"He died in his house, peacefully...He was going to be 91 on May 18," daughter-in-law Elinor Sisulu told Reuters. Sisulu, whose life spanned South Africa's tumultuous 20th century, died in the arms of his wife Albertina, the South African Press Association (SAPA) reported. He was born in 1912, the same year as the creation of the African National Congress (ANC), the liberation movement he helped to lead and which eventually won power in 1994. Callers to radio shows echoed the grief expressed by former president Mandela, who said he and Sisulu had shared the joy and pain of living.
"May he live forever! His absence has carved a void. A part of me is gone," Mandela said in a statement. Talk radio station 702 played South Africa's national anthem to mark his passing. Grieving callers offered their condolences to the family and said Sisulu's death was a deep loss for the country. "The family should take solace in knowing that the entire nation is behind them. (Sisulu) has made us and for that we will be forever indebted to him," a caller named Solomon told 702. He recalled how Sisulu's release from prison in 1989, a few months before Mandela, had offered hope for an end to decades of racial segregation. "Each time I heard him speak, whether it was at a rally or listening to an interview on television...I would say one day, and one day soon we will all be liberated," Solomon said.
An ANC spokesman said the organisation to which Sisulu had devoted so much of his life mourned the death of a father and a hero. "This is a tragic loss," the spokesman said. President Thabo Mbeki, who succeeded Mandela in 1999, has described Sisulu as "a miracle that God made to taste the bitter fruit of time." Sisulu, who began his political career by leading a strike at a bakery that got him fired, became one of the leading lights of the ANC.
"Together we shared ideas, forged common commitments," Mandela said. "We walked side by side through the valley of death, nursing each other's bruises, holding each other up when our steps faltered. Together we savored the taste of freedom. "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," Mandela added.
Sisulu was a founding commander of the ANC's armed wing in the long battle to end the system of racial segregation known as apartheid and to secure political equality for black South Africans. In 1963, he was arrested and subsequently tried with Mandela and other activists for planning acts of political sabotage and revolution. He was sentenced with Mandela to life in prison and sent to Robben Island, a sandy islet in cold, shark-infested waters off Cape Town. They were later transferred to Pollsmoor prison in Cape Town before their release.
At the time of this posting, the official ANC website does not relect the passing of people's hero Walter Sisulu, but no doubt it will in the days to come: http://www.anc.org.za/