Grocott's Mail

Dr Sheila Sisulu: A life of service to humankind


LLD, Friday, 21 April 2017

Dr Sheila Sisulu is a woman who has lived her life in service of humankind locally and globally. She committed her young adulthood to the fight against apartheid, with a focus on education. She fought against the apartheid government and sought to prepare a young generation for a postaparth­eid South Africa.

She studied at the University of Lesotho, Botswana and Swaziland, for a Bachelor of Arts in 1974 and Bachelor’s degree in education in 1990 at the University of the Witwatersr­and.

Having set aside her career as a teacher, Dr Sisulu went on to become a prominent leader in the South African Committee on Higher Education, providing young black South Africans with opportunit­ies to be educated outside the country.

Following the fall of apartheid in 1994, Dr Sisulu's work in the field of education was recognised when she was appointed as the ministeria­l adviser to the National Minister of Education from 1994 to 1997. The next appointmen­t for Dr Sisulu was in the US, where she became South Africa's Consul General in New York, and two years later, she became the first woman to be South Africa's ambassador to the States, stationed in Washington DC.

Following these political achievemen­ts, Dr Sisulu continued to further the African cause on the internatio­nal stage when she moved to Rome to became the Deputy Executive Director of the World Food Programme.

“My role was to work with developing country government­s to embrace long-term hunger solutions as part of their social and economic developmen­t strategies, moving away from the notion that ensuring food security for the extremely poor is an expense. We understood that it is an expense that can be turned into an investment and ploughed back into the economy,” she explained.

After four years, she became Deputy Executive Director for Hunger Solutions. In this role, she endeavoure­d to improve nutrition and ensure food security for vulnerable communitie­s.

Two tertiary education institutio­ns in America have awarded Dr Sisulu with honorary degrees. In addition to her achievemen­ts, she was a founding member of South African Women’s Developmen­t Bank in 1992, and was appointed Chairperso­n of Tiger Brands Foundation in 2016.

She has been awarded the Allan Pfier Fellowship Fund in 1989; Nedbank Femina Woman of the 90s in 1993 and South African Women for Women Education Award in June 1998.

She married to Mlungisi Sisulu, son of political activist Walter Sisulu, and they have three children.

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