Composer Bongani Ndodana-Breen has written his Ma Sisulu Sinfonia to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Albertina Sisulu.
Composer Bongani Ndodana-Breen has written his Ma Sisulu Sinfonia to celebrate the centenary of the birth of Albertina Sisulu.

Ma Sisulu's centenary celebrated with a symphony

By Frank Chemaly Time of article published Oct 19, 2018

Share this article:

Johannesburg - Two of South Africa's leading orchestras will join forces to premier a new work next week commissioned to celebrate the centenary birth of Albertina Sisulu, a stalwart of South Africa’s democracy. 

The Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra and the KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra will perform the new Ma Sisulu Sinfonia by accomplished composer Bongani Ndodana-Breen at the Linder Auditorium in Johannesburg on Wednesday and Thursday under the baton of African-American maestro, Bill Eddins. The KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestra will perform the work in Durban in November.

“As South Africa marks the centenary of the life and legacy of Albertina Sisulu, a fearless champion of democracy and human rights, the orchestras are proud to participate in these commemorative events. Ma Sisulu was truly a woman of fortitude and we believe that this concert, will help to remind us of her values of courage, discipline and love for all people of South Africa,” said Bongani Tembe, chief executive and artistic director of the Johannesburg and KwaZulu-Natal Philharmonic Orchestras.

Bongani Ndodana-Breen talks about his Harmonia Ubuntu, performed this year to celebrate the centenary of Nelson Mandela's birth.

“I was immediately taken by Bongani Tembe’s idea of a commemorative piece for Ma Sisulu as it was important for us to keep our history alive, the history of our country’s journey to freedom and the many men and women who sacrificed so much for a democratic South Africa to be born. I have been enormously privileged to use the arts, especially classical music, to shine a light on the many stories that form the tapestry that is South Africa’s journey to freedom. I hope this modest tribute to Ma Sisulu on the occasion of her centenary will be an enduring reminder to us and future generations of her extraordinary life, her resolve, and the contribution of women on our continent and beyond in the fight against injustice," said Ndodana-Breen.

Earlier this year Ndodana-Breen saw the premier of his work Harmonia Ubuntu that celebrated the centenary of Nelson Mandela's birth. He has also written an opera Hani.

Catch the two orchestras in Johannesburg on October 24 and 25 at the Linder Auditorium Parkhurst at 8pm. The KZNPO will perform the Ma Sisulu Sinfonia in its Spring Season in the Durban City Hall on November 8 at 7.30. This concert will be conducted by Justus Frantz. Also featured in the KZN concert is Mozart's Lucio Silla Overture, Piano Concerto No 9 and Coronation Mass in C Major.

Affectionately known as Ma Sisulu, she was born Nontsikelelo Thethiwe in the Tsomo district of the Eastern Cape on 21 October 1918, adopting the name Albertina when she started her schooling at a Presbyterian mission school in Xolobe. Sisulu initially wanted to become a nun but was advised to consider nursing and left for Johannesburg in January 1940 to train as a nurse. She started work as a midwife in 1946. 

She met Walter Sisulu in 1941 while working at Johannesburg General Hospital. They married in 1944 at a ceremony in which Nelson Mandela was the best man. They were married for 59 years, until he died in his wife's arms in May 2003 at the age of 90

Walter Sisulu was found guilty of high treason and sabotage at the Rivonia Trial and spent 25 years on Robben Island. Albertina was subsequently in and out of jail for her political activities, but she continued to resist, despite being banned for most of the 1960s. She was co-president of the United Democratic Front in the 1980s. She died suddenly in her home in Linden, Johannesburg at age 92 on 2 June 2011.

The Independent on Saturday

Share this article: