Children and old women jogged alongside as Albertina Sisulu's hearse made its way through Soweto's humble streets to her grand funeral Saturday.
Nelson Mandela called Ms. Sisulu “one of the greatest South Africans” for her role fighting apartheid and nurturing a new generation of leaders. She collapsed and died at her Johannesburg home June 2 at the age of 92.
During Saturday's funeral before a crowd ranging from ordinary Sowetans to government leaders from as far away as Egypt, Ms. Sisulu's grandchildren recited the story of her life. She had not been expected to survive the Spanish influenza that was raging when she was born in 1918. She lived on to represent the anti-apartheid movement at home and abroad, and to champion the rights of women and children.
Mr. Mandela's tribute, read by his wife Graca Machel during the official funeral with military honours, set off a brief, thrilling rally in which the crowd sang Mr. Mandela's name. In his speech, Mandela listed several friends and colleagues he has lost in recent years. He said he felt Ms. Sisulu's loss especially deeply.
“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,” said Mr. Mandela, who at 92 rarely makes public appearances. The Mandelas on Saturday were marking the first anniversary of the death of Mandela's 13-year-old great-granddaughter Zenani, killed in a car crash on the way home from a soccer World Cup evening concert in Soweto.
Crowds of mourners began arriving early for Ms. Sisulu's funeral, eventually filling about a quarter of a 40,000-seat soccer stadium.
Sisulu's husband, former ANC secretary general Walter Sisulu, was given a similar funeral after his death in 2003. Their love endured 26 years of separation while he was imprisoned for his anti-apartheid activities. Albertina Sisulu was buried next to her husband after Saturday's funeral in a cemetery on the edge of Soweto.
The couple's eldest son, Max, said at the funeral the two would never again be separated.
Walter Sisulu spent most of his time in prison on Robben Island alongside Mr. Mandela, whom he had brought into the ANC.
While her husband was in prison, Albertina Sisulu, a nurse, raised the couple's five children and several nieces and nephews, and was a mother figure to many other young South Africans, some of them relatives, some not.
She was a leader of the United Democratic Front, a key anti-apartheid coalition in the 1980s that brought together religious, labour and community development groups. Her activism led to months in jail and restrictions on her movements.
Younger Sisulus followed their parents into national service. Daughter Lindiwe Sisulu is defense minister. Max Sisulu is speaker of the National Assembly.
Albertina Sisulu also served in parliament, taking a seat after the first all-race elections in 1994. She nominated Mr. Mandela for the 1994 parliamentary vote that made him South Africa's first African-origin president.
While Albertina and Walter Sisulu lived their last years in a leafy Johannesburg neighborhood reserved for whites under apartheid, Saturday's funeral cortege started at their old house in Soweto, a township synonymous with resistance to apartheid. — AP