-Africanist Congress (PAC) were banned, Sisulu was placed under house arrest. In April 1963 he went underground to join Umkhonto we Sizwe. On 11 July 1963 Lilliesleaf Farm, the ANC's secret headquarters, was raided and Sisulu was detained and placed in solitary confinement for 88 days. He was charged in the Rivonia trial in October 1963, and on 12 June 1964 sentenced to life imprisonment for planning acts of political sabotage. He was sent to Robben Island.

On 15 October 1989 Sisulu was released. He subsequently met the ANC in Lusaka and led the ANC internally. He formed part of the ANC delegation that met the government at Groote Schuur during May 1990. He served as deputy president and elder statesman of the ANC and retired from active politics in 1994.

Walter and his wife Albertina lived in Soweto. He died on the 5th of May 2003.

Source: Joyce, Peter. A Concise Dictionary of South African Biography (1999). Francolin : Cape Town.

This resource is hosted by the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory, but was compiled and authored by Padraig O’Malley. Return to the Nelson Mandela Centre of Memory site.