In the minds of most people, Nelson Mandela is the name synonymous with the end of apartheid and beginning of South Africa's transition over the last decades. Yet societal change of this magnitude cannot be the feat of a single hero riding in like a knight in shining armor to save the day. There were many others whose dedication, sacrifice, and yeoman service pre-Mandela made all of it possible. In the foreword to this book, Mr. Mandela writes that if one life story were to be told about South Africa's liberation, "…that story would have to be Walter Sisulu's."
Elinor Sisulu has told that story.
In the process, she has helped to explain the anti-apartheid movement and South Africa's struggle in her Noma prize winning book, Walter and Albertina Sisulu: In Our Lifetime. She does it with both a historian's factual investigation and a daughter-in-law's insider's knowledge of a loving family that helped reshape a nation.
For those who want to stretch beyond simplistic stories of lone heroes, this book touches the broader and more complex dynamics of a multi-player movement that continues today. Beginning in 1912, with Walter Sisulu's birth and the founding of the African National Congress in the same year, Elinor Sisulu chronicles the events and awakenings behind a people's struggle for justice and equality through the 20th century. With her scholar's curiosity at work, she has shaped a story of encompassing richness which connects distant yet interrelated events and social forces. Sisulu helps her readers to a more elaborated view of the essential precursors of social change and encourages a deeper appreciation of the sacrifices made by those who struggled daily in support of each other for a simple but difficult-to-obtain thing, freedom.
Her expansively researched book provides detailed, factual, and scholarly insights into the rise of apartheid, its rationales, and the movement that helped to end it. Accounts of some of the numerous people who resisted apartheid - imprisoned, tortured, disappeared - and who gave their lives to oppose unjust laws and repressive policies expand the myth of the single hero into a legend of whole community. While the story of South Africa is often distorted in favor of the sensational and simplistic fairy tale, the real courage, fortitude, and dedication of those who struggled to make such simplicity possible are even more inspiring. Elinor Sisulu shares that reality in this book and brings to light the long and difficult task of changing beliefs, values, and worldviews for a nation. In this case, reality is even more inspiring than the myth.
Elinor's book caught our attention when we were driving in London listening to a BBC interview. She discussed the involvement of the entire extended family in the resistance. Living in a fragmented, individualistic and often lonely culture, the involvement of the whole family in a social and political justice movement was a concept we had think twice about. We found Elinor's book at Heathrow Airport when departing from London; seat-back movies just had to wait. Finding it inspirational and extremely informative, we established contact with her. Because she is quite willing to discuss her findings about these events in frank dialogue as well as in print, we present an hour-long recorded interview with her at SisuluDialogue.mp3.
As a historian, Sisulu emphasizes the importance of understanding the nuance and impact of the past in shaping the problems of today. Her approach is similar to Howard Zinn's as she focuses, in her own way, on a 'people's history.' As Zinn reminds us: "If we don't know history, then we are ready meat for carnivorous politicians and the intellectuals and journalists who supply the carving knives. If we know some history … we will not be fooled again." This is the message that Elinor Sisulu wants to convey as she tells the story of her family's lives.
In this conversation, Elinor expands on her written work with a behind the scenes insight into the reality of social struggle. Describing Nelson Mandela as "the star and Walter the producer," she tells us more about Walter Sisulu, his work in the ANC, and the important roles which he and his wife, Albertina, played in the struggle to end apartheid. As the story unfolds, we come to recognize that not one member of the Sisulu family escaped police harassment, imprisonment, and torture. In this interview, Elinor Sisulu discusses…
- Walter Sisulu's role in the making of Mandela and other leaders of the time
- Life under apartheid conditions
- How psychosocial development was used to repress people and deny them democracy based on skin color
- The forces that pushed the de Klerk government to release Sisulu, Mandela and the political prisoners on Robben Island
- Family dynamics in black families in South Africa
- Nelson Mandela's own views on how he is perceived (Mandela Mania) and misperceived
- The importance of historical context to present day political, economic and social systems
- Life Conditions in South Africa, both past and current, and more …
Join us as we chat with Elinor Sisulu Download SisuluDialogue.mp3.