Arts, Culture & Heritage

Tribute to Walter and Albertina Sisulu

Last Updated: July 30, 2023
Artist

Marina Walsh

A Brief History

Walter Max Ulyate Sisulu (1912-2003) was one of the leading figures in the African National Congress, joining the organisation in 1940 and becoming a prominent member of the ANC Youth League. He was involved in organising the 1952 Defiance Campaign, and spent much of the next ten years in and out of jail. He was one of the Treason Trialists (1956-61) - he memorably described the Trial as “the longest political meeting in the history of South Africa '' - and was eventually sentenced to life imprisonment at the Rivonia Trial in 1964. The bulk of his incarceration was spent on Robben Island. After his release in 1989 he became the Deputy President of the ANC, in which position he served until 1994.

Nontsikelelo Albertina Sisulu (born 1918) became a prominent member of the ANC Women's League and was instrumental in organising the march of 20 000 women on the Union Buildings in 1956 to protest the Pass laws. She was frequently in jail (sometimes in solitary confinement) during the ensuing years and spent extended periods under house arrest.

The couple had five children, and adopted a further four – in 1991 she noted that “None of the children in this house hasn't tasted jail”.

In conceptualising and designing the work, the sculptor sought to accommodate the possibility that parents could place their children on the laps of the two struggle stalwarts.

Proposals for a sculpture that was to honour both Walter and Albertina Sisulu were sent out in March of 2009 via the Art Bank. The commission was won by Marina Walsh on the basis of a clay maquette which represented the couple seated next to one another, but facing in opposite directions, in the form of a ‘loveseat’.

 

Description

Marina Walsh’s artwork commemorates the close bond between Walter and Albertina Sisulu, and their contribution to the nation. Installed in 2009, the artwork shows the elderly couple in a state of quiet communion with one another, though not face-to-face – subtle testimony to a relationship that survived innumerable enforced separations and hardships that flowed from their involvement in the struggle for democracy, setting an example for many South Africans.

The artwork was first modelled in clay and polyurethane and then cast in cement fondue from a fibreglass mould. The surface was treated with pigment and wax.

It is made out of concrete and is 1,9 metres high and 1,86 metres at its widest point. It is safe for children to climb on the laps of Walter or Albertina and interaction with the sculpture is encouraged with caution.

In conceptualising and designing the work, the sculptor sought to accommodate the possibility that parents could place their children on the laps of the two struggle stalwarts.

 

Artwork Signage

Walter Max Ulyate Sisulu (1912-2003) was one of the leading figures in the African National Congress, joining the organisation in 1940 and becoming a prominent member of the ANC Youth League. He was involved in organising the 1952 Defiance Campaign, and spent much of the next ten years in and out of jail. He was one of the Treason Trialists (1956-61) - he memorably described the Trial as “the longest political meeting in the history of South Africa '' - and was eventually sentenced to life imprisonment at the Rivonia Trial in 1964. The bulk of his incarceration was spent on Robben Island. After his release in 1989 he became the Deputy President of the ANC, in which position he served until 1994.

Nontsikelelo Albertina Sisulu (born 1918) became a prominent member of the ANC Women's League and was instrumental in organising the march of 20 000 women on the Union Buildings in 1956 to protest the Pass laws. She was frequently in jail (sometimes in solitary confinement) during the ensuing years and spent extended periods under house arrest.

The couple had five children, and adopted a further four – in 1991 she noted that “None of the children in this house hasn't tasted jail”.

In conceptualising and designing the work, the sculptor sought to accommodate the possibility that parents could place their children on the laps of the two struggle stalwarts.

Proposals for a sculpture that was to honour both Walter and Albertina Sisulu were sent out in March of 2009 via the Art Bank. The commission was won by Marina Walsh on the basis of a clay maquette which represented the couple seated next to one another, but facing in opposite directions, in the form of a ‘loveseat’.

 

Location & Address

Diagonal Street Square, Ntemi Piliso Street, between Albertina Sisulu Road and Commissioner Street. Public square