Zwelakhe Sisulu. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL
Zwelakhe Sisulu. Picture: FINANCIAL MAIL

FRIENDS and former colleagues of Zwelakhe Sisulu, who died yesterday at the age of 61, say his independence of thought was the one thing he shared with his late parents, African National Congress (ANC) stalwarts, Walter and Albertina Sisulu.

Tributes have been pouring in for Mr Sisulu, who passed away yesterday morning at his home in Johannesburg after a long illness.

His siblings include National Assembly speaker Max Sisulu and Public Service and Administration Minister Lindiwe Sisulu. The Sisulus are considered to be the closest SA has to political royalty, alongside the Tambos and the Mandelas.

Mr Sisulu was a respected businessman and journalist who, as president of the Black Media Workers Association of SA, was arrested under the Internal Security Act during apartheid.

Gabu Tugwana, former deputy editor of the defunct New Nation newspaper — which Mr Sisulu edited in 1986 before being detained for two years — said yesterday he would remember Mr Sisulu as an independent thinker. "It is a common thread that runs within the family.

"They are outspoken in whichever capacity they serve."

Mr Tugwana took over the running of the New Nation after Mr Sisulu was arrested.

Following his release, Mr Sisulu was banned from any involvement in the New Nation, which under Mr Tugwana continued publishing until it closed shop in 1996.

Mr Sisulu became the first black group CEO of the SABC, a post he held for three years, from 1994 to 1997.

Critics have argued that the foundation laid by Mr Sisulu at the SABC has gone to waste, following a spate of recent controversies surrounding the public broadcaster.

Mr Sisulu was also an active shareholder and director in a number of companies, including Dirleton Minerals & Energy and Afriminerals. His nephew Shaka Sisulu said on social media that his uncle spent the past few years nurturing business interests across Africa.

In a statement, President Jacob Zuma described Mr Sisulu as a "freedom fighter, journalist and business person", saying news of his death was shocking and sad. "We are truly saddened by the loss, and wish to extend our deepest condolences to the entire Sisulu family."

Mr Sisulu received a number of awards including the International Human Rights Law Group Award, the Union of Swedish Journalists Award and the Rothko Chapel Award for Human Rights.

The South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) said Mr Sisulu was an inspiration to many journalists. "He was a mountain of a journalist and never strayed from telling the truth and challenging authority," said Sanef chairman Mondli Makhanya.

The Congress of South African Trade Unions said Mr Sisulu used his media skills to advance the liberation struggle.

The National Union of Metalworkers of SA (Numsa) said he represented "a special breed of revolutionary journalists ever to emerge within the ranks of the mass democratic formations".

Numsa spokesman Castro Ngobese said the union would forever be indebted to the Sisulu family "for donating their son to the struggle for national liberation and freedom".

Mr Tugwana said SA should join hands with the Sisulu family in this difficult time. "We owe it to them to show our appreciation ."