June 11, 2011 / 9:38 AM / 9 years ago

Anti-apartheid activist Sisulu gets official funeral

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - Albertina Sisulu, a leading light of the former anti-apartheid movement and widow of an early mentor of Nelson Mandela, was given an official funeral on Saturday attended by South African government chiefs.

Mourners attend the funeral of the late Albertina Sisulu in Soweto, June 11, 2011. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

President Jacob Zuma and other top aides took part in the memorial service for Sisulu in a 40,000-seat football stadium in Soweto, the black township near Johannesburg synonymous with the fight against white-minority rule.

Top military generals carried the coffin of Sisulu, who died nine days ago at age 92, and the stadium was packed with mourners singing hymns.

A former nurse and community worker, Sisulu was a founding member of the African National Congress’s Women’s League where she served as deputy president during apartheid.

She was the widow of Walter Sisulu, who was one of Mandela’s earliest mentors and was imprisoned with him for 25 years during the apartheid era that ended in the early 1990s.

Saturday’s funeral was marked by personal tributes from family, friends and colleagues followed weeklong services and government tributes across the country.

“You are indeed one of the greatest South Africans,” Mandela, who was South Africa’s first post-apartheid, democratically elected president, said in a tribute to Sisulu read by his wife Graca Machel.

“I would have loved to be here today to pay my personal respects, but it would be too painful for me to see you go.”

Sisulu was last seen in public when she visited Mandela, 92, in hospital in January.

Zuma said Sisulu’s passing was an end of an era which had left the nation devastated. “Mama Sisulu suffered persecution, banning orders, imprisonment and harassment by the security apparatus of the apartheid regime, but she never compromised her beliefs,” Zuma told mourners.

The Sisulu family retains a high profile in South Africa’s political landscape — daughter Lindiwe Sisulu is the defense minister and son Max Sisulu is a member of parliament.

Editing by Mark Heinrich

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