Celebrating Luthuli

WHILE visiting Kwazulu-Natal I had the chance to visit the Albert Luthuli Museum in Groutville.

Now what was particularly special about this visit was that for most of those not in the know, Albert Mvumbi Luthuli was born in Solusi just outside Bulawayo in the year 1898.

His Zulu name Mvumbi (continuous rain). His father was a missionary who spent his last years preaching the gospel in what was then known as Rhodesia where he died.

Luthuli returned to Kwazulu-Natal with his mother at the age of eight and spent the greater part of his life there.

He was many things.

He was an activist, agriculturist, family man, feminist, politician, a religious leader, a teacher and above all, a humanitarian. Very few men in their lifetime can collect the number of accolades that he had.

He became the president of the African Teachers’ Association in 1933.

He was a militant advocate for education for all Africans without restrictions on vocations as was the case during that time.

A devout Christian, he took up missionary work which gave him the opportunity to travel to Europe and the United States.

In 1927, he married Nokukhanya Bhengu, a teacher, and together they had seven children. He later assumed the chiefancy, adding the prefix chief to his name, a title he inherited from his grandfather who was a chief in Umvoti Mission near Stanger.

He presided over his tribe from 1936 to 1952.

He was an activist, agriculturist, family man, feminist, politician, a religious leader, a teacher and above all, a humanitarian. Very few men in their lifetime can collect the number of accolades that he had.

He was an activist, agriculturist, family man, feminist, politician, a religious leader, a teacher and above all, a humanitarian. Very few men in their lifetime can collect the number of accolades that he had.

However, following the heightened racial tensions and imposition of apartheid policies in South Africa, his cause for justice went beyond tribal to encompass the entire nation.

Luthuli joined the African National Congress (ANC) in 1944. In 1951 he became the president of the organisation.

With other political activists like the late Oliver Tambo and Nelson Mandela, he took part in the defiance campaign against apartheid.

Following this incident Luthuli was stripped of his chieftancy which was paid for by the government.

Despite being slapped with bans barring him from political activity, this did not stop his activism for the rights of Africans in South Africa.

In 1956, he faced arrest for high treason, but was released due to lack of evidence. He was re-elected president of ANC in 1955 and again in 1958.

He went on to make history by being the first African to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 1960 for his fight against apartheid using non-violent means.

In his acceptance speech he said: “I regard this as a tribute to mother Africa, to all peoples, whatever their race, colour or creed.”

Since then, many Africans have gone on to win the coveted prize.

Despite being called a pacifist, Luthuli was in solidarity with other ANC compatriots when he declared in his 1964 Rivonia trial statement that “no one can blame brave, just men for seeking justice by the use of violent methods”.

In 1966, a year before his death, Senator Robert Kennedy called on the struggle stalwart and in a way this highlighted the plight of Africans during the apartheid regime.

Sadly, Luthuli met his demise in 1967 at the age of 69 when he was struck and injured by a freight train in Umvoti near his home.

Albertina, his daughter, once called for an investigation into the death of her father which like many she did not believe was an accident.

The circumstances surrounding the death of Luthuli were viewed with suspicion and scepticism as he walked that route everyday and was aware of a train passing by.

More can be read about the stalwart’s life in a book entitled Let My People Go which was published in 1962.

The legacy’s life remains celebrated as he is honoured by buildings, hospitals, streets, schools named after him. Inkosi Albert Luthuli International Convention Centre is probably the biggest and most iconic building that has his name.

Of course, you have the popular and infamous Luthuli House in Johannesburg.

Mpumalanga has used the name on one of its local municipalities.

It surely is a name that will remain etched in the painful history that characterises South Africa.

Sukoluhle Nyathi is the author of the novel The Polygamist. You can follow her on Twitter @SueNyathi

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