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South Africans Pay Respects to Hero Sisulu

May 17, 2003

South Africans Pay Respects to Hero Sisulu


Filed at 6:42 a.m. ET

SOWETO, South Africa (AP) -- Tens of thousands of people gathered in a soccer stadium to celebrate the life of Walter Sisulu and to pay their last respects to the man eulogized as the selfless anchor of the anti-apartheid struggle.

Hours before the hearse arrived Friday with a military band playing mournful music, thousands danced in the stadium and sang old liberation songs about Nelson Mandela and the late anti-apartheid leaders Oliver Tambo and Sisulu.

The white hearse carrying Sisulu's coffin, draped in a South African flag, traveled slowly from his Soweto home to the stadium several miles away. Mourners lined the route, each raising a fist in the air and singing the traditional mourning song of the guerrilla wing of the African National Congress.

Sisulu has been hailed as the quiet giant of the anti-apartheid struggle, the strategist and the confidant of such leaders as Tambo and Mandela. He died May 5 after a long illness. He was 90.

Mandela, who had been Sisulu's close friend for over 60 years, said Sisulu was ''one of the greatest among a generation of great freedom fighters,'' a generation he said was now reaching the end of a long and heroic struggle.

In the crowd at Orlando Stadium, aging activists mixed with teenagers who only learned about Sisulu after his death.

''He was our role model and he fought for this country ... we must pay tribute,'' said Sylvia Mtongana, 53, who traveled a day and half by train from Port Elizabeth to attend the funeral.

The crowd stood silently as eight soldiers from the Defense Force carried the coffin down a red carpet from the hearse to a black stand on the soccer field. Then the master of ceremonies shouted ''power'' in Zulu and the crowd responded ''to the people.''

Sisulu fought apartheid for more than 60 years. He brought Mandela into the ANC and co-founded its militant youth league with Mandela and Tambo.

Sisulu spent more than 25 years in jail for taking part in the struggle. He was released in 1989.

''We have lost a valuable guide,'' South African President Thabo Mbeki said Friday in the ruling African National Congress party's newsletter.

Besides South African leaders, several African presidents also attended the funeral.

The country has mourned Sisulu for 10 days since he died at home in the arms of his wife, Albertini whom he married in 1944.

World leaders from U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to Secretary of State Colin Powell have sent their condolences. More than two dozen memorials have been held for him across South Africa. Newspapers printed special sections in his honor and nearly every political party and national organization has sent messages of grief.

Sisulu's grandson, Mlumgisi Sisulu, spoke for the family.

''Farewell,'' he said, ''you have fought the good fight.''

Copyright 2003 The Associated Press

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